Tuesday, December 8, 2009

His Hoopiness The Dalai Dude

I did a 500km round trip today. Drove all the way to Hobart and back. I took Elder Son with me, and carried a random passenger as well. The reason?

The Dalai Lama was having a public gabfest at the Derwent Dome.

For those who don't know, I'm strongly interested by the Buddhist philosophies, although I'm definitely more focused on Zen than the Tibetan tradition. However, I've read a few of the Dalai Guy's books, and I've been greatly intrigued by the man himself.

The irony of his position, for example -- that's fascinating. If China had stayed the fuck outta Tibet, I think we can all agree that the Dalai Lama would probably be nothing more than a minor notable, one of those colourful characters from the backwaters of the planet. Oh, sure: he'd still be full of good sense and compassion, but if China hadn't decided to shit all over Tibet, chances are he would be perceived mostly as 'quaint'. But precisely because China got out the Ugly Stick and waved it around, the Dalai Lama became a player on the international stage, and a very clear thorn in China's side.

Anyhow, I figured this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see him do his thing, and so I cleared it with the school and took both Elder Son and another interested local with me on the long trek.

The lecture itself was entitled something about 'Who Is Responsible For Our Future', but before the Dalai Guy we got a few words from Senator Bob Brown, a local Aboriginal Elder, and the head of the Conservation Foundation of Australia. There was also a videorecorded message from Cate Blanchett for the CFA, but it was either intended for the deaf, or for mimes, because even though her lips were moving up there on the big screens, we never actually heard a word from her. Oh well. And then, of course, His Dalainess trundled up in his purply robage, and began distributing long white scarves hither and yon. "Part of our culture," he explained, looping one over Bob Brown, and another over the Aboriginal Elder, and another one over the bloke in the grey suit with the microphone, who seemed to have the job of shoving his foot in his mouth by way of introducing everyone.

Whole lotta scarves there. Gotta wonder who packs all those things.

The lecture itself was nothing spectacular, but I wasn't there to take in revelations. I was interested in the man himself, and the 'sense' of him as a person, a character, a public figure and a communicator. He spoke simply, emphasising compassion, awareness of self, understanding of others, self-confidence, truthfulness and trust. There wasn't a single word he offered that I could have disagreed with in any useful or meaningful way, and I rather hope that Elder Son took enough of it in to remember it. A lot of what Mr Lama could be very helpful to him in his growing and maturing.

Once the lecture -- really, it was an informal talk -- finished, there was a half-hour question time. And I'd like to fucking strangle the joker who filtered the questions. There was a box put out for the placing-in of questions, and I did avail myself, yes. On behalf of Angela Slatter, I asked what His Holiness actually wears under that purple robe, and I do admit I didn't expect that one to reach him. But I also asked what he thought his position on the world stage might have been if China hadn't taken a thunderdump on Tibet, and since I phrased it much more politely and diplomatically, I rather hoped he might have something to say.

Unfortunately, the egregious maroon who filtered the questions left in nothing but plaintive, rather new-agey Dorothy Dixers. "How can I find a lasting inner peace?" "How can I travel to Tibet, highlight the plight of the Tibetan people, and still take part in the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual experience?" "How can we raise the self-esteem of our young people?"

I mean, seriously. The guy's addressing a crowd of two or three thousand, and you want him to tell you, personally, how you achieve 'lasting inner peace'? He was clearly nonplussed by that one, though he answered politely and very kindly, as he did with all the reasonably meaningless questions. Some he dismissed with evident good humour, and a disarming laugh that couldn't have offended even an earnest new-age wisdom seeker. But unfortunately, none of the questions really called for much from him.

Overall, I was favourably impressed. His Holiness is a very comfortable, very relaxed speaker who doesn't take himself too seriously at all. At one point he was playing with the aerial wires for his hands-free mike and earpiece, obviously thinking they needed to be clipped safely out of the way. When someone gently corrected him, he giggled, and said "How foolish!" of himself -- and I have to admit, watching the spiritual leader of a major religion acknowledge his own fallibility and foolishness with grace and good humour was truly refreshing.

Likewise, I appreciated his willingness to support science and research, and I was delighted when he spoke out strongly in favour of secular teaching of morality and ethics. He made a point of defining secular, calling it 'equal respect for all religions rather than a rejection of religions', and emphasised that he held all religions in equal respect himself. I can't imagine a Pope pulling that one off... and as for hearing words like that from an Ayatollah or a Caliph -- the very idea is ridiculous.

One thing that struck me sharply, and saddened me, was the optimism of the man. He acknowledged it himself, and spoke of an improving, maturing human race, and of the ability of individuals to initiate and carry out positive change. A man dispossessed of his country, whose people are displaced and oppressed, whose culture is suppressed in his homeland... and yet somehow, he maintains more faith in human nature, more belief in a human future than perhaps I could ever muster, even when I was a child.

I'm not sure, but I suspect I envy him that optimism. For while I can, and do, follow the precepts of compassion, honesty, trust and awareness that he spoke of so simply and sincerely -- I do it without any real hope for a better outcome. I do it because I believe these things of myself, and because these things reflect the person I want myself to be, and I hope to continue in these ideals even if the world collapses. I don't need a 'better outcome'. The ideals themselves are sufficient.

But I think it would be nice to have real hope. I guess it's good to know the Dalai Lama does, anyhow.