The Dalai Lama at the Capitol

Saturday morning, I, and thousands of others, travelled to the west front of the U.S. Capitol to hear the Dalai Lama. This speech was the only part of his 10-day program in Washington, D.C., that was free to the public.

He was introduced by Whoopi Goldberg, much to his delight and that of the audience.

His speech echoed traditional Buddhism in many respects. He focused on any person’s need to cultivate his or her interior: an inner peace, a calm mind, a sense of compassion, an “inner beauty.” When addressing questions about education, he stressed that “brain development” had to be accompanied by warm heartedness.

But because he is concerned about world peace, he also looked at the long sweep of history. He called the 20th century a “century of war and violence,” with more than 200 million dead in many conflicts. In contrast, he called for the 21st century to become a “century of dialogue.” The crowd applauded enthusiastically. (I began thinking: maybe he should go to those negotiating sessions at the White House where the president and congressional leaders are trying to strike a deal on the debt ceiling… and see what he can do to promote dialogue and warm heartedness!)

The Dalai Lama is an unabashed admirer of American ideals. He freely cited our freedom, democracy, the rule of law. In addition, he articulated what many in the world no doubt see: the rapid and positive movement in race relations in the course of 150 years, from Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves, to Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, to the fact that we have an African-American president today.

When asked if he thought he would ever return to Tibet, he said “sure!” China is changing dramatically, he asserted, pointing to the fact that they are a “communist nation” with a “capitalist ideology.” This man is a born optimist!

Bottom line: he is a delightful human being, fun loving, light-hearted, more than capable of laughing at himself. Like I said before: the greatest sign of holiness is the ability to laugh at oneself!
The one thing I found underdeveloped was a real link between personal goodness and compassion and the quest for social justice and societal compassion. How does he understand “social sin” (or whatever Buddhists call it)? How does one go from inner compassion to societal compassion? He was coming close, but for me, he’s not quite there yet.

Still, he’s a great religious leader and inspiring speaker. And the more he talks about war and peace, the closer he will come to making links between the individual and society.

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