I’m going to start off by asking you to not only read this article, but share it. Facebook, Twitter, email, text, anything. A bold way to start, I know, but these words have very little to do with my ambitions as a writer and everything to do with us… you, me, them. Us. Oh, and there’s a lot of punctuation ahead, but just push your way through it, annoying as those little dots and curved lines can be.
I’ll start by setting the scene. My friend LB tipped me off that His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be speaking in Boston this fall, promoting The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics & Transformative Values at MIT, a non-partisan think tank organized in honor of HHDL’s vision to enact holistic education focusing on human and global ethics.
I eagerly bought two tickets for my husband and me and yesterday we were blessed to sit just 20 feet from His Holiness while he shared thoughts on religion, ethics, values and wellbeing. I snuck the pic above with my iPhone, hence the crappy quality. Anyway, here’s the story, peppered with my own interpretations and common sense applications of the day’s events:
JAMES TAYLOR: An emotional opening act
We begin with Boston’s beloved James Taylor warming up the crowd for His Holiness, inspiring a thousand lips to curl up at the corners with his beautiful folk music, as he’s accompanied by BSO’s Owen Young on cello. The playlist includes You’ve Got a Friend, a cover of I’m a Roadrunner, a folk version of Bach. Fat tears roll down my cheeks as he sings Sweet Baby James. I feel as if he sings this sweet lullaby just for me, as I had sung it for my own sweet babies each night as they fell asleep in my arms.
He nears the end of his set, “Shower the people you love with love… show them the way you feel…”, a heavy door left of the stage opens and the audience breathes a collective gasp. People rise to their feet, hands to heart center as the one and only Dalai Lama steps into the room, surrounded by crimson-robed monks and dark-suited bodyguards. His presence alone inspires awe, love and hopefulness. After a surge of clapping, the group sits down and JT invites his wife and daughter to the stage to join him in one last song before His Holiness takes over. It is a lovely moment.
HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA: Quotes, insights and paradigm shifts
His Holiness mounts the stage with his trusted interpreter, greeting fellow panelists: Father Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk and priest of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, founder of The Centering Prayer Movement of Contemplative Outreach, and author of several books including Open Mind Open Heart; and Brother David Steindl-Rast, co-founder of The Center for Spiritual Studies, a center incorporating thoughts from Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Sufi religions, founder of gratefulness.org, and author many books including Words of Common Sense for Mind, Body and Soul. The panel is moderated by Liz Walker, former anchor at WBZ News in Boston, now a reverend at Roxbury Presbytarian Church and founder of My Sister’s Keeper, a grassroots human rights initiative for women in Sudan.
Bows and friendly gestures are exchanged amongst the spiritual brothers and then His Holiness turns to us, his adoring fan club, bowing and smiling. He begins our first lesson of the day: The Biological Factor, linking science and Buddhism with our every day actions. Always the gentleman, he delivers a message to ladies first…
He tells us that the most important thing one can do in life is mother affectionately. Though we aren’t all mothers, we all have mothers, so everyone can understand. As new human beings, the first thing we look for is nurturing love from our mothers. HHDL says, “Right away, the newborn knows how to find the… the… the… [Interpreter: ‘teats’] the… [‘teats’] no, the… [‘teats’] PIMPLE! [‘NIPPLE!’]” Laughter ensues.
Comedy aside, his point is perfection. A good life begins with a loving foundation. Love is the natural tendency, the biological tendency. “Females have more sensitivity about others’ suffering,” he says in thickly accented staccato, “Not religious belief. Biological factor. Female should take more active role in this field.” (Thunderous applause.)
I get it. I understand it. It registers. BIOLOGY IS LOVE. Same, same. ((MC, I swear I actually hear HHDL say that and I’m snickering!)) He says that we need to teach children love, kindness and compassion the same way we teach children science. The two are braided together to form the whole tightly-woven truth. Without an intimate understanding of love, how can we understand our own biology? His Holiness urges us to educate mankind about the science of loving kindness and about the science of happiness rather than leaving that responsibility to religion or by filtering love through the lens of any one religion. Love is for everyone, believers and non-believers. Science has caught up to what spiritually rich people have known for centuries. Love is real, love is ethics, love is responsibility, love is mainstream. And just to prove the point, one of the best universities in the world, MIT, is backing up that theory by opening The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics & Transformative Values.
HHDL continues, “Religion gives us practice of hypocrisy, because in reality [people] don’t care about the philosophy of teachings. They have no firm connection about these basic values… [We must] educate them through scientific finding and common sense for happy life, happy family, happy community.”
His Holiness is telling us that he understands – religion teaches strict dogma and demands standards that are so hard to meet that most people give up. We disconnect. We stop caring. We float through life without any solid foundation in spirituality or love. We live our lives on the foundation of selfishness, of arrogance. We do this. You, me, us, them. We. We take things because we want them. We buy things because we need them. We waste things because we can. We hurt people because we don’t think. WE DON’T THINK ABOUT THE EFFECT WE HAVE ON EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ONE AROUND US.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
His Holiness reminds us, “Each person can make a difference. [We] should not think of ourselves as helpless. A worldwide movement first starts from individual. First one. Then your neighbor. Then ten families. Then a thousand families. Share with more people… more people. Think more and keep enthusiasm to do something.” (English is obviously not his first language but, trust me, no love lost in this room.)
“A lot of our problems are of our own creation,” he presses on. Yes, yes, yes I’m thinking. We’ve created an ocean of garbage. We’ve destroyed forests. We’ve hunted and killed animals for sport. We’ve bought handbags made my 5 year olds in Vietnam. We’ve eaten food full of chemicals wrapped up in slippery plastic bags. We’ve done all of this without thinking.
“Ignorance is the opposite of understanding. Investigate with a calm mind. Know reality. Think. Then decide,” His Holiness gently impresses. Think. That’s all we have to start doing. Think. And this is something that each person can do on his or her own. Just think twice before buying that case of plastic water bottles. Think twice before leaving the house with the lights on. Think twice before walking past a person on the street without acknowledging their presence with a smile. JUST THINK.
These days, we adults are like toddlers in a toy store. We pull everything out, cause chaos and disorder, push each other around, break everything then leave behind a mess for someone else to clean. And like small children, we don’t think twice because we don’t realize we have impact. We don’t realize we matter. It’s just a plastic bottle. It’s just a new car. It’s just a rude comment. It’s just a middle finger.
As a parent, I understand the frustration of having to sweep up after mischievous kids. So I should have more understanding. I should be thinking twice, no three times, before I make a mess. Where was this dress made? Do I really need to redecorate my living room? What’s in a Swedish Fish anyway? Could I be kinder to people who challenge me? Could I stop engaging in gossip? Because here in the grown-up land of planet Earth, my parents won’t be cleaning it up. My children will. And depending on the behavior we model, they can continue the cycle or they can start a new one. There is no politician, no judge or teacher who has more power over the direction of this planet than a mother. Each mother has an enormous responsibility to offer her children opportunities to THINK about their impact on this planet. But in the end, it’s up to all of us to be better, to do better.
THIS WORLD REVOLVES AROUND YOU. THEREFORE YOU MATTER. EVERYTHING YOU DO… EVERY THOUGHT YOU THINK… IT ALL MATTERS.
So now that you know you matter, what do you do? Ignore the call? Pretend it never happened? Or do you join the wave of goodness? Do you start playing the role of responsible human being? After all, in a hundred years we’ll all be dead. But our grandchildren will be here. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to train our children to make responsible choices and practice loving kindness by modeling that behavior ourselves? How else will they learn? Loving kindness is taught at home, not in school. At least not yet. 😉
FATHER THOMAS KEATING: Not your mother’s Father
Now, most of my friends are Christians, and regardless of your level of Christian devotion, I think you’ll be very interested in learning more about Father Thomas Keating. If you love your faith and believe in God but are sometimes frustrated by the church’s narrow interpretation of the Bible, boy, have I got a monk for you. If you are searching for a modern take on Christianity, Father Thomas is the just the 80 year old priest that will inspire you to connect fully and passionately to your faith.
I am not your mother’s Father, are the words he does not say, but then again, doesn’t have to.
Father Thomas begins by talking about evolution, setting the tone right away. The earth is fully populated and this, he considers as proof that the human species is fully evolved. He challenges, “It’s time to look at the development of consciousness that is beyond biological.” He goes on, saying that as spiritual seekers, we are constantly searching for union with God, as if God is the “Other”.
“There is no ‘Other’,” he says emphatically, “Everything is a manifestation of the source.” In other words, we are already in union with God, we just need to awaken to it. Our problem is that we, “want to become God on our own terms.” (Yes, yes, I am with you, Father Thomas.) He tells us we need to reduce our selfishness by serving others. “We think satisfaction of our emotional needs is happiness, even if it’s brief,” but God is not brief, God is everlasting, so in order to become God, we must invest our efforts in activity that provides us with longterm clarity and peace.
My interpretation: Stop behaving badly, stop treating our bodies like garbage disposals, stop being assholes to each other and stop disrespecting this planet. The human race evolved so we could stop acting like animals. And that’s just what we’re doing! We are a temporary embodiment of holy spirit. When we die and shed our skin, all of the bullshit drags our souls down. Our souls want to rise! We can elevate by honoring the beautiful energy within us by investing in the intangibles, discovering happiness, serving mankind.
BROTHER DAVID STINDL-RAST: With gratitude for saying the words we need to hear
Brother David Steindl-Rast (WHOM I ABSOLUTELY LOVE!!!!!!!!) completes Father Thomas’ point by sharing a quote from Father Thomas Merton: “GOD ISN’T SOMEONE ELSE.” Wait, wait, wait. Did you hear that?
“GOD ISN’T SOMEONE ELSE.”
The audience is awake. We are all taken by Brother David. He speaks, we applaud. He speaks, we applaud. He is wonderful. He tells us that God is a mystery that doesn’t fit into the limited institutions that we’ve created to contain it. He urges, “A non-violent revolution against power structure must be started in small communities.”
By revolution, he is telling us that NOW is the time that we can create a better future for the human race. It has to be now. (If not now, when?) We have building momentum, maybe just a loving trickle at this point. But by adding more mindful energy to the revolution, we can create a steady stream. And then a flood. Until we discover we are swimming in our new normal. Welcome the Christians. Welcome the Buddhists. Welcome the Mulims, the Hindus, the Jews, the Sufis, the Non-believers. Because regardless of our religious beliefs, science has proven something that we can all agree on. LOVE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER.
Liz Walker asks Brother David, “Are we guilty of failing God?”
He responds by bringing the conversation full circle, conjuring up an image of a mother at home with her baby, splattering food on the floor and misbehaving. The mother doesn’t accuse the baby of being a failure. She loves him and encourages him to do better. Brother David tells us to do the same, “Look at the world with eyes of a mother and say, ‘You can do better.'”
“Write that one down! Write that one down!” My husband whispers as I scribble frantically into my notebook.
Like any spiritual junkie, after the conference broke up, my husband and I find ourselves with a glorious high and a serious case of the munchies. We walk over to Legal Seafoods and order a feast of salad and fish. We pour over my messy notes and chatter excitedly about our own interpretations and moments of awakening. We are wrapped in enthusiasm all the way home, where we joyfully embrace our children who have missed us all day. And then, we pass out. Because like any spiritual junkie, we cannot escape the crash.
So this morning, I write and think and meditate my way through my first spiritual hangover. Hair of the dog.
From mine to yours,