A week after the country celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and his followers quietly occupied a hockey arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to meditate on the power and possibilities of peace. It was a welcome break from the saber rattling, and a reminder that truly inspiring, lasting leadership requires love and compassion.
To begin the day’s festivities, which included two speeches and a private luncheon at the University of Minnesota, the Dalai Lama delivered a 90-minute tutorial on the central tenants of Tibetan Buddhism. Sitting on a makeshift throne and surrounded by some two dozen monks, he and his longtime interpreter, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, covered a lot of philosophical ground—in particular, an in-depth discussion of the Four Noble Truths.
The central message, however, was as simple as it is elusive: Only when we transcend the concept of self can we begin to eliminate the ignorance that breeds our suffering. “The notion of ‘I am’ is the source of all problems,” His Holiness said. “It is the source of all other false views and perceptions.”
Consciousness has no beginning or end, the audience learned, since it evolves over an individual’s past lives. Proof that there is no such thing as a static, personally defined “self.” Only when a person recognizes this truth can he or she become truly compassionate toward the suffering of fellow beings. “Pain brings anger. Pleasure brings attachment,” said the 75-year-old teacher, draped in red and yellow robes. “A serious practitioner [of the Buddhist faith] meditates on impermanence—from that evolves mindfulness . . . Once you develop some awareness about overcoming adversity, then you can see that same potential in others.”
Throughout the morning, His Holiness frequently broke into his unmistakably mischievous laugh, particularly infectious because he is usually laughing at himself. His heartiest chuckle came after he leaned into his microphone to tell the crowd, eyebrows raised for dramatic effect, that in “one of my many, many, many previous lives I was the President of Egypt.”
It had been 10 years to the day since the Dalai Lama visited Minnesota, which has the second-largest Tibetan population in the United States. On Saturday, His Holiness, who is preparing to turn over his political power while remaining Tibet’s central spiritual leader, sat for a 30-minute press conference, an unusual gesture. Asked specifically about the death of Osama bin Laden, he allowed that the act might appear understandable given the circumstance, but then reiterated his absolute belief that “violence is wrong” and leads to “unexpected consequences.”
Later that afternoon, the Dalai Lama held a private meeting with nearly 200 Chinese students from the Twin Cities area. The dialogue, during which His Holiness argued that China needs to ease up on censorship and asked all in attendance to open their minds to new possibilities, was reportedly respectful and ran 45 minutes longer than the allotted hour that was scheduled.
The crowd that gathered for the first event Sunday, which attracted a more concentrated number of Buddhists, was smaller than the near sell-out crowd in the afternoon. And it’s a good guess, given the Twin Cities progressive roots, there were a few Westerners in attendance whose knowledge of Buddhism begin and end with yoga and meditation. For those casual viewers, His Holiness had a parting word of advice: “You can only eliminate suffering through your own practice . . . but eliminating stress, anxiety, and suffering is not for the self, but to serve others.”