Resolved to question our convictions
Seven days after pulling an all-nighter at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, where thousands of New Yorkers had gathered to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, I stood outside a
college hockey arena in Minneapolis and watched a bomb-sniffing dog stick its snout into my computer bag.
I had come to cover a Mother’s Day address by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, cosponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. The heightened security, which rivaled that of a presidential appearance, seemed a fitting coda to the week’s cacophony.
During the initial, unrelenting media blitz surrounding the assassination of bin Laden, President Obama saw his endangered approval ratings surge. Hawkish congressional Democrats gloated in the wake of yet another “mission accomplished.” The right’s bogus claim that “enhanced interrogations” led to bin Laden’s lair morphed into a meme. And the imagery that dominated it all featured ecstatic young Americans on street corners from coast to coast, jabbing their fists in the air and chanting “USA, USA!” as though their alma mater had just won the Rose Bowl.
There was so much hawkish braggadocio, in fact, that I wondered out loud whether the nation’s thirst for revenge had permanently rewired its collective conscience. The presence of automatic weapons and riot shields outside the Dalai Lama’s event, while not unprecedented or unusual, only served to harden my cynicism.
Once I passed through the last security check of the day, however, I came to experience a palpable shift in my mood and in the mood of those around me. As 8,000 community activists, citizens, and devoted Tibetans leaned forward in rapt attention, His Holiness talked in uncomplicated terms about the spirit of sacrifice and service that unites the world’s faiths, the unintended consequences of violence, and the only true path to tranquility—enlightenment.
“The motivation that brings happiness is moral. The motivation that brings pain is immoral,” the 75-year-old teacher told the crowd. “At the heart of all afflictions is fundamental ignorance. This is why education is so important. Because ignorance is a societal ill. . . . The origins of all suffering can be eliminated. Once you recognize that, the possibility of that fate will arise in you.”
In the days immediately following the Dalai Lama’s address, our editorial team began to make its final changes to this issue of Utne Reader. More often than I’d like to admit, this last stage of our production process is so manic that I can temporarily lose sight of why we expend the effort. This time around, though, our mission was front and center in my mind, even on the latest work nights.
The magazine you hold in your hands is designed to question our convictions, introduce new ideas, and celebrate those people and institutions that value Mother Earth, serve the greater good, and strive for diplomacy and peace. In the larger scheme of things, it is a minuscule contribution, and we offer it humbly. But as His Holiness reminds us, “You can only eliminate suffering through your own practice.”