Story and Photos by Paula Antolini
Seven thousand people gathered to see His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, during the sold out events at the William O’Neill Athletic and Convocation Center on the Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) Westside campus. The two day event, October 18-19, 2012, offered two topics of discussion, "The Art of Compassion" on Thursday, and "Advice for Daily Life" on Friday.
The excitement of anticipation in the audience was palpable as attendees waited for the first event to begin. Young babies in mother's arms and older folks in wheelchairs, along with every age in between, anxiously waited for His Holiness to appear. Thursday's weather was sunny, but Friday brought torrential rain as people entered the arena, but it did not dampen spirits at all, the enthusiasm was too great.
For many audience members this was not the first time they had come to see His Holiness. Bethel residents Marc Moorash and Ava Dawn Heydt, owners of Seraphemera Books and Music, a Bethel publisher, said they had seen His Holiness in Goshen last July. Heydt held their young sleeping son in her arms and said, "We want Lucian to experience the teachings of His Holiness." Moorash said he began his interest in Buddhist philosophy when he took a two week course at Bodh Gaya in India in 1999, after studying Buddhism in his freshman year of college.
When asked why she felt it was important to attend this event, Yhara Zelinka, of Columbian descent, said, "I am just going to be taught by His Holiness- just being in His presence. We need so much more peace and compassion in the world."
Wendy Kan, a Chinese woman from the Boston area, traveled alone to attend this event. "The farthest I've gone is San Francisco, to see His Holiness. It's a once in a lifetime thing for us, but in Tibet they walk far distances to see him," she said. Kan studies at a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Medford, Massachusetts, named the Kurukulla Center for Buddhist Studies, where she said His Holiness had just visited there this past Tuesday.
A woman named Great Bear, from St. Ignatius, Montana said, "Arlee [Montana] has a Buddhist Center named 10,000 Buddhas."
Joanne Clark from Whitinghan, Vermont, remarked, "This is my third visit. I saw him in Middlebury, Vermont. I waited in twenty-five degree weather to be near him. He observes the audience and speaks spontaneous for a while. He will talk about the basics. This is not about Buddhism. It is about spreading compassion around the world."
Both WCSU events began with seven monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery entering the stage. On Thursday, they dressed in traditional red robes and with shaved heads and stood on the right side of the stage. On Friday, they stood on the left, as the large ornate chair, placed for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was in the center. Banners hung above and slightly behind the chair and Tibetan prayer flags lined the ceiling above the audience. The monks chanted mantras in low even tones which had a calming effect on the audience, as many heads were bowed in meditation.
WCSU President, James Schmotter, was the first speaker. In his opening statement he said, "This place has good karma."
Thanks were given to the Do Ngak Kunphen Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center for Universal Peace, in Redding, Connecticut, for being instrumental in bringing His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to WCSU, a process which took 18 months. It is "an historic occasion," said Schmotter.
Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Jampa, the Spiritual Director at Do Ngak Kunphen Ling, addressed the audience and said, "The University has taken extraordinary efforts to make today a wonderful and historic event for our community. Our work together has developed a warm and lasting friendship between DNKL and our friends at WCSU. We pray for their continued success in educating thoughtful, ethical and happy students."
On Friday, President James Schmotter presented His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama with a "Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa" from the WCSU, which read in part, "in recognition of your outstanding work and your substantial contributions to the global community." Schmotter also presented His Holiness with an invitation to come back to visit.
His Holiness entered the stage with his English translator Thupten Jinpa, nearby, either to indicate the subject matter, interpret a question or relay a message from the Dalai Lama to the audience, to explain it more clearly.
The 77-year-old Dalai Lama wore a navy blue WCSU visor to shield his eyes from the bright lights of the arena due to his recent cataract surgery. "Now I can see clearly," His Holiness said, after he placed the visor on his head.
In Tibetan Buddhism, one offers a white scarf to a Lama, which is then placed around your neck. Following this ancient Tibetan custom, on Thursday Schmotter offered a white scarf, called a kata, to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who then presented it back to him, where His Holiness lifted it over Schmotter's head and placed it on his neck. Richard Gere, the monks and others, also received the white scarves in this same manner. The significance of this tradition comes from the Tibetan belief that giving and receiving go hand in hand and should not be in terms of material goods only. The universal karmic principle is, the more you give, the more you receive.
Actor Richard Gere introduced His Holiness both days. Gere entered the stage and immediately commented about the audience and said, "I love seeing all these smiling faces, that always seems to happen when His Holiness is around." He went on to say how we all have a common thread of wanting to make a better world. Gere said, "We are suffering and we want things to be better. We instinctively know things can be better in our world inside of ourselves, so we look for a teacher. We look for wisdom. We look for compassion that is going to help us in that process." Gere said he has known the Dalai Lama for 30 years and twice in Gere's speech he described the experience as "extraordinary." Gere said, "The help I've gotten [from His Holiness] to remove some of that suffering and confusion has been extraordinary, and is never done. It's never completed." Gere talked about the importance of brotherhood and sisterhood among all- he said that moving towards happiness, and away from suffering, is "the great equalizer."
Humor seemed to be a large part of how His Holiness chose to communicate, whether it be his hearty laugh, punctuated by a broad smile, or his honest answers to complex pre-recorded video-taped questions asked. For example, WCSU students and others were shown on two large flat screen monitors on either side of the stage and various pre-recorded questions were directed to His Holiness. One question regarded how we can improve upon our views about capitalism and democracy. His Holiness would respond "I don't know," which in turn produced laughter from the audience. He would then proceed to make suggestions for a solution to the question posed. When is Holiness was asked, "If meeting with world leaders, what advice would you share with them about world problems?" His Holiness replied, "Yes, I had many opportunities to meet with leaders, but I never fight." Laughter ensued again.
As day two of the Dalai Lama's talks ended, and all the honors and presentations were done, he waved goodbye to the audience, but His Holiness stopped suddenly, to do one more thing. He screwed the bottle top back onto his water bottle that was sitting next to his chair, then he exited the stage.
Below are some of the Dalai Lama's thoughts on different subjects. Many of the teachings of His Holiness are intertwined because one relates to the other in the same way, relative to the teachings of His Holiness, where one area of positive progress, or thinking, leads to another positive thought or action, all coming from the same center of "improved intelligence" and "inner self at peace."
His Holiness starts his day off in prayer. "I recite one verse ten times, I did not write [the verse], and then determination the rest of the day, should follow. So remember God this day, I will follow." His Holiness also indicated that he believes in "action rather than prayer" as being most important. His Holiness said "Remain your mind on full alert. Do this, see problems through different dimensions. Meditate. Analyze the nature of the problem and the consequences of the problem. Inner strength does not come through prayer but utilize your intelligence fully."
"Emotions create trouble. Control or regulate emotion," His Holiness said. The Dalai Lama believes that emotions are similar to an addiction, and that "We must investigate and resist the reality of our own physical habit. Too much anger almost makes you go mad," His Holiness said. "Might make you hit wrong person," His Holiness joked. The Dalai Lama continued by stating that once you realize and conquer your emotions you will be a calmer person. "Use your intelligence to change your emotions," His Holiness said. He termed this "the system of the mind."
Education, and the process of the mind, was a topic His Holiness fully stressed throughout the talk. "I believe in the education system. Happy body, happy mind. Happy individual, happy family," the Dalai Lama said. "Happiness requires education." His Holiness suggested introducing this idea from kindergarten and said that this task of educating young ones is very easy. "Happiness very much depends on inner peace. We must transform our inner mind to peace, through intellect," His Holiness said. "We have some sense of insecurity from a young age, to not trust someone. We survive from our mother's affection. At a young age you can know the affection from a mother," said His Holiness. "Education must be more holistic," His Holiness said. "I think the university should have some sort of program to teach secularism." His Holiness said in some countries education is separate from religion. "Religion can never be universal," His Holiness said, but that we should "secularly educate."
On Problem Solving:
"Start with one person, implement these ideas [emotions/mind] then share with more people," said the Dalai Lama. His Holiness then went on to say how passing these ideas on to one person can become ten, which can become one hundred, and so on. "Look around and see where you can make a difference and start from there. So I must make [it] clear, a world of secularism, an attitude, always respect."
The Dalai Lama said, "All religion, there is no difference." His Holiness continued, "Religion has become a multi-human dimension. Six billion people have six billion views of the world. Different philosophies contradict other philosophies. Creator, no creator, does not matter. You must create inner peace." His Holiness said, "Buddhists believe no such center of self," explaining that no religion is considered to be more important than another. "It is a philosophy of the soul," the Dalai Lama said.
"These people that believe in religion all have same--- forgiveness, love, tolerance," said His Holiness. "The self discipline protects your own interests. People who believe in God the Creator, is the best way to bring forth happiness. God tells you how to achieve a happy life," said the Dalai Lama. "I am curious about the after-life, do we remain in the coffin or not? I don't know," His Holiness said, then gave a hearty laugh, which in turn made the audience laugh.
On Hatred and Negativity:
The Dalai Lama mentioned Jihad, which we define as a crusade for a principle or belief, or a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty. "Hate, fight, kill is [the] meaning of Jihad--- real meaning is to combat your negative emotion," His Holiness stated. The Dalai Lama then told a story about an opening ceremony he once attended in India where they had invited many teachers, Muslims, and Himself. His Holiness said there was "one complete negative" person there who would not hesitate to say, "They can never do it that way," and that she sat next to Him. "She simply followed a tradition her own way," said His Holiness. "The highest form of achievement is to ignore the negative influences of other people. Day by day you can develop these principles and achieve the disciplines of life," the Dalai Lama said.
On War and Money:
A pre-recorded question was asked, "We teach our children to be compassionate, so how do we teach adults to stop fighting around the world?" His Holiness immediately joked, "I make a difference between generations so it is difficult to change, like me!" His Holiness joked, and continued, "Many advertisements always talk dollars, dollars, dollars, makes too much competition, so we must educate the younger generation to a different way of life. Then the way of life and society will change and be happier. My happiness will come from their happiness. Your happiness, is my happiness, your suffering, is my suffering." His Holiness said, "Make a pledge to yourself of motivation--- then go to bed and think about if you achieved excellence, or if something went wrong, then criticize yourself and say it will not happen in the future."
On Technology and the Future:
"Innovation in technology and science, this century should be very important, we can change and create a peaceful century by dialogue," His Holiness said. "The future is in our hands. We can only learn by experience. The future is still open," said the Dalai Lama. "It is some sort of mobile force, it is not my generation's possibility, now you [this generation] has to solve the problems."
A prerecorded question from a Danbury High School senior was, "How do I concentrate on the present and not feel like I am missing out [on something else]? His Holiness replied, "Analyze your own situation then ask advice from others and have conviction to do what you want. With a needle with two eyes, a two-edged mind, you cannot accomplish your goal. You must focus, otherwise the mind goes elsewhere. Just concentrate on one subject and practice doing this, called mindfulness."
A pre-recorded question was, "Some people feel a need for a sense of guidance to guide them in their goals. What can we do to get a sense of direction?" The Dalai Lama responded, "I don't know." More laughter from His Holiness and the audience. The Dalai Lama said, "All individuals are different and perhaps do not care or are not using the human brain properly. Also drugs and alcohol damage the brain." His Holiness continued, "There is a spiritual quality being developed in Tibetan thinking--- and sometimes they see this lack of caring even with them, that they don't care."
"Forgiveness means a negative feeling towards the wrong-doing. Forgiveness means control--- not that negative feeling towards another. You should not consider that a point of weakness. When you accomplish this you will feel happy," said His Holiness.
The Dalai Lama said, "Anger is a sign of weakness. Have genuine concern for others and that will be a source of your own well-being. So for my own happiness I have to develop a sense of compassion."
Another question asked on the pre-recorded video was, "What advice would you give to people who have a terminal illness to give them inner peace?" His Holiness responded, "If a person has faith then they will get through a difficult moment. This very life was created by God and so it is also ended by God and there must be some meaning." His Holiness then mentioned his personal story about having gall bladder surgery. His Holiness said, "That day when the expert doctor examined me, he said God creates our body so God creates certain limitations to organs. So gall bladder ends, and must go." This produced laughter from the audience. His Holiness continued, "So that is one way to understand these difficult situations or tragedies. Take a very practical approach. You can have emotion but take a very intellectual approach and you can avoid anxiety. It is very important to keep peace of mind."
"We need more respect for others," His Holiness said. He elaborated and said there are so many poor people in the world, that only when you develop a sense of self will you be able to reduce greed. His Holiness stated that there is too much greed in socialist countries, and unless some change happens, things will not improve.
On the Economy:
The Dalai Lama said, "You have the opportunity to create a synthesized economy." His Holiness touched on the topics of Marxism and Leninism, saying "Marxism good, Leninism bad. We must make a distinction."
"Happiness very much depends on inner peace. We must transform our inner mind to peace through intellect," His Holiness said.
The Dalai Lama said, "Compassion will build a peaceful world without suppressing individual freedoms. Be compassionate in this world, not wait for heaven." His Holiness continued, "Cultivate inner peace by keeping a calm mind with self confidence and inner strength. When there is too much self-centeredness you can easily create fear and distance. Therefore you must conquer fear and a sense of insecurity. Once you develop a strong sense of conviction [full self confidence] in daily life you will achieve inner peace."
The cost of the two day event was "roughly $300,000," said Paul Steinmetz, WCSU Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Director of University Relations. He also stated that His Holiness preferred that an institution "not go into debt or make any money from an event." If a profit was made Steinmetz said it would be divided into thirds in a specific manner. "One third goes to a non-profit organization of the Dalai Lama's choosing, one third goes to a charity the Dalai Lama approves, and one third goes to something that we can create, such as a center for compassion," Steinmetz said. At the end of the event it was announced that there was a surplus of $50,000. Steinmetz said most of the funds were from ticket sales and $15,000 in donations.
When Steinmetz was asked if there were any special preparations for food for the Dalai Lama, Steinmetz said, "He travels with his own chef," and mentioned that there were a host of Tibetan chefs serving the food that day (Thursday).