It has taken me a week to process just the merest fraction of my experiences in Washington, DC, attending the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra for World Peace. I suspect events like these are called “life experiences” because it takes a lifetime to fully experience them. The Kalachakra, though an event itself, was just the beginning of a life guided by the vows taken over the three days.
So, I don’t exactly have anything earth shattering to share at the moment, other than a few more general impressions. For the first of these, I thank Taylor McKenney, a member of this blog’s companion virtual sangha on Facebook, also called Dharma Beginner. Taylor posted, “the Kalachakra was amazing! totally missing being surrounded by like minded people!” She marvelously summed up my feelings over the past week, a mood I couldn’t myself translate into words. Turns out, I was suffering from sangha withdrawal!
The best antidote, I have found, has been sharing the Kalachakra experience with the brothers and sisters of my virtual sangha. The response to the news, links, and photos I shared has been overwhelming. It didn’t occur to me how much such a small act on my part would be appreciated. I feel very blessed to have vicariously included so many people who couldn’t be there in person.
I continue to marvel at the holiness and presence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. I have been fortunate to have met some very holy and spiritual people, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop Paul Moore, and Bishop Walter Dennis. Each possessed qualities that served to draw you in and painlessly imbue in you their morality and values and prayerfulness, quite without your realizing what was happening. Each was supremely human as well, people who could be cranky, tired, impatient. People who loved to laugh, to spend time with friends, to do many things that everyday folks like to do. People who could be deep and meaningful at one moment, and childlike and playful the next, yet exude spirit and love and grounding in both moments.
The Dalai Lama is very much like this—to the power of 10. I hung on nearly every word he spoke, though half of them were in Tibetan, and I don’t speak Tibetan. I might not have understood all of the words, but I keenly felt their meaning—when they were serious, when they were instructive, cautionary, joking. His facial expressions spoke volumes. He often seemed to walk a fine line between solemnity and hilarity, many times leaping headfirst into the latter. He was particularly quick to laugh at himself, such as when he described his cough as sounding like someone blowing through a conch shell.
A scene at the end of the Kalachakra epitomized how he simultaneously planted one foot in the somber and one in the silly. Shortly after His Holiness began the concluding chants, a man staggered to the front of the stage, waving a red, white, and blue top hat in the direction of the Dalai Lama. Security swooped in and began to lead him away, but not before the Dalai Lama saw the man and, particularly, his hat, and beckoned him to the stage. The chanting continued, but the Dalai Lama seemed to have just one thing on his mind now—the Uncle Sam hat. When the hat was finally brought to His Holiness, he promptly plopped it on his head. An immensely silly thing, one might think, for so holy a man to do. Yet, it did not seem out of character for him in the least. No, it is exactly the kind of thing that makes me love him so much.
The Bodhisattva and tantric vows taken during the Kalachakra can seem daunting. There are so many of them, for one thing. But taken in the presence of the Dalai Lama, they appeared light and simple and effortless. I felt that, for him, I could do anything. I expressed the feeling to a friend by paraphrasing Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets: He makes me want to be a better person. No, she said, he makes you want to be yourself.
I’m sure I’ll have more to share as time goes by and what I witnessed continues to reveal itself to me. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join our little virtual sangha on Facebook or walk the path with me on Twitter @DharmaBeginner.