Life constantly offers up surrealism.
It is Sunday morning and I am in a long line that is snailing it’s way to enter the Burswood Dome for the Dalai Lama’s Perth talk. Behind me is a young heterosexual couple* who it seems are not happy with the ‘early’ start following a heavy night out. To take their minds off things, they start recounting various anecdotes – how the woman pushed in front of young girls at the recent Justin Bieber concert, knowing they were too small to stop her. Heh heh. How she stole ‘a bitch’s’ tampons from her handbag late at night, knowing no stores were open. How the guy let down the tyres of acquaintance who ‘really pissed him off’, ruining his whole night. Heh heh. They don’t seem to realise the irony of such comments in a queue to see someone who for many, including myself, has become an icon of compassion and forbearance. Maybe they did after the talk. I hope so, as I know the presence of this living master can alter attitudes, cause reflection and change lives.
I have written about His Holiness before on MOTO (here and here), and reporting on a public talk where he presents as the compassionate, universal and wise leader – not the advanced Tantric master, as he does in his teachings – will yield nothing new in terms of linear words and shared information. We really need to be in his presence, where it becomes clear the words ‘compassion’, ‘love’ and ‘interdependence’ mean something to him at the deepest and most visceral, yet spiritual, levels, and this realisation can move us to the same depths.
So these are just a few notes celebrating His Holiness’ latest visit to Perth, a talk that was, incidentally, sold out and despite the size of Perth, the largest of all in Australia. It fairly makes me wonder about all that Perth as the ‘city of light’ nonsense so beloved by Wiccy and new age folk back in the day :)
I was delighted to discover (not being partial to reading promo material) that Luka Bloom was in Australia to open the Dalai Lama’s shows with a song commemorating His Holiness’ flight from Tibet in 1959. It has been a favourite of mine for sometime, and to unexpectedly have it performed by Luka and his nephew was a great opening to the morning.
As always, the presence of His Holiness moved me deeply and tearfully as he wandered onto the stage. We were fortunate to have very good seats and I could see how he has aged in the last few years. He is approaching 76 after all :) But his spiritual presence, light and mind remains unaffected.
Another delight occurred when when local Noongar elder, Kim Collard, was invited to perform the traditional Aboriginal Welcome to Country for the Dalai Lama. Considering Tibetan Buddhism is one of the very few religions that constantly honour and work with the land spirits, this was especially moving. The form of this Noongar welcoming can be seen here.
During the talk the Dalai Lama reaffirmed his personal acceptance of socialism and Marxism, while also recognising that corruption had infected and damaged previous socialist states such as the USSR. However, even without that same corruption, capitalism is deficient since it is premised on the personal acquisition of wealth. The Marxist principle of the distribution of wealth appeals most to His Holiness, as it does to me.
What moved me most about the whole talk was the Dalai Lama’s view that, potentially, the 21st century could become the century where the world changes from war to peace. Recognising the 20th century as the most bloody in our history, His Holiness opined that the next 90 years could be years of change, and there could be an end to most of the world’s militarisation by the end of our century. I found this incredibly moving and deeply inspiring. You see in recent years I have begun to despair at it all; the constant pointless wars, the seeming public indifference to political lies that cost lives, the acceptance of grade school level propaganda. It has worn me down.
And yet here is my spiritual teacher, someone who I recognise as a master, giving a message of hope and peace. Now I know I am ascribing to argument by authority here, but the Dalai Lama is not just a head-in-the-clouds meditating monk. He is an astute, wise and critical political thinker, much more aware of the reality of how the world works than most leaders. I’ve read some of his critiques and analyses before and they are spot on, based on hard evidence and a refusal to accept the western veneer of ‘all is well’. On Sunday he mentioned just one thing along these lines: how the west created the armaments and the army that was the backbone of Saddam Hussein’s power, and were therefore complicit in his brutal regime. So…when His Holiness talked about a possible end of most wars by the end of the century, I was deeply effected. And still am.
His Holiness’ also talked about death of Osama bin Laden and I was pleased to hear him echo views of the Pray for Osama bin Laden’s Soul Facebook group. I was less impressed at the limited smattering of applause his comments produced. Maybe people were simply just processing his views, or maybe radical compassion is a hard thing for people to get their head around, as I discuss in this post. Here again, the Dalai Lama is no pie-in-the-sky pacifist. He is a refugee from one of the most brutal occupations on the planet who dialogues constantly with his own countrymen who wish for armed resistance against the Chinese. He has been clear that where there is a threat and it needs neutralising, if cannot be done peacefully, it may be done with violence. But when the threat is passed or neutralised, compassion must be our motivating principle.
The Dalai Lama’s view of the political world is of course much influenced and framed by his Buddhism, just as Bush and Blair’s Christianity influenced and framed their strategies in the Iraq invasion and war. It is here we see the wisdom of depth Buddhism versus the exoteric mumbling that passes for confessional Christianity these days. From a Buddhist perspective all things arise out of causes and conditions, not fixed eternal entities that travel through time and space. As mentioned above, the Saddam regime arose out of conditions that the west co-created. Saddam like all of us was/is interdependent; he could not have wielded such power without a power base and with the creation of that base, the leader was in many ways irrelevant.
Holding this view, we see our own complicity in the tyranny of Saddam and we know that simply removing him will not solve anything; if the causes and conditions for tyranny remain, so will the tyranny. From a simple exoteric Christian point of view however, we are all independent entities who may be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and who may be considerable ultimately responsible for things way beyond us. Saddam Hussein, the entity was ‘good’ during the Iran-Iraq war and then later became ‘bad’ and eventually ‘evil’. Removing him was therefore necessary, and would solve the problem – though of course it did not, and could not do.
During the question time a mother relayed her nine year old son’s question to the Dalai Lama: “if God made us, who made God?” The posing of such of theistic question shows how delightfully confused the western public is about the Dalai Lama; he has become an all around spiritual wisdom dispenser, not a Buddhist monk and master. In any event, the Dalai Lama answered wonderfully, I thought, by saying we should not try to go beyond what we can comprehend and some things are best left as Mystery. While many in the audience thought this was a humorous brush-off, it is in fact the only answer available. We cannot comprehend ‘God’, and if we think we can, by seeing God as a creator being, we are bound to run into these conundrums. Such again, is the problem with exoteric Christianity that promotes the idea of God as a being. How cute it was to see a simple Buddhist monk giving theistic religious education :) May he live long and prosper!
Gang ri ra wä kor wäi zhing kham dir
Phän dang de wa ma lü jung wäi nä
Chän rä zig wang tän dzin gya tsho yi
Zhab pä si thäi bar du tän gyur chig.
In the land encircled by snow mountains
You are the source of all happiness and good;
All-powerful Chenrezig, Tenzin Gyatso,
Please remain until samsara ends.
*If I had written just ‘a couple’, chances are you would assume a heterosexual couple anyway. Such is the discrimination of normative language.