"On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points." --Virginia Woolf
Sunday, April 29, 2007
All day Friday and all day Saturday (yes I most shamefully requested Friday off from work even though it was my first week there) I could be found, along with about 40,000 other eager wannabe-disciples, in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for a special teaching from His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.
It had been nearly five years since I last saw him. My first time was in Mountain View, and he was slated to give a public talk filled with simple Q&A sessions. The only lingering semblance of a memory I have of the prelude to that event was the Christian Evangelicals with protest signs practically the size of billboards which read something like "Buddhists Burn in Hell", "Hell" ever-so-artistically drawn in flaming letters. And when the waddling, ever-so-humble man of saffron and burgundy made his entrance, it was evident to the hushed crowds nearing 10,000 crammed into the grassy outdoor stadium that something magical was about to occur. I remember when someone from the crowd asked him how to simply incorporate the teachings of loving-kindness and compassion into their every day lifestyle sans meditation -- he just gave a hearty chuckle and said he didn't know. But right before his translator/assistant was about to move on to the next question, he gave many beautiful suggestions. One of which was to always be alert and aware of the world at large. When you listen to the news, listen close and internalize the experiences of those people in the seemingly-intangible corner of the globe from which the stories are told. I truly took that to heart, and perhaps that is why I am on enough Prozac and Aderol to kill an elephant. (Okay that's a joke, I'm really not depressed and I don't do prescription drugs, although I have oftentimes been filled with enough rage to kill an elephant with my bare hands.)
But this time was so much different, he gave a special teaching whereby he was to interpret selected passages from "In Praise of Dependent Origination", a highly influential treatise on the relationship between dependent origination and the Buddhist concept of emptiness. The two days I spent were four hours each, with two-hour breaks in between in order for the older folk nodding off to graze and feast upon troughs of Starbucks coffee.
The first day was a bit intense and repetitive. The Dalai reviewed the "Hymn to the World Transcendent". The stanza which really blew me away went a little something like this:
"In permanence there is no samsara and nirvana; In impermanence too there is no samsara and nirvana. You, supreme among those who've realized suchness, You've declared samsara to be like a dream"
Okay so, implicitly, there must be a middle way? Since nary a Taoist perspective was to be incorporated in this strictly traditional Tibetan teaching, elaborations were not to be explored.
Words escape me when I feebly attempt to explain the basic, fundametal correlation between the concept of emptiness and dependent origination, however, one image summed a great deal to me: "There is no flower in the sky" --take from that what you want, makes perfect sense to me.
Whenever I mention an interest in buddhism, people ask me if I'm a Buddhist. I never know how to respond, but I certainly wouldn't say that I am, that would be extremely arrogant and misleading of me. The one thing I've learned from many years of readings, attending lectures and meditation groups, etc, is that until you've moved beyond the level of intellectuallizing the materials, until you've expereinced them through deep reflection and meditation, you're not on par with the level of commitment it takes to truly call yourself a Buddhist. So no, I'm not a Buddhist. But perhaps in the future, perhaps not...
Regardless, I feel extremely blessed to have been in the Dalai Lama's presence. And that's all I need for now, nirvana can wait.
I am uncommonly mobile; I have circumnavigated the globe eight times, walking amazing distances. Through the South Island of New Zealand to the Southern Alps. From Chile to the Andes in Argentina. Across the Serengeti in Africa. I made 300 ascents of mountains 10,000 ft. tall or more, including the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Kilimanjaro. I traveled alone, aided only by my porters, sketching volcanos and collecting wildflowers along the way.