It’s probably obvious from our posts about Tibet that Kim and I were both profoundly impacted by the landscape, people and culture we experienced on our journey through the Himalayas. What may not be as obvious is that we’ve long had a fascination with Tibet for years before we went, of course influencing our desire to go there in the first place. This interest stems not only from our general interest in traveling or the uniqueness of the “rooftop of the world”. More specifically we’ve been intrigued by Tibetan Buddhism, and this curiosity is very much due to the writings and speeches of the Dalai Lama. I don’t consider myself a religious person, and even had problems with some of the anti-materialism/detachment arguments presented in my earliest readings of Buddhist philosophy. But the Tibetan take presented by the Dalai Lama seems more practical and non-dogmatic, and so well humored as he delivers speeches on the most serious topics with a big grin on his face, and usually a great joke or two. The Dalai Lama (and all previous Dalai Lamas who he is considered to be a reincarnation of) are believed to be manifestations of the Bodhisattva (Buddha) of Compassion, and it is his mantra of compassion which I have tattooed around my arm. Part of the reason we were so enamored by Tibet was that this philosophy and attitude was completely typical of the average Tibetans that we met. This Tibetan focus on compassion shaped our experience there (not least of which included people’s amazing reaction to my tattoo).
Given all that, we were extremely excited to find out that the Dalai Lama was coming to Seattle! The news came in February that he would be here in April for an event put on by Seeds of Compassion. More than just wanting to see the Dalai Lama speak, the event actually sounded very cool. Discussions on the Scientific Basis for Compassion… Compassion in Action… workshops for students… there was something here for everybody. So we signed up for the Seeds of Compassion mailing list and eagerly awaited the announcement that tickets were available. In early March we received that email and immediately sent in our request for tickets. Since there were several events, they weren’t giving everybody tickets to each event, but asked us to prioritize which event we wanted to go to. We requested our tickets and waited again. A few weeks later they sent our tickets for the main event at the local football stadium. I had kind of hoped we’d be able to also go to the smaller discussions about the scientific basis for compassion, but I can only assume there were far fewer tickets and they filled up really soon. I also knew that blocks of tickets had been reserved for students and researchers before they ever sent out the announcement about the free tickets… and rightfully so.
On Friday when the event was kicked off, I got a call from a former co-worker and Tibetophile who had an extra ticket to one of the discussion events! I took an extra long lunch and walked up to Key Arena to attend the discussion on Knowledge to Compassion Action. It followed up on the earlier discussion on the Scientific Basis for compassion and talked a lot about early childhood development. There were leaders of NGO’s involved in child welfare around the world, and it was really interesting to hear how compassion positively impacts the outcomes of children at risk. The Dalai Lama spoke, and engaged these leaders in a discussion, answering their questions and asking some of his own. Again, he is REALLY funny and had the whole stadium laughing throughout the event. I also ran into two friends who form the band Beehive, sitting right behind where my lucky extra ticket put me. Dave and Alethea had helped me put on a voter registration benefit show during the 2004 Presidential election, and it was a great opportunity for us to catch up as they told me about some of their recent touring and I filled them in on my trip to Tibet.
On Saturday we went to Qwest Field with our free tickets and joined the thousands of people waiting in line to get in. It was a little disappointing to see people trying to buy/sell scalped tickets. I mean, these tickets were FREE and, presumably a lot of people didn’t get any because these speculators had gotten their hands on tickets… and now they’re being traded on the street, or on craigslist or ebay for hundreds of dollars. It’s not as if the tickets were being sold by a promoter and donating the proceeds to a charity, or to the Tibetan Government in exile… this was just pure profit making on the celebrity of a humble monk. There were also protesters out front… evangelical christian fundamentalists claimed we were going to hell (one of the funniest signs put “child molesters, adulterers, and SPORTS FANS” all into the same category!!), protesters were spreading propaganda about the occupation in Tibet, and when we got inside we saw a small plane towing a sign over the open air stadium falsely accusing the Dalai Lama of encouraging riots in Tibet! This was all disappointing, given the theme of compassion for the weekend. I would like to be able to give these misinformed people the benefit of the doubt, but the Dalai Lama’s record is very clear, so I can only assume the worst about this inaccurate propaganda. Aside from the plane overhead, however, at least once we were inside the theme of the day was more pervasive. We were extremely lucky, and our free tickets put us right on the first row at just about the 50 yard line! Were this a football game I can only guess how envied our seats would have been. But envy should have no place on this day… so I digress. This even twas more show, and less discussion, but the Dalai Lama did speak again, and did field a few questions which echoed much of what he’d said the day before. For those who weren’t able to attend the event, Seeds of Compassion has put webcasts of several of the events online.
Over both days he talked about the benefits of compassion, not just for other people, but the direct benefits for yourself as you become more compassionate. There are health benefits, as well as the good will that will come back to you from those you help. In an increasingly interdependent world, one way to look out for your own best interests is to look out for those around you first. So he argues in his humorous way that you should be compassionate out of sense of selfishness, because you will benefit by your compassion. I find this kind of pragmatic argument for compassion much more convincing than a traditional capitalist argument for more classical self interest (that the invisible hand of self interest will guide the common good)… this turns it around and says that improving the common good will benefit your self interest, which seems to be more born out by the evidence than the contrary. I also have to say that over both days, the presence of the Dalai Lama brought about the same sort of tangible feeling of calm that we felt in Tibet, and that we felt in Bodhgaya as we stepped into the Tibetan monastery there.
Despite the events still going on in Tibet, and the desire I’m sure by everyone to hear the Dalai Lama speak out on them, he said nothing directly about the Chinese government’s occupation and brutal reaction of the military to calls for supposed Tibetan autonomy. He did speak about the importance of being compassionate to ones enemies, and about the progress in the state of human rights. In the face of what has happened to the Tibetan people he remains hopeful for a better future.
This wasn’t the kind of journey we had to leave Seattle to take. This one came to us for free.