I am leaving Dharamshala, home of the Dalai Lama, after attending three days of public teachings taught by the Dalai Lama himself. As an American, my respect for leaders and politicians is currently at an all time low, so listening to the Dalai Lama was like being in the twilight zone. Between the kindness of the Tibetan people, the sincerity of their reverence for the Dalai Lama, and the complexity of their philosophy, I felt like I was living in some kind of utopian dream world where everyone (including leadership) was striving to be more loving. Of course the situation in Tibet is far from utopian, but from a human perspective, the way that they conduct themselves is totally inspiring.
Before visiting the Dalai Lama’s village in northern India, my opinion of him was that of the typical westerner. Isn’t that the cheery Buddhist guy that has almost as many Twitter followers as Justin Bieber? But as I explored the Tibetan history museum, learning about the defilement of Tibet by the Chinese, I started to understand the gravity of the Dalai Lama’s position as a figure of dignity, hope and Tibetan-ness. In fact, his esteem is so strong within the Tibetan Buddhist community; there are whisperings that he could actually be a Buddha. Over the course of his teachings it dawned on me that he possessed the type of compassion that is only found among the historically oppressed. Only then do leaders seem to understand the full implications of human rights.
The Dalai Lama’s smile was infectious. A good leader is one who smiles. The desire for happiness is the most universal characteristic among humans, so if a leader constantly appears in public wearing a sourpuss face, why should anyone follow them? Upon his arrival at the temple, I felt a tremendous sense of peace and positivity. This was accompanied by a mood of sincere reverence on behalf of the Tibetans, not the kind of reverence that gets projected blindly onto leaders as it often does in America. The relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans was one of a profound respect that can only be established by merit and reciprocity. Needless to say, when the Dalai Lama walks into his temple, one does not divert their attention or move around to find a better seat because if the roles were flipped, this is not how the Dalai Lama would greet you.
As the teachings progressed I was amazed at how complex and detailed he was in his analysis of second century philosopher Nagarjunas’ text “The Middle Way”. The Dalai Lama placed great emphasis on learning the importance of discovering the true nature of reality. He advocated for a critical approach to learning, even if it meant questioning the teachings of his deity, the Buddha. The Dalai Lama applied the scientific method to advance his analysis of the Buddha’s teachings and he spoke with the confidence of a late Charles Darwin discussing the theory of natural selection. I couldn’t help but notice the dichotomy between the Dalai Lamas’ fidelity to the truth, and the current presidents’ pathological lie telling. Can you even imagine a discourse in the oval office directed at discovering a truth that was independent of party politics or personal bias? It’s hard to think of a situation where our president would entertain such a discussion. For the Tibetans, this approach to governance has resulted in a body of leaders that makes decisions purely based on reason for the good of all sentient beings, rather than out of special interest, pride, or greed.
At 82, the Dalai Lama is still a symbol of good health. He maintains a strict schedule of discipline to ensure both mental and physical health. Some of his followers told me that he wakes up at 4am to read, study, meditate and do yoga. In almost all of his public addresses, the Dalai Lama will inevitably make a caveat promoting healthy eating habits, exercise, and preventative medical care. This message is incredibly powerful as it shows his concern for his people’s wellbeing and longevity. At the core of his talk, the Dalai Lama voiced the Buddha’s practice of arranging the inner conditions such that the highest ideals of love and compassion can be made to flourish.