May 20, 2009

I posted earlier about my pilgrimage to see His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at Foxboro – since then, I’ve been on Lama overload. First, I bought (and read voraciously) The Art of Happiness; then while at the library using the internet, I walked past a DVD of a talk that the Dalai Lama gave at Radio City, so I had to get it. I’m becoming a Dalai Lama fan girl over here – I’ve even subscribed to the official Dalai Lama RSS Feed! Currently, I’m reading The Universe in a Single Atom, which discusses the convergence of Buddhism and modern science. It is honestly one of the best non-“new age” contemporary introductions to Buddhism that I’ve ever read. 

2363484822_f612745397Dalai Lama Lego by Flickr user Dunechaser

In return for my going to watch Star Trek with him, my partner watched the Dalai Lama’s Radio City talk with me. I was really shocked and thrilled at this. Even more shocking and thrilling is that he’s asked me to come up with material for him to learn more about Buddhist philosophy. (!) Now, my life is kind of like Dharma & Greg. I’ve been raised by hippies. My partner… just quit working at a hedge fund and not only was raised Catholic in a society where everyone is Catholic, but his high school was run by Opus Dei. To say that he’s not familiar with Buddhist thought would be like saying that dogs aren’t generally good at math. 

The problem that I’m running into is that most “Intro to Buddhism” books that are written for a Western audience are really watered-down. Not only is the “new agey” kind of language pervasive, but there’s the constant, CONSTANT association with Christ. If I read “Buddha (or Christ)” in one more book claiming to pertain to Buddhist thought, I don’t know, but it’s going to put me a few steps backward on the path to Nirvana, that’s for sure.  Now, books that are exploring the parallels between Buddhist and Christian philosophy – no problem! But reading a book that purports to be about the history of Tibetan Buddhism and finding every reference to Buddha to include (or Christ) drives me mental. It’s insulting – not only to Buddha, but to Christ – to imply that Buddhist ideas can be freely substituted at will with ideas from other religions. It’s very “feel-good” kind of stuff. 

This book that I’m referencing that really stuck in my craw also did a “dissection” of Buddhist scripture that totally watered everything down to “Imagine the Jewel Tree of the world and you can have everything that you want!” Too much of this is cutting out the meat of spirituality to “new age” palatable garbage. The type of people who read this are the type who ask the Dalai Lama questions like “If you could ask every person in the world one question, what would it be?” Questions that he laughs at, refuses to answer, and refers to as “silly.”  Spirituality can certainly do a lot to enhance your life, but you have to work at it. This kind of microwave instant-gratification ready-on-demand feel-good putting a Buddha statue in your living room THING is just paying lip service to what is, in reality, a beautiful and intensely thoughtful tradition that really IS open to you if you would just put down your attachment to your cushy “right now” lifestyle and exchange it for the more real “in the moment” world view. 

2984807729_f462d34bbePhoto by Flickr user h.koppdelaney   

The Dalai Lama’s teaching are tremendously accessible – even to quantitative scientist Catholics. I would highly, highly recommend that anyone read his works or watch one of his teachings. While the DVD didn’t do justice to the warmth that he emanates in person, it showed the absolute reverence given to the Dalai Lama by the monks in the audience, a respect he truly has earned through his lifetime of working for peace.  He truly does a tremendous job of giving talks that discuss philosophy and spiritual issues from a Buddhist perspective without being limited to Buddhism specifically and yet, not dumbing-down what Buddhism is really about. 

Since immersing myself in the Dalai Lama’s teachings, my own life has already changed. I’ve stopped wearing headphones everywhere to actually experience my own inner world in relation to the world around me. I’ve stopped immediately looking for flaws in everyone that I see. (Why do we do that, as people? I know I’m not the only one who notices something to criticize about everyone. Flipping that around, it’s just as easy to notice something positive.) I smile more. Someone on the T thanked me for smiling the other day and honestly believed that I must be a “morning person.” Nothing could be further from the truth. 

I’ve really become more peaceful in all situations, to the point where my partner can no longer predict when I’m going to have a seizure because my previous aura involved irritability and irrational behavior, but now, I’m reasonably relaxed even when my brain is operating at sub-optimal levels. I don’t believe that the Dalai Lama as a person changed me in anyway, but the teachings that he has given and my willingness to absorb them have fueled positive change for me. 

Photo courtesy of Official Dalai Lama Photo Gallery

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