Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dining with the Dalai Lama

... and 200 of his closest friends in Newark. In many ways it was a dream come true.  In other ways it was a reminder that he is not The One, but only One of many who point the way.
The Peace Education Summit in Newark last weekend was three days of joy, compassion and wisdom; but lacking in practical strategies, beyond meditation and right action, to bring about lasting peace in the world.  I’m still betting on the Prince of Peace inspiring believers without borders to “seek the peace of the city where you have been sent” (Jeremiah 29:7), and “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).  This through a practical strategy of
Systemic engagement with social structures of oppression, with a focus on
Health, healing and wholeness for communities
Asset-based community development
Love for God, self and neighbor 
Organizing for community action, through
Multicultural partnerships united for Peace

Which how we spell SHALOM  see www.communitiesofshalom.org
 
Okay, so dining with the Dalai Lama was a blast.   He walks into the beautiful solarium at the Newark Museum streaming with light and decorated with Tibetan flags, artwork and Buddhist symbols, where approximately 200 invited guests (speakers, funders, and celebrities attending the Peace Summit ) eagerly await the appearance of His Holiness at Table over vegetarian cuisine or a chicken salad lunch.   Mayor Corey Booker greets us and introduces the 14th Dalai Lama who rises from his seat to address the crowd...who return the love they feel radiating from his happy face.

 I was too busy taking pictures with the Blackberry to remember much of what he said.  Besides, he kind of muffles his words in a range of pitches, high and low, in a cadence of phrases, long and short.  What I was struck by was his warm continence, easy grin, and endearing belly laugh that exuded a deep contemplative spirituality.  He embodied the joy, compassion, and wisdom of the OM in SHALOM.

I had hoped to sit on his left at his table.  But I was seated to his right, three tables away.  I had hoped to simply touch the hem of his garment, but was strangely restrained by my inner voice of wisdom not to walk over to his table, interrupt his conversation with a young blond woman in black, and touch him. Instead, I met and talked to others in room, including a brief encounter with another interfaith figure I like and learn from:  Deepak Chopra.  I also enjoyed taking pictures of Goldie Hawn, Forrest Whittaker, Corey Booker, and even former NJ Governor Tom Kean.

Earlier that day, in the morning session, Dalai Lama had made his first appearance and speech at the NJ Performing Arts Center to the 2000+ registrants of the Peace Summit. As His Holiness walked on stage in his flowing saffron robe and head piece, grinning from ear to ear, the crown rose to their feet in applause.  He sat down to speak for ten minutes. Again, I don’t remember much of what he said, but it was something as simple as this:

“…People tell me my face looks the same as it did 10 or 20 years ago.  As if I’m not growing old.  People sometimes think I’ve mastered some deep form of meditation that keeps me looking young. It’s not true.  I have a very simple form of meditation that anyone can practice.  When I get up in the morning, I think about the compassion of the Buddha.  I make a right intention for the day.  Then I try to fulfill that intention. Ro be kind, gentle, compassionate.  That’s all.” 

Again, the crowd stood and applauded, not so much for the words he said, but for the inner peace he embodies.

Other notable panelists on stage with the Dalai Lama included: Nobel Peace Laureates Shrin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Deepak Chopra, Rabbi Michael Learner, and other peacemakers, moderated by Robert Thurman (Uma’s Dad) from Columbia University and famous friend of Tibet.   I loved the spirited interchange between Dalai Lama and Jody Williams (internationally recognized for her heroic work to rid the world of land mines).  After he spoke about the need for inner peace before we can bring about outer peace in the world, Jody said something that I found disrespectful to the Dalai Lama:  ‘I’m not really into meditation or inner peace.  People think I’m angry, but I would say I have righteous indignation at the grave injustices in the world, our America’s complicity in it all.  While you’re meditating for inner peace, some of us are out there working to stop violence and oppression without the luxury of contemplative peace.‘ (I’m paraphrasing from my notes, but that was the jist of her remarks).

Dalai Lama responded to Jody with unconditional warmth and respect, though he did say she was “blunt” as he laughed in his belly and grinned ear to ear.  He obviously enjoyed her spunk and candor.  But he also was straight forward in disagreeing with Jody on America’s positive role in the world as a peacekeeper and advocate for democracy.  Jody was a bit patronizing in her retort:  “Whatever you say Your Holiness, whatever you say…”
Deepak offered deep wisdom in his remarks that violence in the world stems from individuals reacting out of their “reptilian brain” rather from their cerebral cortex, and that through meditation we can reboot our brains to be peacemakers…
But my favorite panelist was Rabbi Michael Lerner, progressive peacemaker and editor of Tikkun Magazine.  He had us stand to our feet and sing together old Freedom songs, including: 
“I’m going to lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside,
“I’m going to lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, down by the riverside.
(Sing it with me): “I ain’t gonna study war no more, I ain’t gonna study war no more, “I ain’t gonna study war no more,I ain’t gonna study war no more, I ain’t gonna study war no more, “I ain’t gonna study war no more…”
After three days of learning from Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists and the Peace Education Summit in Newark, I’m ready to pray for President Barak Obama as he outlines his Middle East Peace Plan, and pray with St Francis: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”  And to trust in the Prince of Peace to empower us all to seek Shalom/Salaam/Shanti/InnerPeace.