Written by Alex Liethen
Photos courtesy of The Denver Post
The 14th Dalai Lama visited Boulder on Thursday, marking his first visit to the state since 1997 and given his age, 81, potentially his last. Along with many others in attendance, it has been a dream of mine to attend a teaching of his for decades. On June 23rd, that dream was finally realized.
The teaching was held on the CU-Boulder Campus, in the Coors Event Center. It was a warm and sunny morning when I pulled up on my bike, about an hour before the scheduled 9:30 start time of the teaching. The crowds grew thicker as you approached the center. Bikes were locked to every sign, tree and bench in site, in typical Boulder fashion. Streets were closed off with yellow vest clad officers directing pedestrians and cars alike. I heard at least five languages spoken among the diverse crowd; English, Spanish, Tibetan, Chinese and British. I sat next to a kind lady from Pennsylvania. People travelled from far and wide to see the Dalai Lama speak.
The lines to get in snaked around the building as everyone was funneled through metal detectors. The energy inside, as it was in line, was excited yet calm, just as you would expect at a Buddhist centered event. The teaching was hosted by the Tibetan Association of Colorado and the influence of Tibetan culture could be seen in the goods being sold and the adornments of the stage.
The teachings were preceded by short speeches from Boulder Congressman Jared Polis and Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones. Polis welcomed the Dalai Lama to Boulder and showered him with praise; “It takes a man of peace to be a man for peace.” He managed to sprinkle in some political statements and thoughts, including the recent Orlando nightclub shooting and the sit-in that was taking place in Congress as he was speaking and which he needed to return to Washington, D.C. for. He was greeted with raucous applause at the mention.
Mayor Jones also greeted the Dalai Lama and welcomed him to Boulder. In her speech, she claimed “I would be remiss to not present you with some gifts” after which she gave him a bicycle jersey and helmet. With the all-knowing grin that only an enlightened individual seems to have, he slung the shirt over his shoulder and donned the helmet. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, the reincarnation of Buddha and one of the most recognizable figures in the world, wore the white bike helmet for the next 10 minutes, through the remainder of the introductions and welcome speeches. In a world filled with political correctness and cultural customs, he is the only person of his stature that can get away with wearing a bike helmet through any significant portion of an event that has the eyes of a nation focused on it. It was comical and refreshing and really helped set a tone of acceptance and humility, concepts that would come up in his teachings that followed.
The Dalai Lama started the teachings by immediately invoking an analogy created from the bike helmet. He spoke about the helmet being for safety while using a bike to get from place to place. He likened Buddhism to that bike helmet in that it can be a safety net for our mind and body, which get us around in this life. He was quick to transition into what would become a major theme of the first half of the two-hour teaching; acceptance of others. Partly delivered in his native Tibetan (then translated) and partly in English, he talked about the importance of accepting other people’s belief systems and the need to understand that all the major religions try to teach the same principle, love. He stressed that Buddhism might be the path for some but that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism are paths that are more appropriate for others. The path isn’t what’s important he says, finding yours is.
“’My religion’ turns religion from an altruistic tool to a weapon. A strong sense of ‘this is my___ (fill in almost anything) causes a sense of ownership, which create negative emotions- anger.”
This message is especially relevant in the social climate world-wide and in America as it regards religious faith and people’s strong sense of this is my religion or country or right and I need to defend it. The message that he strongly associated with tolerance of others was being altruistic, especially when it comes to one’s spiritual practice and generally how we interact with those around us.
“To practice altruism, you need to practice tolerance.”
His talk was periodically interrupted by his deep, guttural yet highly soothing chuckle, usually instigated by something he said that he found amusing. These brief laughs, which brought a smile to the face of everyone in the audience, help keep the mood light while addressing important, contentious issues.
The Dalai Lama also had some messages and lessons for students, but they are ones that everyone can, and should, apply. “I’m 81 years old and I’m still a student. When I have time, I read and think, which, I think, is good.” He does mention that he wasn’t always this way. “When I was young, I was lazy, I didn’t want to study, I wanted to pray.” This statement elicited his belly laugh, as well as laughs from most of the audience.
In a phrase that could have come out of a commencement address but one that was highly appropriate for the setting, the Dalai Lama sums up how we can make a difference in the world.
“To change, we must start with 1 person. Then multiply by 10, 100, 1000. That is how we change.”
This concluded the first half of this teaching. The second half was devoted to the theme of the event, which came from a Buddhist text and is called “Eight Verses of Training the Mind.” The text that he taught from was very appropriate to follow-up the teachings on tolerance and acceptance because it focuses on eight practices that can be adopted to develop a compassionate and altruistic mind.
Instead of just reading the Eight Verses, which as he stated are fairly clearly laid out in the concise text, he talked about how to practice the lessons contained in the verses while tying them back to the earlier lessons. He talked about specific methods to meditation and contrasted single-pointed meditation- focusing on the breath is an example- verses analytical meditation, which is meditating by repeating a mantra or focusing on a word or topic such as love.
“Single-pointed meditation is one path and is beneficial but analytical meditation is more important, better, for the mind.”
The Dalai Lama concluded the teaching by having everyone join in with a recitation of the 8th Verse (see below) three times, followed by reciting a few Buddhist mantras three times as well. He then thanked everyone in attendance, bowed, and gracefully and humbly walked off the stage.
The teachings of Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama, can be highly beneficial for all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or religious background. Meditation practices can help students through the stress of school. For more information on Buddhism in the Boulder area, check out;
The Eight Verses on Training the Mind.
|1. With the wish to achieve the highest aim, which surpasses even a wish fulfilling gem, for the benefit of all sentient beings, may I hold them dear at all times.||2. Whenever I interact with another, may I view myself as the lowest among all and, from the very depths of my heart, hold others as superior.|
|3. In all my activities may I probe my mind, and as soon as an affliction arises- since it endangers myself and others- may I confront it directly and avert it.||4. When I encounter beings of unpleasant character and those oppressed by intense negativity and suffering, as though finding a treasure of precious jewels, may I cherish them, for they are so rarely found.|
|5. When others out of jealousy treat me wrongly with abuse and slander, may I take upon myself the defeat and offer to others the victory.||6. Even if someone I have helped or in whom I have placed great hope gravely mistreats me in hurtful ways, may I view him as my sublime teacher.|
|7. In brief, may I offer benefit and joy to all my mothers, both directly and indirectly, and may I quietly take upon myself all the hurts and pains of my mothers.||8. May all of this remain unsullied by the stains of the eight mundane concerns, and, by understanding all things as illusions, free of clinging, may I be released from bondage.|