Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Universal Responsibility in the Modern World: HH Dalai Lama at the Albert Hall, 22nd May 2008

"We love you!"
This is the first sound that's heard after a full five minutes of clapping and cheering the Dalai Lama onto the stage, echoing out over the silent Albert Hall. "Thank you!" is the prompt reply as His Holiness goes to sit down.
"Firstly, let's sit more comfortably" Taking his shoes off, he sits cross-legged on the chair but assures us "Don't worry, I'm not going to meditate in silence. Not yet, anyway. Dear brothers and sisters, I am extremely happy to be here with you." And thus begins his talk on Universal Responsibility in the Modern World, which turned out to be nothing like I expected, in a good way. I remember seeing people outside holding placards saying "Ticket needed", and I also remember my mum dragging me away from giving them one. So, this is for all of those who couldn't make it - A detailed account of what he taught, all of this is written from notes I made during his talk, so there are plenty of quotes and the rest is also from his own words, but I just couldn't remember it word for word.

When me and my mother arrived at the Albert Hall we saw a large crowd of people gathered around the stage entrance, so not wanting to miss this opportunity we managed to get a good place at the end of the line. After 30 minutes of waiting he finally arrived, and headed straight towards us. Sometimes I wish I was less inclined to take pictures of things and record everything I see, rather than be able to sit back and enjoy them. Though through this small sacrifice I get to bring you, gentle reader, some rather nice images and notes.

He began by talking about how we have a responsibility to serve human value and religious harmony above most other things in life. "Generally when I visit in response to invitation... like this visit... it is to promote these two things, but this time due to recent events we will be talking about universal responsibility instead." Indeed, the introductory speech by Philippa Carrick, Chief Executive of the Tibet Society said that when they originally invited His Holiness over a yea ago they had no idea this talk would coincide with such unrest in Tibet. Though I do question this, even over a year ago it should have been fairly easy to predict what would happen here. For all her insistence's that it was an accidental coincidence, she was quick to say that it was "time to give something back to His Holiness!" I'm sure he's not complaining.

Then came some introductory examples as to the nature of sentient beings: "Nobody thinks 'I should have more trouble!' when they wake up in the early morning - Or in the late morning." Which he linked to the Western commercialism. We strive to avoid suffering and gain happiness, and in the West short-term cures for our unhappiness are available wherever we go, but this just cultivates within us a "lack of comprehensive perspective and short-sightedness." We are all connected, and everything is interdependent, which can be seen on a global scale when you look at economic conditions, population sizes and the rise and fall of individual opinion. He linked this to something his Muslim friend told him, that a true Muslim has love for the entire scope of creation as they have for God - "It's the same Buddhist idea of global responsibility!"

"There is a nickname for money in Tibetan... [I forget the Tibetan term he used, but I'm trying to find out]... Which means 'That which makes you happy and accomplishes everything. So, money is very important. Perhaps to some, the mantra becomes 'Om money money money peme hum'! Or 'Dollar padme dollar padme... pound padme pound padme!' But, it is physical comfort versus mental comfort - 'I have a lot of money!' is an illusion, you are rich but unhappy... With suspicion and jealousy... More money, more worry... What have you actually gained but worry?"

"Inner peace, inner satisfaction depends on our own mental attitude." We are social animals, a biological fact. We are dependant on our mothers womb, her milk and our parents love and protection. Even animals, like cats for instance, rely on this. Without our mothers care, we would have died. "So, there must be some emotional factor to mother's care. The mother self-sacrifices to protect." He talked about how once, on a place journey there were two children, and the younger one who was about 1 wouldn't go to sleep at all, so he tried to give it sweets to calm it down but to no avail. The father of it fell asleep around midnight, but the mother stayed up all night looking after it, even though her eyes were red and sore. "This compassion doesn't come from religious teaching but fact of nature and biology. Human affection is the human basic value." A good way to cultivate it is to do "give and take" meditations - Take these bad feelings and give them god ones like compassion and kindness. Hence, "the biggest danger we have right now is of losing compassion to the Chinese. In order to keep inner peace, compassion really makes a difference." If no universal responsibility is taken, suffering is inevitable, even to yourself because everything is interconnected. "More enemies, less happiness. More fortune, more fake friends. Less money, less fake friends, even if you telephone them they wont answer, they were not real friends."

He then talked about the sense of self, and how using "me", "my", and "I" actually give you a greater risk of heart attack. It's attachment to your self, which is unreliable. Your 'self' makes even tiny problems seem immense, but if you give it up and take on a universal responsibility suddenly your own problems seem not so big. "Anger, hatred, fear actually decrease our immune system." Compassion on the other hand increases it. If a family is full of hate and suspicion, how can there be inner peace there? You can only solve problems with universal brother and sisterhood. Even those who criticise you are your brothers and sisters. It is possible to have faith for one religion and respect for all. "Most people see a contradiction in 'one truth, one religion and all true, all religions', but it's not because of respect for all of them."

Then came the question and answer session:

Q. What are your opinions of the China earthquake?

HH: Very sad, very shocking. I saw a picture of a young student crushed in a school. Only one, but such unimaginable pain. The one good thing is how there has been such a great and wonderful response from the authorities and the world, just like the tsunami. Even many Tibetans who have suffered under China are helping!

Q. What makes you laugh?

HH: Other people's little mistakes. Too serious people, like this Japanese person at an interfaith conference once... He was sat very seriously, doing his rosary beads. Then suddenly, the string broke, and the beads went everywhere! And he was still sat there austere like this [Makes a grumpy face].

Q. What can we do to keep Tibet and its wonderful tradition alive?

HH: Meaningful autonomy is needed to preserve our country. Please continue your expression of solidarity, your concern and your sincere want to help. If you find the ability to talk to our Chinese brothers and sisters, then do so, educate them!

Q. Would you like to be reborn in London?

HH: Oh no, no, no. Wait [Confers with his translator] Oh, oh... possible! When in Tibet as children we used to describe Westerners as "big nose". So, I could have a big nose one day. Wherever there is some usefulness in my next life, I will go there.

So ended the talk on universal responsibility, to much cheering. There were also some famous faces in the crowd too, me and my mum spotted Joanna Lumley in the line on the way in.

This picture has a story. His exit from the stage was right beneath my seat, so I tried to get a good picture but he started looking at me and smiling so I could only respond. Then the man next to me shouted, I quote, "Holy father, how about a high five?" and leaned over. Hell with it, so did I and we both got a joint hand slap from His Holiness. It took me a while to think straight again so you only get a blurry, dark picture of his exit afterwards.

This was what greeted HH outside. What I think of the New Kadampas (And what the Tibetan beside me in the chupa was shouting at them) doesn't need to be said, but I am glad we live in a country where people CAN stage a peaceful protest, even if they are a disgrace. What was worse were the Chinese Nationalists on the other side, who went crazy at me for having a picture of the Dalai Lama, shouting "You're brainwashed!" My mum pulled me away from them because she was so scared of their violent outburst. It made me wonder, how could you call someone brainwashed, when you have such angry and volatile tendencies towards a picture?
There are some shaky hand footage videos of the talk and of the protests on YouTube, if you have trouble finding them leave a comment and I'll give you the direct links.