Monday, May 4, 2009

The Dalai Lama, live in Boston!

"Physical comfort does not equal mental happiness. Mental happiness can subdue physical discomfort but not the opposite: physical comfort cannot subdue mental unhappiness."--His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Mike and I went to see the Dalai Lama speak at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Saturday. We had to get up at 6 to be there at 9, but we were early so I got to have coffee and a coconut donut at Dunkin Donuts.

The crowd was a mix of ages but not as ethnically diverse as I would have expected. We saw some Tibetans in traditional satin dresses and cotton prayer shawls. It was overcast and a little chilly so I didn't even try to dress nicely, just put on a pair of jeans and sneakers and a rain shell. We waited on various lines, one when we were passing through security, one when I stopped off at the ladies room (where Mike reported women going in through the exit to avoid the long line--not very kind of them!) and then a final line to get our orange arm bands. The lines weren't very well-organized; Mike pointed out that they sure got enough people to work the concessions, but not as many people to keep the event running smoothly. Skirting the concessions were stalls of Buddhist knick-knacks, prayers flags, and shawls, but I have trouble with that because I don't want to get too invested in "the stuff." Yes, the lotus candle holders and the gold Buddha statues are nice, but I don't want to cheapen my learning experience by loading up on tat--it just seems counter-intuitive, and oh so American (Western?) to be shopping at a Dalai Lama talk.

Once on the floor of the stadium, we sat down on fold-out chairs. Because the lines had been so confusing and long, we missed the introduction. Mike had gotten irritated, and I started to feel my peaceful cocoon of lovingkindess slip off and get trampled in the crowd. I don't like crowds, and the papers reported after the fact that there had been 16,000 people there.

The Dalai Lama was already seated cross-legged on the teak chair built for him by the Tibetan Association of Boston. When I first heard him speak, for some reason his thick accent surprised me. Did I think he was going to sound like Dan Rather? I had my little notebook with me, and I started writing down strings of words, but I couldn't seem to comprehend full sentences. There were lots of pauses and sometimes D.L. would lean over and speak to his translator, a handsome gray-haired and very capable looking man, and then that man would speak. But even coming from him--a man whose accent was slight--I had a hard time following the talk. Mike was also taking notes, and he got a lot more down than I did. Something about Europe and America having lots of material wealth but spiritual emptiness and unhappiness (check.) Physical comfort doesn't bring mental happiness (is he sure about that?) And then the big questions: what is self? Where does self begin? Where does self end? Buddhists believe that there's no separate "self," just body and mind. And the mind can cause a lot of problems when it's delusional or otherwise afflicted. I thought of the trouble that negative thoughts had caused me over the years; Mike, too. I'd love to lasso all those free-floating thoughts once and for all, kick them to the curb where they won't bother anybody.

Throughout, I wanted to ask some very basic questions, or ask for more examples, but of course I was just one among thousands and I think I would have had a hard time articulating myself anyway.

He was a funny guy, that Dalai Lama--several times he laughed this hearty laugh that made everyone else--serious and solemn for the most part--crack up too.

He ended his talk by reciting a prayer, but the person in charge of the widescreen where the words to the prayer were flashed must have fallen asleep, because the wrong text kept displaying. Finally, only His Holiness and the few who knew the words by heart recited them.

There was music and dance to come, and then an afternoon program about peace and love in today's world. I don't know why I didn't want to stay. Well I do--I was cold and felt tired from the sugar crash from the coconut donut, and I was already looking ahead to dinner with Mike that night. It was my birthday this weekend and he was going to take me somewhere nice. I'd need to shower and change, and before that, wouldn't it be nice to just laze around on the sofa for a few hours with the cat, and read my thick novel?

So there you have it. It was an interesting experience to see such a respected, noble man--a rock star, really--in person, but it would have been nicer if it was a small group setting and not in a football stadium. I still wasn't getting the idea that physical comfort does not bring mental happiness. I love being comfortable--warm, well-fed, with my husband or my cat sitting with me on the couch. Does this mean I don't belong on the path?

I heard that after we left, the clouds parted and the sun came out, and the D.L. wore a Patriots cap, which made everyone cheer. I kind of wished we had stayed, but there were no lines when we stopped for take-out lunch at a neighborhood restaurant that afternoon. Comfort trumped mental least for the time being.


Jason Miller, said...

"Yes, the lotus candle holders and the gold Buddha statues are nice, but I don't want to cheapen my learning experience by loading up on tat--it just seems counter-intuitive, and oh so American (Western?) to be shopping at a Dalai Lama talk."

Good for you! We used to joke that after you take your three sets of vows they should say "Welcome to Vajrayana Buddhism. May we have your credit card number please?"

Of course I am certainly guilty of having more than my fair share of Dharma crap.

wind said...

I don't think his Holiness would say that good physical conditions are incapable of contributing to good mental states. From your quote, it sounds more like he was making the point that if you are mentally depressed or angry or experiencing some afflictive emotion, then being physically comfortable at such a time is not enough to trump the mental problem.

However, if you are mentally experiencing a powerful state of joy, or bliss, your awareness of an adverse physical condition can be eclipsed by this.

Sounds like he was simply pointing out the power and supremacy that mental conditions often have in our lives. But I'm just guessing since I wasn't there. Who am I to tell you what HH means? I do wish I could have taken my friend up on that free ticket, but the wife was sick and needed help with the baby. Oh, well.