Sporting maroon socks inside his Rockport-like shoes and a maroon, neoprene visor atop his shaved head, His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered upstage as singer-songwriter Michael McDonald and Henry Kapono sang, “What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love.”
He smiled the smile that the world has come to know and love, and the applause drowned out the former Doobie Brother and Wild Hawaiian. The sold-out crowd, some waiting nearly three hours this past Sunday, did not populate the Stan Sheriff Center to listen to music, although the entertainment was a big bonus during the long wait. No, people flew from neighbor islands, drove from all corners of Oahu and filed into the arena on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa to hear one man speak. Off the cuff.
There were no notes. No bulleted PowerPoint presentation. No video. Just a wireless mic and a podium. (And, when he wasn’t speaking, a cushioned chair in which to sit.)
His Holiness bent to shake Governor Abercrombie’s hand—sitting in the first row—and three men in black suits charged from the darks of the stage to flank the 77-year-old, born Tenzin Gyatso in northeastern Tibet. His Holiness is spry, but, still, he’s 77 years old, and it wouldn’t do to have the spiritual leader of Tibet falling and injuring himself. With a bow, His Holiness acknowledged Maya Soetoro-Ng, the sister to President Barack Obama.
Then, he took his seat. Even the 14th reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet, had to endure introductions and protocol. Perhaps, with a few ants in his pants. Or his monk’s garb. He arranged and re-arranged his maroon robe, leaving his right arm bare, as is tradition. He re-adjusted the kukui lei he wore on-stage and the additional one given to him by performer Amy Hanaiali’i, eventually removing both and flicking away any stray bits of flower petals and leaves from the back of his neck.
Leslie Wilcox served as “Mistress of Ceremonies.” President and CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Kelvin Taketa welcomed His Holiness and the crowd. And E-bay founder and host Pierre Omidyar introduced His Holiness.
His Holiness sat on the edge of his seat, hands propped on the chair’s arms, ready to stand, with a look on his face as if to say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blah, blah.” His Holiness has often referred to himself as just “a simple Buddhist monk.” But he has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and, recently, the Templeton Prize for his work in spiritually relevant scientific research. So, the introduction took a while.
Finally, His Holiness the Dalai Lama stood behind the podium. He started by admitting that he was lazy. That’s why he hadn’t prepared a special speech. “Another factor, whenever I meet people I feel I’m with my long time friend. It’s an immense help to maintain a calm mind. I usually call the audience brothers and sisters.”
English is not a first language for His Holiness, and sometimes it was hard to understand him. The translation on the large screens around the arena helped.
His larger point was that people around the world are all the same, and we must remember that. We must approach our neighbors and our perceived enemies with compassion and respect as if we were members of the same family. We must use our words not force. We must listen. “All beings want a happy life. Do not want disturbances. That is a basic right. All living things have a basic right to survive.” That included trees and plants and animals.
“Instinctively, we have the desire to achieve a happy life. Every result entirely depends on its own causes. I think joyfulness, happiness entirely depends on ones own action. Three levels: Physical. Verbal. Mental. Here mental action is the key factor.”
The Dalai Lama would stress throughout his talk the importance of mental mastery—the training of the mind to develop a proper mental attitude. “World peace must come through inner peace, at the individual level. In order to have a happy life, inner peace very essential. Too much stress, too much anxiety, develops frustration, hopelessness, then anger, hatred. Destructive emotions, such as anger and hatred, mainly come through mental thinking.”
It’s not easy. It takes discipline. His Holiness admitted he wasn’t always committed to his practice. These revelations—his ease with poking fun at himself—were intentional. They put others at ease in the great man’s presence. They made others feel like he was just another human being, too.
“My study started as a 6 or 7 year-old,” he said. “Till I was about 12 or 13, I had no interest in study. Only play. When the time for study came, even the sun became darker. On a holiday, weather seemed brighter. Later I found, this sort of knowledge from study immensely helpful. For my case, mainly for peace of mind. Peace of mind is the goal. But in order to achieve that, my approach must be realistic.”
Realistic expectations are key. His Holiness didn’t shy way from the topics of international politics or world economics.
“I asked some of my friends involved in money matters about the recent global economic crisis. ‘What’s wrong?’ Their answer: ‘Too much greed.’ Too much greed is an unrealistic desire. At any level, unrealistic desires never bring satisfactory results.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama did not make his talk about religion. He didn’t proselytize. Instead, he professed “secular ethics.”
“All major religious traditions carry this practice. But if we rely on religious faith, it will never be universal. We really need a universal way, through education, to develop universal compassion.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrapped his public address up with these words—to a standing ovation.
“The problem is created by human beings themselves. The answer must be found from human beings. The answer must come from individual. Don’t feel helplessness. Create inner peace. And share with more people. Your friend. And then your enemy. That’s the way to transform our world.”
After taking his seat, a hula halau made up of young people took the stage and performed in honor of His Holiness. They circled him, dancing. As each young person passed close to His Holiness, he reached up and touched their arm or shoulder, in a gesture of acknowledgement. But when one little girl’s back was turned, His Holiness the Dalai Lama reached up and gave her braid a tug. Seventy-seven years old. The 14th reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Patron saint of Tibet. And, still, a little rascal.