Culture At Large

On Seeing the Dalai Lama

Chris Salzman

Sunday morning, a few friends and I loaded up in a van and drove two hours to Ann Arbor. We parked along with thousands of other people and walked to Crisler Arena to hear the Dalia Lama speak.

To say the least, this was an interesting experience.

When the Dalia Lama entered the arena there was no clapping and no sound other than the quiet movements of the attendees. He came to the front of the stage and bent, touched his head to the mat. He did that three times then stood and bowed to us a number of times, making sure to give attention to each section of the huge crowd.

The stage was filled with gold and red, cushions and mats, and colorful banners. He began by answering questions read from the interpretor (who was excellent). He answered in his native tongue for the deeper theological questions, but easily switched to English when he needed to make more of a connection with the audience.

I'll be honest, I found it extremely hard to follow the discourse as I'm woefully unfamiliar with Buddhist philosophy and was coming in at the end of his teaching. It wasn't quite Buddhism lite, but he was dealing with some intense theological questions like the relationship between what we see and what it is.

However, I do have some miscellaneous thoughts from the event:

-During the traditional church time for Christians I attended what amounted to a Buddhist service (sans the meditation time). I did, lest you think I'm a total heretic, worship at my church later that night. We had communion and it reminded me how great it is to have hope in God.

-Most notable quotation from the Dalai Lama, "At the time of our birth, no religion." He was talking about how even if we're culturally a part of a religion, this doesn't mean we have faith in that religion.

-The Dalai Lama talked a lot about Lovingkindness and how important it was no matter what you're religious stance. He even asked those who considered themselves agnostic or atheistic to make a commitment towards doing right.

-The Dalai Lama is a character. He's giggly and joked around quite a bit more than I thought. He's a very kind-looking man who has a real peace about him.

-As much as I disagree with Buddhist philosophy, there are a lot of things to agree with (like the issue of lovingkindness). However, it's rather important to know that these agreements come with the caveat that I don't agree with the foundational beliefs behind Buddhist philosophy.

-At the end of the event they announced how much money they had brought in from the Dalai Lama's visit and how much was spent on what. The number was approximately 600K and 60K of that went towards security alone.

-The Dalai Lama did not talk about Tibet. There were, however, plenty of protesters outside that were more than willing to talk about Tibet. They were all rather vehemently against the idea of a free Tibet. This really put a damper on the event.

Have you heard the Dalai Lama speak before? As Christians how should we approach services/seminars like this? Other thoughts?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Theology