By Bo Mackison
Sculpture in the Sky, photo © 2008 by Bo Mackison. All rights reserved.
I recently had the opportunity to attend several days of teachings offered by his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet and world–recognized religious figure. He presented a general lecture to the public on Saturday, July 19, at the Madison Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin. He followed the Saturday speech with four days of teachings on “A Guide To the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” and meditation practices.
I am not a Buddhist, but I am interested in global cultures and world religions, and I have read several books on the basic Buddhist teachings. Most people would find it hard to argue with the concepts of showing compassion for self and others, being mindful in daily living, and accepting responsibility for the care of our environment. I try to put these simple yet difficult practices into my life, and I wanted to hear the Dalai Lama speak in more depth.
He said many wise things, usually speaking in his native Tibetan with an English translator. Some of the time he addressed the audience in English. He offered many thoughts that I wrote down for further reflection and study.
Some of the ideas from the Dalai Lama are surely rules to live by. A couple of examples from his lectures (the second another version of the often quoted “Life is the journey, not the destination”):
You cannot change someone else or what someone has said or done to you in the past. You can only change how you react, how you choose to respond.
We are human and therefore imperfect. We will never be 100% perfect. The merit in life is the striving, the effort towards living a good life, not the attainment of perfection.
But I learned the most from something the Dalai Lama did and his response to that action. If ever there was a lesson exemplified in “teach by example,” this was it for me.
The Dalai Lama was officiating over a formal Buddhist religious ceremony. As an onlooker, I sat on the side and did not participate as he called practicing Buddhists to renew their laity vows. This seemed like serious stuff to me and I listened closely. Much of the ritual was spoken in Tibeten and not translated, so I did not always understand the unfolding event.
However this is what I heard and saw:
In the middle of the ceremony, the Dalai Lama suddenly stopped. He burst out in laughter, a hearty laughter. In fact, he laughed so fully that at one point he leaned over and supported himself on his elbow while laughing. (He was seated cross-legged on a raised dais.)
Once he regained most of his composure, he held two fingers high in the air and pronounced “Two! Two mistakes I have made today!” He threw his arms in the air, shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, rather in amusement. Then he returned to the ritual with his most solemn words.
What a lesson! He had made a mistake and saw it as a simple human act, nothing to be concerned about, nothing to berate himself over. Nothing of the sort. He chuckled over his error and went on with his business.
How many times do we make a mistake and replay it in our heads over and over? Or how often are we stopped in our actions before we even try for fear of making a mistake? Do we take ourselves too seriously?
I know I’m guilty of all of the above.
What a wonderful message the Dalai Lama taught through his actions! I think perhaps it will be this lesson that makes the most impact on me. I think this is the concept that I take away from my hours spent with the Dalai Lama and plan to make a conscious effort to put into practice.
Bo Mackison is a Wisconsin-based poet, writer, photographer, and author of Seeded Earth, a blog about photography, nature, and travel in the Midwest.