‘Dalai Lama’ is not a person’s name

Last week I was given the incredible opportunity to see and hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a convention on education. The topic of the dialogue was, specifically, “How do we grow a good person?”

I didn’t know a great deal about the Dalai Lama before arriving in Town Hall that day – in fact, when I expressed the opinion I’d held previously about his identity (“Um, I actually assumed that his name was Lama and that ‘Dalai’ was his title.”) I got a few laughs from the friends who had joined me. (I do think I was doing a little better than some of the other people in the audience – I overheard one student tell a friend that they thought that the Dalai Lama was “a llama from Delhi”.)

Suffice it to say that any expectations I’d managed to form after fighting tooth and nail to get a seat at the talk were met and exceeded with every witty retort and calculated, intelligent statement he made. Seeing the Dalai Lama arrive in the Hall gave me a sense of something truly happening – the only comparable experience would be attending a Justin Bieber concert and him actually showing up, only in this instance, the Dalai Lama’s arrival was marked by reverent silence as opposed to mindless bellowing.

For an hour and a half, he was engaged in dialogue with people who held fancy titles and degrees in education, and managed to formulate responses that were on par with their highly developed thinking – simply by being a deeply considerate, moralistic person who has seen the world and understands people.

But the message that the Dalai Lama discussed was not purely a point on how to help the next generation through their turbulent toddler years and make them flag waving, placard holders – it was about what makes a good person.

What was so refreshing about his speech was that this man is the spiritual leader of a major religion, and his view on what makes a good person doesn’t involve his religion – it involves caring for others, it involves having lovingkindness and respect but at its core it says nothing about being a Buddhist. His heartfelt belief is that, truly, anyone can be a good person whether they are a Buddhist or not. After listening for years to people who believe that the only path to a fulfilling and happy life is to subscribe to a specific code of living, it was so inspiring and affirming to hear someone say that as long as you are happy with who you are and good to others, that makes you a good person.

Plus, he had a fantastic sense of humour, which helped tide the running time over quite a bit. Whether he was relating anecdotes about growing up in Tibet, or responding to poorly phrased questions with a cheery smile and a soft (yet biting) response, his ability to joke, laugh and still teach separated the Dalai Lama from some of the more aggressive, blinkered authorities in our society.

It was disappointing to see young people falling asleep in the less open parts of the audience – even more, playing with their phones or laughing and joking around during some of his more wordy speeches. I understand that sometimes it can be difficult to disconnect from the blogosphere long enough to actually care about the way we interact with people around us, but this time it really was worth it.

The wisdom that the Dalai Lama impressed upon everyone present in that hall was not just in the words that he said, and not just in the way that he expressed respect through his words for every human being – but in the patient, gentle way that he behaved when speaking to every person there, and in the cheeky, cheerful way that he brightened up every person’s day just by having such a pronounced presence.

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