05 June, 2008

HH the Dalai Lama

One of my favourite spots in town is the Sheldonian Theatre, built about 40 years after the Mayflower took the pilgrims overseas. It's quite dear to the university, being the place where we matriculate and graduate - but recently, it became just that bit more dear, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama honoured us with an address.


Sheldonian Theatre


Like many Westerners, the only real exposure I have had to His Holiness' teachings are through the books attributed to him. His autobiography, Freedom in Exile (Harper Collins, New York, 1990) is particularly powerful. To hear him speak on the troubles of current times was a true education - but perhaps just to witness his character when speaking on the troubles of current times was the real education.


HH Dalai Lama

It is undoubtedly not easy, being the 14th Dalai Lama. The Mainland Chinese accuse him of inciting atrocities; most well-educated Chinese scholars that I meet (and my college is about 30% Chinese) believe him to be a dissembling fox at best and an lying terrorist at worst; factions within the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy address him with vitriol. It seems far from easy being the 14th Dalai Lama.

Yet, he speaks with a kindness towards all these attacks that is truly remarkable. His voice is filled with sincere warmth, he speaks with his whole person, as if describing with gentle humour the activities of a much-loved but errant child. His is not the position of aloof authority or condescension, but one of apparently great and honest compassion. I have seen nothing like it before, and I am sure that my clumsy words fall far short of being able to describe it properly.

His address was 30 minutes long, his admittedly broken English occasionally assisted by his translator (pictured above), followed by an hour of answering questions from the university's senior dons. Throughout, the distant chants of protestors outside nearby Hertford College could be heard. His Holiness' energetic but aged voice was often swallowed up by the sounds of protest.

Some weeks prior to the event, my college issued a warning that the university square should be avoided because of a "visiting dignitary" and the "expected protests". However, the scale of the protesting was surprising.

In the blue corner (pictured above-left), the pro-Tibetans, waving their made-in-China (amusing but true) Tibetan flags. In the red corner (pictured above-right), the Chinese and a faction of Tibetan Buddhists - the latter being very keen to distance themselves from the former.

My favourite placard was one held up by some Chinese undergraduates (wearing full sub-fusc), entitled "A Newlywed Tibetan Couple", picturing a happy Tibetan man and wife in Western wedding costume, against a background which was the PRC flag transposed onto a love-heart. You couldn't make it up.

Through it all, His Holiness seemed absolutely unperturbed, holding up his fingers over his head and chuckling that "they think I am a daemon". The sheer force of his endless humour seemed to have every member of the audience laughing alongside him - his giggling flowed naturally and ceaselessly.

After his address, His Holiness noticed that the Prof. Gombrich's DPhil robes were slipping down, and hoisted them back up around his shoulders with a mighty tug as he walked past. I don't suspect I will ever see the likes of that again...




Whisked away in a car alongside his security personnel, he waved energetically at the gathered crowds, smiling at supporters and protestors alike. The 14th Dalai Lama is a unique character indeed.

HH Dalai Lama

29 comments:

Marcus Schuetz said...

Very nice blog. Interesting to read ...

Rachel and Jacob said...

i just want to say that I love your photos!! really truly love them! I was a photojournalist for a couple years in college...

--rachel

Rcustovic said...

thats a bad blog

David said...

I was hoping you would tell us of your opportunity to sit down with HH to enjoy multiple infusions of bao yan brick cha.

Hobbes said...

Dear all,

Thanks for the compliments, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Rachel - I suspect he'd like his tea with lots of butter in it ;)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

speakfreely said...

Awesome! I've never had the fortune to see HH speak in person, but Galen has actually worked sound for one of his addresses (a visit to Colorado State University many years ago)and was similarly impressed with the man's character. I've read several of his books. Your Sheldonian Theatre is also amazing. In the states, we lack any truly ancient architecture; Europe (and Asia, of course) are really cool that way.

Hobbes said...

Dear Carla,

It must be tricky to get the sound right, given the unusual nature of HH's voice. The good thing about the Sheldonian is that you can climb to the top and look down over the city. Nada and I went up there for a peek. :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Kelly said...

what an awesome opportunity. i'd love to see the dalai lama, how freakin' cool is that - better even than being in the vatican on a wednesday for the pope's weekly blessing.

~ Phyll said...

I work with a guy who is well-read in the Chinese history (mostly those written by the Chinese), and he is in the same opinion with those other Chinese scholars you mentioned...that the Dalai Lama is a hypocrite and a fox.

I just didn't have the energy to challenge or debate with the guy...besides, it's never good to argue politics at the workplace.

Hobbes, are you the university's official photographer or are you with the U's newspaper or something? The shots you posted were taken from positions and angles that only people with privilege access can get. Or so it looks. Nicely done!

Persephone said...

yes the photos are exquisite!

the dalai lama seems like such a gentle soul. I think it was the first dalai lama that was a hypocrite/fox. Hmm, the controversy surrounding tibet is fascinating. Unfortunately for tibet, the main china story is now the earthquake, so they aren't being mentioned much in the media.

Anonymous said...

great blog

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Ron Gilmour said...

I heard His Holiness speak some months ago when he visited Ithaca, New York to dedicate a new monastery here. On that occasion he said little about politics, but spoke at length about the history and philosophy of Buddhism. Obviously, his knowledge of Buddhism is astonishing. He has been steeped in a scholarly tradition that values not only memorization and internalization, but also spirited debate and inquiry. His ability to embody these qualities, both scholastic and spiritual, and to communicate them to an audience largely unfamiliar with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is phenomenal.

Hobbes said...

Dear all,

Thanks again!

Phyll: no, I'm just a humble researcher! I'm still working on getting a red gown of my own... :)

Persephone: the effect of the quake reaches far indeed - even our little department was having a cake sale to raise money for them. The scale of it all is quite hard to imagine.

Ron: I was most taken aback by his attitude, I think. Somehow, he seems intimately connected in his treatment of others in a way that is striking.


Toodlepip all,

Hobbes

OyaSophia said...

Wow! What a wonderful opportunity! Thank you for letting me live vicariously through you!

Free San Francisco Photos said...

These photos are GREAT!

matmanja said...

World Peace!!!

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allaboutattitude said...

It must have been a grand day!

De Clutter said...

hey nice blog........ i like the post abt dalai lama...... i believe that he is a good person...... cos priests teach abt peace n i dont thnk so he'l provoke fights or war

Cramsy (Chris) said...

Nice blog mate!

Your pictures are fantastic Great writeup also :)

chaitanya said...

Very nice job nice collection keep it up please look into my blog if you have time Bye

Ritz said...

Very nice post! Interesting to note one comment about how compassionate and kind the Dalai Lama looks. But then,it would be appropriate to remember that this Dalai Lama is considered the 'Bodhisatva' of Compassion, in short, he is a re-incarnation of spirit of compassion and kindness!!

Pinku said...

hi

u had a lovely oppurtunity.Thanks for sharing it with us.

a hypocrite and a fox!! are very strong words but then i guess great personalities evoke extreme reactions, both good and bad.

Hobbes said...

Thanks again, all. :)

Nigel said...

Thanks for posting these great photos, they're a pleasure to see.

I think this would be something to experience the Dalai Lama's character first hand, though I'd be nervous. Your value of the experience comes through. I wonder if he is the closest to an enlightened being most of us can come close to encountering?

Canuck said...

As has been stated great pics, also you did a good job of communicating the experience of being in the Dalai Lama's presence.. I would expect nothing less than what you describe.

Hobbes said...

Dear Nigel,

Listening to him is rather like drinking from a crystal stream - no pretension, no extraneous twaddle, just good, practical advice and wisdom.


Dear Canuck,

Thanks for the comment - his addresses really are extraordinary. I'd urge you to catch one if you can, when he next comes to the US. I understand he's a fairly regular visitor.


Toodlepip all,

Hobbes

bembel said...

Peace!!! great blog!!!

Mister_Poet said...

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