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from The Aquarian, Summer 2004
Why We Like the Dalai Lama
By GERRY KOPELOW
He says he is just an ordinary monk. He says he finds meditation difficult, and that he is unsure of how things will go for him at the time of death. When pressed for sage advice, he says he has no secret wisdom to offer and he tells us to simply be kind to one another. I recall my mother telling me the same thing many times, and although she was a lovely person, she never drew a crowd.
So what is so attractive about the Dalai Lama?
Well, as an exiled head of state one of his jobs is to campaign for the preservation of a terrifically interesting culture currently under the worst kind of attack: This he does skillfully, and there is no doubt that the David and Goliath aspect of this very public enterprise generates a certain appeal. As H.H. (His Holiness) the Dalai Lama, he is the spiritual head of an exotic Eastern religion, and it is fair to say that among the millions of bliss-deprived inhabitants of North America there are many who are curious about the ornate rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, some even interested enough to practise. But hundreds of thousands? Don’t think so.
For proof that something else is going on, we need look no farther than Ottawa, the capital of our ordinarilly moderate dominion. There, just a few weeks ago, the Dalai Lama filled a stadium with 10,000 wildly enthusiastic men, women, and children of all ages and secular and religious affiliations. I doubt one could find more than a handful of practising Tibetan Buddhists in the crowd, but obviously the place was packed with ardent fans. “Like a rock concert” is the descriptor we hear over and over from the media.
Again, what is the attraction?
|In my view, we are attracted to the Dalai Lama because he is a nice person. But not just an ordinary nice person; he is a really nice person. And not just an ordinary really nice person; he is a really, really, really nice person.||*
Gerry Kopelow’s teacher, Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche (left), was recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1971.
Canadians are culturally predisposed to recognize niceness. I spoke to a twenty-something Canadian who attended a weekend teaching the Dalai Lama gave in an outdoor arena in San Francisco. He told me that from his seat in the huge venue he could barely see the man or hear him speak. And although this person was certainly not a Buddhist, he told me that he felt himself to be on the verge of tears the whole weekend. This is a typical response: The niceness of the Dalai Lama is so powerful that it automatically evokes a visceral reaction in those who experience it.
What is the nature of this extreme niceness, and where does it come from? Surprisingly, the answer is technical: The niceness of the Dalai Lama has been built by conscious effort.
Tibetan Buddhists say that the Dalai Lama is an emanation of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. Some definitions of the word “emanation” from assorted dictionaries:
1. The act of emitting; causing to flow forth.
2. Something arising, springing, or flowing from a source.
3. Electromagnetic energy, such as a light, etc., radiated from a system in all directions from a point of origin.
4. That which flows outward from a transcendental central principle.
At its core, Buddhism is not a religion; rather it is a highly developed method of mental cultivation, a collection of techniques for training the mind specifically for the investigation of reality. Those few who undertake this work and complete it successfully acquire the ability to exist in whatever mental state they choose. When the Dalai Lama advises us to be kind, he is not kidding. He has done the work, and now he is Kindness, he is Compassion, he is Really Nice. He is emanating this Niceness, not unlike a glowing light bulb or a radio transmitter, and it is irresistible.
The Buddha declared that this kind of development is possible for all beings. The Dalai Lama is living proof of it. But as His Holiness regularly points out, we have to do the work ourselves.
Author and photographer Gerry Kopelow is founder and resident teacher at the Dharma Centre of Winnipeg (204-772-3696,dharmawpg.com), a member of the Winnipeg Interfaith Roundtable and a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
What is this remarkable power of attraction the Dalai Lama exerted over millions of ordinary Canadians during his national tour this spring? Buddhist teacher Gerry Kopelow explains.