A Pilgrimage to Indianapolis


This is a throwback from a couple years ago, but I wanted a nice, lengthy and reflective first post.

Most of you will remember that more than a year ago, Nathan and I took a short road trip to Indianapolis to hear His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama speak. Being a journalist at heart I took copious notes during his talk. I’ve been meaning to type them up for awhile, 1. For personal benefit as a reminder of his teachings, and 2. To share them with others so that they might benefit as well. So here they are. Enjoy, learn, and try to resist the urge to correct any grammar mistakes.

* * *

Walking into Conseco Fieldhouse to see a major religious figure who, as Nathan so eloquently put it “is God to a billion Asians” (please laugh, it’s a joke) was incredibly awkward. There were souvenirs, concessions, and even a rockstar introduction. Apparently John Mellencamp is important enough to introduce His Holiness… Gradually, the noise in the concourse faded, and the Dalai Lama was free to be himself, just a simple monk, as he says. He stared intently, with a sly grin, gazing at his enormous audience, waiting perhaps a bit too long for Western comfort before breaking the silence and speaking. When he did begin to speak it was slowly, calmly, and with purpose.

Primarily in paraphrased notes with a hint of my own commentary, here is a summary of what his Holiness shared that day.

 His Holiness


Don’t ask silly questions

First, some ground rules. If given the chance to address His Holiness (hereafter referred to as HH, or DL for short, yo), he would prefer you ask something that will 1. Be of benefit to everyone listening to the response and 2. Be somewhat intelligent. Fair enough. (This did not, however, keep a woman from asking how to get over being angry with her ex-husband, but we’ll get to that later.)

Secularism is not anti-religious

HH stressed that secularism should not be classified as disrespectful toward or a rejection of religion. As an example, he described India’s constitution, which is based on secularism in that it promotes respect for all beliefs, including for those who are non-believers. This sentiment accompanies the DL’s focus of the day’s talk:

Everyone has the right to achieve a happy life; all religions have the same potential to bring inner peace.

Nipples, a common experience of humanity

The DL emphasized that all people share the common experience of compassion. This begins the moment when we are born and our mother breastfeeds us. We are perhaps happiest at a young age when we receive this form of affection/compassion regularly. HH then began to mimic being a kitten that was suckling, and had to ask his translator the English word for “nipples.” After saying “Yes, nipples, good” HH then had to ask his translator why the Western audience found this so hilarious.

HH then recounted a childhood memory of his mother. He said when he was 3 or 4 years old, he used to ride on her shoulders and pull on her ears to get her to turn the direction he wanted to go. This was his testament to his mother’s unending compassion. It was refreshing to hear that even the reincarnated Buddha had a mischievous childhood.

The point of all this “nipplage” is that it is another human, our mother, who first teaches us compassion, not a religion.

Social interaction: the catalyst of compassion

HH went on to discuss factors that can increase and degrade compassion. He explained that social interaction and friendship foster trust and affection, which leads to compassion. In contrast loneliness fosters unhappiness and anger. Likewise, money and power do not bring inner peace. The DL’s example of this was his watch. “If I kiss my watch it has no ability to return affection. It looks very nice, though, so some people may be jealous…” Always the joker, the DL still made a valid point: money promotes fear, jealousy, irritation, and distance. Ultimately, material values cannot bring inner peace.

Compassion has healing powers

Back to the animal analogies: HH cited a scientific study that proved mice that had companions to lick them recovered faster from injuries. This phenomenon does not seem to be limited to rodents, as HH revealed with his own experience. Some years ago the DL had gallbladder surgery. The procedure was supposed to last less than half an hour, but his surgery had multiple complications, and lasted more than 3 hours. Nevertheless, his doctor in Delhi described the DL as “young” because he recovered in a record 5 days time. Although the DL claims not to possess healing powers, he did attribute his swift recovery to his inner peace and mental strength.

I can’t get no satisfaction…and that might be a good thing

Satisfaction can be a destructive emotion, depending on where it stems from. Satisfaction from sensory experiences is temperate: when the experience is over, we become bored and unhappy. This can cause one to be unable to have happiness from within, without sensory stimulation. In contrast, mental satisfaction is deeper, and long-lasting. This type of satisfaction can be developed through meditation and inner strength.

Discussion prompted by a Q&A session:

How do we maintain hope and faith in the face of atrocities?

Education is a key factor. It is important to promote intelligence of other cultures.

Can technology raise global consciousness?

Technology is very useful. The DH said he has always been interested in machines since his childhood, but not computers.

How can one dispel anger toward another person (in particular an ex-husband)?

The key, according to HH, is to keep your mental/emotional level “sound and firm.” Disturbances to one’s happiness constantly come and go. If your basic attitude is weak, then small disturbances will make a big difference in your happiness. It is important to train your inner strength on a daily basis to stop negative feelings. Always use your mental effort to work toward a solution.

HH brought up the example of Tibet’s ongoing turmoil and his personal struggle to maintain mental peace with it. “The situation is quite often beyond our [speaking of himself and the people of Tibet] control. I don’t use too much worry.”

It is important to look holistically at the situation: Tibet is a lost country, but the unrest there has made other, positive experiences possible for HH. He has been able to travel the world spreading his teachings and awareness of Tibet’s situation, and has developed many friends and allies in the process.

Back to that pesky ex-husband—Tibet kinda puts that lady’s problem in perspective, huh?—HH said the woman’s divorce had opened up other possibilities for her happiness. He said it was important for her to reconnect and establish compassion with others, maybe not to remarry, but to have friendship. Here is the “awww shit” moment. He looked out at the audience and gesturing with arms wide open said, “Look, there are so many people. Don’t destroy your possibility of positive change.” I like to think of this as HH’s way of saying “There are lots of other fish in the sea, woman. Get back out there already.”

Competition is extremely prevalent in American society, especially within the education system. How can we promote intellect and compassion in the context of competition?

Competition in the sprit of helping others is a good thing; it can have a good effect, especially on lazy students. Therefore, competition and compassion are not necessarily contradictory.

Then HH went on a tangent about America’s potential:

America is the champion of freedom and democracy. It is an important nation and we have a great potential to lead the world in the right direction. The 20th century was one of bloodshed, but it is not too late to make the 21st century one of peace. We should transfer our personal interests and compassion toward our family and friends to a global level. The world will be happier and America will also benefit.

Closing thoughts

Truth and honesty bring respect and harmony. Trust, love, and respect are the basis of our future.

Filing out of the auditorium with hundreds of others, I was acutely aware of my relationship to those around me. When a woman walking behind me asked about the button on my bag (one of Jason Mraz’s “rock it” buttons), I explained its meaning to her, then dug around in my bag to find another one and offered it to her. She stared at me and said “Wait, you’re giving this to me? Are you sure?” I smiled and assured her it was hers to take. This sounds like a trivial gesture, but it is an example of the immediate need I felt to show kindness to those around me. For the rest of the day I felt very connected to everyone and everything; a feeling that sadly, faded as we began our 11-plus-hour trek home the next day.

As I write this now, I can remember the peace I felt after the Dalai Lama’s talk, and I am once again inspired to act on many of the teachings he provided. It is so easy to become sidetracked by everyday tasks and overwhelmed by stresses that seem to pile up until we can’t see a way out. I’m not saying inner peace is going to happen anytime soon for me, and I’m not trying to indicate I’m some kind of saint, or even have an inkling of enlightenment by writing this. I’m just going to try to live one day at a time, focusing on compassion for others and strengthening my mental and emotional stability. Namaste.



2 responses »

  1. Hi Elizabeth! Jon told me about your blog. I look forward to reading more, especially now that I know you have connections with John Cougar Mellencamp. Or, as Beavis and Butthead would call him, John Cougar Mellenballs. Seriously, though, I love how you ended this with the story about giving your pin to a stranger – putting the Dalai Lama’s words into action. You’re right; it is tough to live a simple, meaningful life when there are so many external and internal distractions going on all around us, and I think it’s awesome that you are writing on the subject.

  2. Thanks, Sarah! I’m glad you enjoyed it. All the cool kids are starting blogs, right? I actually started this because I think my boss and I are going to do NaNoWriMo, but I might try to blog every day instead of writing an actual novel…we’ll see… My hope is that putting my thoughts about buddhism, compassion, living simple, etc. into writing will help me apply those concepts more in my actions, too.

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