Yesterday I went to visit my old friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, Tibet.
It was an absolutely beautiful morning as I spent time waiting for His Holiness on the veranda of His residence. I could see He was in a side room being filmed in conversation with a group of people. As He came out of the room His face lit up when he saw me. “My dear friend from Australia” He said, “Come with me” as we hugged tightly and I kissed Him on the top of His head.
He led me to a large room at the end of the veranda. On a carpet were two lounge chairs and a coffee table where He motioned for me to sit. There were only two other people in the room. Chimmi, His private secretary and a translator. They were seated on smaller chairs near the wall.
As we sat down He motioned to the cups of tea, looked at me and said “Welcome to my home, my dear old friend”. He then told the interpreter and Chimmi how I had called Him a good Christian (and I think He is) and how He thought I was a good Buddhist (which I am)!
As we were sitting He drew a beautiful watch out of a small bag. “This was given to me by some people at a conference”, He said, “And I want to give it to you”. He tried to put it on my wrist but the band was a bit too tight. He was determined to put it on properly. “It’s okay like that”, I said (I would have been pleased with anything). But no, He wasn’t satisfied with that and He fiddled and fiddled with the band on my wrist and then got the translator to come over and they fixed it so it fitted properly.
“Do you want it on the top or the inside of your wrist?” He asked.
In return I gave Him the drawings that the little children had done at our Summer Hill Children’s Centre. The drawings of Him also had words from the kids describing who they thought His Holiness was. He was most amused when one child called Him a postman (because He delivered messages)! He loved the drawings. He loved their three-year-old descriptions of love and compassion. He told me how children of that age are pure in thought and how we can learn from them by watching them. His face was very open, warm and loving at this point.
He then began to talk about my feeding the homeless and the work I did with homeless people and children. He particularly talked about His day serving the meals there with me and the effect it had on Him. This was mainly to His interpreter and to Chimmi. I responded by saying that it is how we treat the poorest of the poor people and those people in most need that defines us as human beings.
I noticed our conversation was becoming very intimate and very personal. He kept looking at me in a way that kept searching my face. I kept looking at Him straight in the eyes and related to Him as one human being to another.
He then talked about compassion and lovingness which led me to tell Him the story of the Korean Comfort Women statue at our church. I told Him how the Korean people make pilgrimage from all over the world to visit that statue, to stand there to cry, remember and do homage. I told Him of how a week before a group of Korean parents whose children had drowned when a ferry capsized, had visited the statue. I told Him of how one father and mother, whose daughter had drowned while on the phone to them, told me of how all the memorial services they had been to had seemed so cold but at my church, where the homeless people actually look after the Korean Comfort Women Statue and where they had seen the homeless people eating, had made their heart very warm. I think it is was the first time in ages that the mother had felt her broken heart being warmed.
I noticed He was deeply affected this. He then began to talk about lovingness being at the heart of all religions. I agreed with Him about this. I then said to Him “Yes, but we are only signs that the world can be a much more loving place than it is”. I said “You are a living example of that sign. With all that has happened to you and your people, you are a living example that we can overcome all of this. That we can be signs of a better world and a sign that love is here in this world. That is if we want to see it”.
I said to Him how you could do all the religious practices but unless you had love in your heart they wouldn’t mean much. He agreed with me about this. I was trying to say that all the religious practices in the world won’t bring on love but love can bring on the religious practices. I told Him of how I believe Jesus went around the religious traditions, although he respected them and went straight to the heart of lovingness itself.
At one stage the Dalai Lama said to me that He couldn’t understand why today’s religious leaders didn’t get together and talk about love more. I said to Him that from my experience it is because it is very hard for people of a particular religion to critique their own religion. And at times it needs to be critiqued in order that that lovingness be found. He got that right away. He said to me “Yes, that is right. All the religious leaders can do is tell their people to be even more religious!”
He could see the point in what I was saying was that discovering love is far more than just religious leaders telling their followers or religious people to be more religious, it is actually discovering love in the now which at times can be a critique of the very religion that is used to proclaim this love.
I then told Him about my Calais experience and my coming in from the cold. I told Him of sitting with the refugees in ‘the Jungle’ there and how going to that meeting in that afternoon with twenty or so of them had changed my life. I told Him of how before then I would set up and do all these things and run all these groups but in a way be distanced from them and not be part of them but now I am part of what I do.
That, He really understood.
I then asked Him about Thomas Merton and told Him of the effect he had had on my life. He told me it was in this very room that He spent a lot of time with Merton talking about meditation. He told me how similar His life and Thomas Merton’s was. He told me they both went to bed very early and got up very early. Thomas Merton got up at 2am and He got up at 3am. He told me of how He had been to Thomas Merton’s grave at Gethsemane Monastery and how He had left a flower on his grave. He remembered their talks with affection and said how the last time they had met, Thomas Merton had been wearing these knee-high boots which echoed on the wood.
He was obviously very close to Merton. In it, I got a glimpse of what I felt was His desire to rise above the teachings but use them to relate at a more human level.
I felt, in a way He was looking on me as a Merton successor. I again began to talk about how lovingness, compassion and meditation were not brought about by following rules, these rules could help but they needed to be in the person him or herself. I said how the world seemed to be divided up between people who got it and people who judged it.
I then asked Him a question about detachment. I told Him about all the times I had worked with my grand-daughter Ava, looking her in the eyes, getting her to look me in the eyes and I would say “I love you Ava” and she would reply “I love you Grand-dad”. I told Him how that had built a really tight relationship with us and when she had stayed with me at Easter we had both cried when she had to go home. He liked this.
Then He began to talk about the power of love. He likened it to the Chinese people and how lovingness is at the core of all that is and that the Chinese Government are working at a much lower level than that. He told me how it is the people we are in conflict with who teach us so much. “We need to be grateful to those people we are in conflict with, because they teach us so much about ourselves”, He said. “Once you truly understand that, you can feel sorry for those people who do not have those sorts of feelings”.
I was reminded of the prayer I’ve got from a Bishop in Africa who prayed for the very people who murdered and raped his daughter. I could see that this Bishop and the Dalai Lama were on the same page. That is that forgiveness and love is at the heart of all human beings and the only way we can really live and grow.
I then said to Him “Take off your glasses” as I took off mine. “Look me directly in the eyes”. He and I looked each other in the eyes directly. I then said “Did you notice when you and I looked each other in the eyes, for a moment we both vanished and went somewhere timeless and beautiful?”. I then said “Did you notice how we both came back with a jolt. Only we are different when we came back”. I said “To me that’s what Jesus talked about finding the Kingdom and being there now and to find it, you have to lose yourself. Also, to find yourself you have to lose yourself”.
He was deeply, deeply affected by this and hugged me.
He then called someone from outside to come in and get something for Him. This person came back with a set of crystal obelisks of different shapes. He chose one and then with a black permanent marker drew a cross on the crystal.
“This is for you” He said, “from the Holy Spirit”. We gazed at the black cross’s multiple reflections in the pure crystal. I then gratefully accepted the gift and put it down and He wrapped it Himself in a beautiful white piece of cloth.
We had to stand up then to go out to have our photos taken and as we parted He hugged me tightly and said to me with tears in His eyes “I’m so glad you came to see me, my old friend. So glad”.
Wow, as a boy from Australia with a totally different background, what do you say to that? In many ways it has been a time when I have discovered myself. It is not all there yet but it’s coming. I am so proud of Him and love to call him “friend”.