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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Food for the soul

The Dalai Lama in MadisonThe Dalai Lama was in Madison for the past week, partly to dedicate the new temple at the Deer Park monastery, partly to give some formal teachings, and partly to be honored with a long life ceremony, known as Tenshug. You can read about it here.

I went to one day of the teachings. I'm not officially a Buddhist, and didn't have the money to spare for more of the events. One day of being in the Dalai Lama's presence was just what I needed. Schedule for the week of ceremonies and activities during the Dalai Lama's visitHe did commentaries on a couple of Tibetan texts, talking mainly about awareness of the emptiness of the universe, meditation, and the need to practice forbearance in the face of difficulties. All three of these practices are valuable for all of us in these times of trouble and confusion.

Madison being what it is, the Dalai Lama's visit provided an opportunity for some to express their resentment (read some here). In this article, otherwise astute columnist William Wineke bemoaned the attention the Dala Lama has been getting. I was moved to respond thusly:

It is sour grapes. Bill Wineke, normally a writer of great insight, fails miserably on this one. The Dalai Lama himself said he is nothing special. He teaches Buddhism, and this week in Madison he is conducting four days of teachings. The ceremonies are not for Madisonians, though they are welcome, but for Tibetans and Buddhist practitioners from all over the world.

The Dalai Lama comes to Madison because he directed his old friend and former examiner Geshe Sopa to establish a monastery nearby. He visits to celebrate Buddhist rituals, make dedications, and to inspire the Tibetan community.

Some Westerners, especially "Americans," do fall for the exotic aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, but "Americans" tend to get anything wrong. For example, Christianity. Much, if not most, of what "Americans" believe about Christianity is based on hearsay, creatively edited and amended "scripture," and flights of fancy. Jesus Christ, whose real name apparently was Yaheshua, was no more the son of "God" than you or me. I believe he was a highly evolved human being, maybe even enlightened, but still a human being. He had a simple message of treating others as you would be treated, but his message has been corrupted into a paranoid cultish fundamentalism of exclusivity and imagined superiority.

The Dala Lama doesn't preach at a rescue mission because he is not a preacher. It is one of the hallmarks of "American" hubris to look at the rest of the world and judge it by "American" standards. Though Buddhists have advocated for world peace and given their lives for it, most significantly in Vietnam, it is less a "religion" than a set of principles and practices. As such, it is not amenable to preaching in the way that is done with Christianity, exhorting people to repent and be saved, give your lives to Jesus, and be born again.

Put simply, the Dalai Lama doesn't conform to narrow preconceptions and prejudices. This can cause misunderstanding and resentment, but maybe those misunderstanding and resenting would do well to follow their own preaching a little better. Wink
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Another article described the Dalai Lama's visit with Madison's mayor and a few other local officeholders. This inspired the usual round of vitriolic comments, to which I had an easy answer:

Tue. Jul. 22, 2008 8:49 pm

John Hamilton says:

I think some people just need to trash something. Or, as Bob Dylan once put it, "While one who sings with his tongue on fire, gargles in the rat race choir, bent out of shape from society's pliers, cares not to come up any higher, but rather get you down in the hole that he's in."

The scarves are part of traditional rituals with the Tibetans, and the bestowing is not based on need. Just like our ritual of blowing up many thousands of dollars worth of fireworks on the Fourth of July to the tunes of such like the "Big Bopper" wailing "Ow baby, that's what I like!"

As far as Madison getting involved in foreign policy, the Dalai Lama was speaking as a head of state to a group of politicians. While to some it may seem more appropriate that he recommend fixing potholes or clearing algae from the lakes, the plight of the Tibetan people is his main concern in his role as their ruler-in-exile.

What some may resent as a religious figure being honored by the city is a source of civic pride for many others. To have the world's most prominent advocate for peaceful reconciliation spend a whole week giving teachings, speeches, and providing inspiration for thousands is a great honor for Madisonians of all belief systems. Except for perhaps a few.
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The Dala Lama doesn't need me to defend him. He is complete in himself and his role as the leader of the "Tibetan" people, and as the head of one of the four branches of "Tibetan" Buddhism (Some readers may have noticed that I didn't put my usual quotes around "Tibet" in my submissions to the newspaper forums. Sometimes it's better not to confuse the already confused masses. For anyone new to this blog, I put the names of countries in quotes because they are assumed names, temporary ascriptions by men that serve largely to create identity and exclusivity. The land doesn't call  itself "China" or "The United States of America," for instance. The animals don't either. It is only people, the members of the species that is polluting and depleting the land.). I responded to the sniping for my own entertainment, and to mess things up for the local culture of arrogance and resentment. Knowing nothing about Buddhism, they lump it in with other religions, assuming without investigation that it is just Western religion in different garb.

Briefly, Buddhism is not su much a religion as a set of principles and practices. It is less about following than practicing, especially meditation and compassion. The goal is not to be "saved," or to go to "Heaven," but to achieve a higher level of being through the practice of these disciplines. To honor someone like the Dalai Lama is considered meritorious. For me, it is instructive to be in the presence of such a being as a way of imbibing, or taking in some of his way of being. In the East, it is a great blessing to be in the presence of such a being, and is called Darshan.

A number of the monks in attendance of the week's activities are "Americans." I couldn't help wondering what it would be like if I were to live that kind of life. Maybe next time around, but for this lifetime, that level of committment is not for me. I loved the discipline of ashram life when I was pursuing the yogic path, but that time has passed. I'll do well enough pursuing the simple practices of meditation, Tai Chi, compassion, and being a better person. That's challenge enough.
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For a view of the Dalai Lama's visit, click here.

Here are some links to stories about the Dalai Lama's visit.

If you are in Wisconsin, and would like to view the Wisconsin Public Television story about Geshe Sopa and the temple at Deer Park, click here.

This article about the Dalai Lama in Salon is worth reading.

There is some dissent among "Tibetans" in regard to the Dalai Lama's non-confrontational approach to oppression from "China." Read about it here.

Here's some music from "Tibetan" artist Nawang Khechog.

Here's some Dylan.

Chantilly Lace, the song that was blaring as I left Madison's "Rhythm and Booms in 1995 or so." A great song, the fireworks almost ruined it for me. I never went to "Rhythm and Booms" again. It seemed obscene to me, as does our observance of July 4 in general.

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