DALAI LAMA: Compassion at the center

By RICK CHATENEVER, Maui News, April 25, 2007

PAIA, Hawaii (USA) -- He is a world leader in the realms of both religion and politics, but the 14th Dalai Lama spoke of simpler things Tuesday. He launched his two-day visit to Maui on Tuesday by blessing the newly constructed stupa shrine at the Maui Dharma Center in Paia.

<< The Dalai Lama in Maui, Hawaii

He spoke of compassion, happiness and the tricks the mind plays when perceiving reality itself.

“Compassion is the universal message of all traditions,” he said as he began his remarks before a crowd of about 500 invited guests. Colorful prayer flags blew in the wind above the audience, braving occasional brief showers to hear the words of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning spiritual icon and exiled leader of the nation of Tibet.

Because of his political stature, the red-and-gold robed monk, whose formal title is prefaced by “His Holiness” was accompanied by a security entourage not unlike the U.S. Secret Service.

The tight security shut down Baldwin Avenue. Before his arrival at the Dharma Center, the crowd could hear spontaneous eruptions of cheers from bystanders on the sidewalks accompanying the motorcade of sport utility vehicles carrying the Dalai Lama and his party up the street lined with funky boutiques, restaurants and surf shops.

The crowd in the Dharma Center included a contingent of Tibetan refugees. The Dalai Lama singled them out for special attention as he walked through the hushed crowd. He exchanged a few quiet words with the traditionally clad young women, refugees from Lhasa, where even mentioning the exiled leader’s name is forbidden. The exchange brought them – and many of the onlookers – to spontaneous, unexpected tears.

But the thrust of his remarks – his first in a series of events that continue today with “Eight Verses for Training the Mind: A Buddhist Philosophical Discourse” beginning at 2 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium – were directed toward happiness.

The Buddhist view is based on “interdependence,” he said. “Phenomena are ever-changing.”

Happiness exists “on the physical level and on the mental level,” he continued. The inability to achieve it stems from confusing the two, or not realizing the causality that links them.

“Sometimes physically we’re very comfortable . . . but depressed,” he said. “We have to take seriously the conditions of mental comfort.”

He pointed to faith as a source of comfort, but he said obstacles to achieving happiness come from distortions created by the mind.

Emotions like hatred or anger stem from such distortions – “viewing things that are transient to be permanent . . . viewing suffering as happiness.”

And at the root of this suffering is “a false view of self. (According to) the Buddhist way of practice, there is no suffering that we don’t want.”

Punctuating his commentary with infectious laughter that has become a trademark, the man considered a living Buddha by his followers, likened the mind’s deceptions to a beautiful flower that is poisonous.

“The Buddhist way is to analyze everything, to analyze reality, not just on the basis of appearance,” he said.

Despite the logistical challenges of staging the blessing of the stupa shrine with hundreds of guests at the Dharma Center’s tiny premises, the event flowed seamlessly, infused by the guest of honor’s calmness.

At the end of the ceremony, the Dharma Center’s Georgiana Cook, who had welcomed his arrival, issued an open invitation to “come back any time.”

Hours later, the crowd was more than 20 times larger – topping 10,000 – when the Dalai Lama spoke on “The Human Approach to World Peace” at War Memorial Stadium.

After opening remarks by Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey, he was welcomed with traditional chants by haku ’aina Luana Busby-Neff, kumu Kamana’opo Crabbe, kumu hula Hokulani Holt-Padilla, kumu hula Pualani Kanaka’ole Kanahele, kumu hula Kehaulani Kekua and kumu hula Keali’i Reichel.

Each chant was followed by the bestowing of a lei around the neck of the religious leader, leading to some comedy when he observed that in India, lei were beautiful – but often contained unwanted worms.

Maui students Jessica Solomon and Roland Lewis Zaleski read their winning writings in a statewide “Visions of Peace” program coordinated for the Dalai Lama’s visit.

They were part of the 1,000 Hawaii students in the audience, another theme addressed during the Dalai Lama’s remarks.

Describing his own generation as belonging to the 20th century, he told young listeners that they belonged to the next century.

“Whether it will be a happier world or whether there will be more violence, it’s up to you. . . . All these problems we created, it’s up to them to solve,” he said, laughing.

The venue had been transformed, led by event chairman Shep Gordon and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center staff led by General Manager Art Vento, from a football stadium into a more serene setting for the Dalai Lama’s philosophical observations.

Dressed in a red robe and sitting cross-legged on a chair, he spoke for more than an hour from a flower-bedecked stage under a clamshell-like canopy. Nearby, a village of food and merchandise booths had sprung up on the gridiron area behind the stage.

Although he had urged his morning’s audience to go back to the basic texts of Buddhism for study, his afternoon remarks were more about human emotions and psychology than they were about scriptures.

Likening the spectrum of emotions in our minds to “a supermarket,” he emphasized accentuating the positive.

Greeting problems with anger only produces more anger, he said.

“It is impossible to eliminate frustration entirely, but with affection and human intelligence, I think it’s wise to find ways to minimize it.”

He told his listeners not to consider negative emotions to be a natural “part of our mind,” but to embrace emotions “that are good for (your) mental health.

“These are not religious examples, but scientific explanations,” he said.

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