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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

As Dalai Lama departs, his life lessons remain

July 17, 2008

From psychology to yoga, those who heard him say they'll follow his path.

By Veronica Torrejón
Of The Morning Call
July 16, 2008

He stepped out of Lehigh University's Stabler Arena and into Tuesday's
sunny afternoon. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader bowed with hands
clasped before a cheering crowd of hundreds chanting, ''Long live the
Dalai Lama!''

He paused for photographs with volunteers and Lehigh employees, blessed
onlookers and even reached over a security fence to hug an old
acquaintance. Then, he stepped into the back of a shiny, black sedan
flanked by U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security agents and zipped away.

With that, the Dalai Lama concluded his historic six-day lecture at
Lehigh. For some Lehigh Valley residents, he leaves behind a veritable
buffet of life lessons to reflect upon in the spirit of his opening
remarks, when he told his audience to simply listen with an open heart.

''If you feel something [is] useful, take it!'' he said. ''If you feel
it's nonsense, forget it!''

His humility, evident in his opening remarks, and his genuine wisdom are
among the things university President Alice P. Gast will take from his
visit. Gast greeted him at the back door to Stabler Arena last week
before his first lecture.

But Gast was also among the privileged few who met with the Dalai Lama
in person on a few occasions, once during lunch. She found him to be as
humble in person as he was in public.

''You are talking to someone who is so revered and he immediately sets
you at ease,'' she said. ''He is very distinguished and yet he assumes a
very human and down-to-earth role.''

The Dalai Lama's visit gave university faculty and staff an opportunity
to spend a year in advance of his visit studying the culture, religion
and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. From an educational standpoint, the
visit was tremendously valuable, said Gast.

''He is certainly one of the most distinguished and well-known people
we've had,'' she said.

What Fountain Hill resident Melissa Shafer will take from the Dalai
Lama's visit is a deeper understanding of some universal truths found in
all religions. Shafer, a minister with Metaphysical Universal
Ministries, said love, compassion and the golden rule are all common themes.

She was struck by a simple gesture often repeated by the Dalai Lama
during his lectures. When he would speak of the mind, he would make a
motion with his hand toward his heart, said Shafer, her own hand clasped
at her heart and her eyes shut tightly during a lunch break Tuesday.

''We all need to learn to think with our hearts,'' she said.

Gentleness in the face of confrontation is another lesson Shafer said
she learned and can apply to her life when confronted by someone who's
upset.

''Sometimes it's the gentleness that speaks louder than force,'' she said.

What Ian Birky, director of counseling services at Lehigh University,
takes from the six-day lecture is the wisdom gained from 3,000 years of
study of the human mind by Tibetan Buddhist monks. It's a study that
struck Birky as being more advanced in many ways than Western psychology.

He said Western psychology tries to get a person to understand the
people or actions that cause pain. Buddhists teach the person to be in
touch with the self that is reacting in hurt and figure out why, said Birky.

''If I can practice the (Buddhist) path I can become selfless enough
where I don't have to experience hurt, hold onto it,'' Birky said.

Birky hopes to incorporate what he has learned into his practice.

Kumkum Sharma, a certified yoga instructor with a master's degree in
molecular genetics, hopes to one day share what she's learned from
attending all six days of the Dalai Lama's lectures.

What struck her most wasn't what he said but his presence, his
infectious laugh and the energy that resonated from him.

''It's the beauty which spills out when your heart is open,'' said
Sharma, who was born in India and now lives in Easton. ''It flows out
like a wonderful river and it just flows through him.''

Sharma occasionally teaches yoga to cancer patients at the Bethlehem
Wellness Center. She hopes to practice what she's learned about Eastern
philosophy, meditation and patience and share it with others.

''It's a process and a journey,'' she said. ''It's a journey we are all
on and I want to continue that journey.''

Reporter Michael Duck contributed to this story.
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