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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."

A blossom, a man, a promise ; Journey to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his visit to Atlanta brings hope

January 11, 2008

3 January 2008
Cox News Service

Editor's note: Marion Blackburn is a former news reporter and an
occasional columnist for The Daily Reflector. She traveled to Atlanta in
October to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Below is her account of that
journey. To read more, visit www.marionblackburn.net [
http://www.marionblackburn.net] and click on "On the Saffron Path." A
three-part audio diary of her trip will air this month starting Monday
on Public Radio East, www.publicradioeast.org [
http://www.publicradioeast.org] .

By Marion Blackburn

Special to The Daily Reflector

Walking by the woods near our home once, I came on a bloom so modest
it's a wonder I spotted it at all. It was bloodroot, a native wildflower
named for its tubers that bleed red when cut. Turning toward the sun so
perfectly, it seemed illuminated from within.

Likewise, I nearly walked past a book on a library shelf a few years
ago, but something drew me to the benevolent-looking, grandfather-type
on the cover. It was His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The book was "The Art of Happiness," and I read every word. Other books
by the Dalai Lama followed, and gradually, through his writings, I came
to feel I knew him. I certainly felt he knew me.

In "How to Practice," he recommends what he calls being "wisely
selfish," using his trademark sense of humor.

After all, even though you may not be concerned with other people, you
are very much concerned with yourself - no question about it - so you
must want to achieve a peaceful mind and a happier daily life. If you
practice more kindness and tolerance, you will find more peace. There is
no need to change the furniture in your house or move to a new home.

Reading books by this spiritual leader gave me a private joy. Practicing
his suggestions somehow improved me - I ate less junk food, found myself
trying to be nicer to people. Anger passed sooner. I felt an unfamiliar
inner calm.

Other times, after struggling through a complicated passage, I'd close
my book and experience a sublime sense of being connected to every
living being.

That was how I came to embark on a pilgrimage to see His Holiness the
Dalai Lama. Not to Dharamsala, India, where he lives in exile from his
native country of Tibet.

No, chance brought this great holy man of the East to the heart of the
Deep South during a U.S. visit last fall, when he was in Atlanta for
three days.

It would be an exceptional pilgrimage, but seeing someone I believed so
kind and wise also carried a risk: What if in real life he were fussy or
a complainer, the way some important people are? Even a little sense of
self-importance or egotism, and I would be irreparably disappointed.

If he proved too human, I feared, something precious could be lost.
Still, I had to take the chance.

***

I'm not a Buddhist, but in my readings I've learned a few things: The
man we call the Dalai Lama is also known as Tenzin Gyatso, or "Ocean of
Wisdom." His country, Tibet, is considered by some to be the legendary
Shangri-La.

He is believed to incarnate Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of
compassion. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who delay their own
heaven to live on Earth a while longer so they can serve humanity.

Holy men found the child in the Tibetan countryside by following
mystical signs they trusted. He and his family were taken to Lhasa, the
nation's capital, where during years of rigorous education, he studied
logic, Buddhist philosophy, nature, traditional medicine and other
subjects, earning the equivalent of a Ph.D. by age 23. By then,
Communist China had invaded his country.

A brutal crackdown by Mao's troops in 1959 forced him to escape one
night and travel on foot for 15 days through the Himalayas to India.
Since then he has lived in Dharamsala with other Tibetans in their
adopted mountain home.

The Chinese call him a "separatist" and accuse him of inciting
controversy. It is illegal to own a photo of him in Tibet, and it is
said that Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns are tortured.

To the taunts, he responds respectfully and continues to ask Chinese
officials to negotiate a solution, with autonomy for Tibet as an Asian
"zone of peace." In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In
October 2007, he received our nation's highest civilian honor, the
Congressional Gold Medal. At Emory University, he was to be installed as
a Presidential Distinguished Professor, the first position of its kind
for him.

***

At last, the day came: Sunday, Oct. 21. His Holiness would speak at 9
that morning.

I left my hotel in darkness and arrived at Emory nearly three hours
early. Before getting out of my car, I said a short prayer that went
something like, "Please don't let me be disappointed."

By 7 a.m. the atmosphere was electric in the basketball arena where he
was to speak. Tibetan music played and swirling lights overhead bathed
us in color. It felt like a rock concert - except everyone was so, well,
polite.

Just before 9 a.m., the cavernous gym fell quiet. My palms clammy, my
heart racing, I waited.

There was bustling backstage and then, with a light step, he appeared.
He bowed deeply, embraced the monks on stage, even tried to quieten the
riotous applause that greeted him.

As for me, I could only stare. He moved briskly, like my grandmother
waiting on a house full of guests. He smiled like my grandfather when
tending his goats. He joked like my cousin, and to my surprise, wore
flip-flops like my sister.

Why, there's nothing to worry about at all, I realized. I already know
this man. I think he's part of my family.

***

Over the next two days I took in his every word. He often speaks
English, "my broken English" he says, but uses Tibetan with a translator
for complex Buddhist topics. Before each message, he gave white scarves,
or kata, to his hosts and event organizers.

Listening to him, I saw the humor I'd read and heard about. When sound
malfunctioned during the university president's remarks, the Dalai Lama
held a microphone for him, laughing as if imitating a TV reporter. He
jested that he didn't know what to say for his first lecture, and that
all the attention was going to give him "a big head."

It was easy to forget this man is decorated with the world's highest
honors, that he confers with presidents and parliaments, routinely
addresses crowds of thousands and meets with private visitors, often
desperate, who come to him for answers.

For his part, he calls himself a simple Buddhist monk. His affection for
others comes across no better than in these opening words:

In describing presidents, professors and students, I usually prefer to
call you dear brothers and sisters. I think that's pretty important.

'Professors,' 'presidents,' 'dalai lama'- all these are of secondary
importance. More importantly, we are human beings. We are human brothers
and sisters. So I prefer to just call you human brothers and sisters.

Before it was all over, I experienced a little of Shangri-La myself.
During his appearance in Centennial Park downtown, clouds enrobed the
cityscape, creating the possibility that instead of buildings, we were
surrounded by mysteries.

***

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is 72 and always rejects violence and anger,
even when they are used against him in the long stand-off with China. A
servant to the servant, he promises to give of himself "until the day I
die."

The institution of Dalai Lama may not survive him, as Chinese officials
say only a state appointee can claim the title after his death. The
Dalai Lama has asked Tibetans to decide for themselves how, or if,
another Dalai Lama is chosen.

I think of the bloodroot at woods' edge, presenting its white blossom to
the world, menaced by tangled trees, vines and asters with their chaotic
branches and roots. How easy to destroy such a plant. Only that
remarkable bloom, with its promise to seed the world, protects it.

Everything passes and in the end, I feel comfort in thinking that it's
not the bloom, or the kata, or the man, Tenzin Gyatso, that really matters.

It is the promise and the seed, and how they change us.

Cox News Service photosHis Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
acknowledges the crowd prior to his talk, \u201CEducating the Heart and
Mind: A Path to Universal Responsibility,\u201D at Centennial Park in
Atlanta in October. Rich Addicks Drepung Loseling monks of The Mystical
Arts of Tibet stand by as their mandala sand painting is blessed by the
Dalai Lama at Emory University. The monks created the sand painting in
honor of the Dalai Lama\u2019s visit. Above, the completed sand
painting. Pouya Dianat Drepung Loseling monks of The Mystical Arts of
Tibet stand by as their mandala sand painting is blessed by the Dalai
Lama at Emory University. The monks created the sand painting in honor
of the Dalai Lama\u2019s visit. Above, the completed sand painting.
Pouya Dianat Cox News ServiceHis Holiness the Dalai Lama is greeted in
Atlanta by many of his devotees holding a Kata, a ceremonial greeting
cloth. LOUIE FAVORITE

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