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My Dalai Lama Week
by Carol Merrick

It seemed like a chance of a lifetime. To see and hear the Dalai Lama in Portland. I had been an admirer of his for a long time because of his courage. In spite of all the grief and trauma that he and his fellow exiled TibetanS have experienced since 1959, the Dalai Lama remains an example of loving compassion.

On Mother’s Day, May 13, he arrived in Portland and I was excited with anticipation of attending a 2-day workshop with him along with 4000 other people on Monday. The morning arrived and I overslept! I can count on one hand how many times that has happened in the last 20 years! I rushed to get ready since we had to arrive before 7 am to go through the security check and be ready for the Dalai Lama’s lessons. Running from my car to the waiting line, I felt the wind and rain against my face. Of course I had not brought an umbrella but fortunately the people in line ahead of us had an extra umbrella and believed in sharing.

I loved being in the Dalai Lama’s presence, watching him interact with people, smiling, and experiencing his humor. The first day he explained the 4 Noble Truths. What I walked away with that day was: Our personal focus should be cultivating a good heart. The first truth of suffering has to do with cause and effect (or karma). Life is a chain of events, one leading to the next, all connected. We live in an extremely diverse world with many views of reality. With the correct insights, we can diminish the force of ignorance and reduce suffering. The antidote for suffering includes seeing the nature of reality and being grounded in experience.

I found more pertinent information from the Dalai Lama the second day. Much of it was a reminder, but still I felt I was hearing it on a deeper level. It takes courage, the Dalai Lama told us to practice morality. Cultivate compassion, he suggested, which is a state of mind that focuses on the suffering of sentient beings and aspires that they be free of suffering. It is necessary to take care of yourself and have compassion for yourself but there is also a balance. If you work altruistically you are serving others and bringing freedom to yourself.

There is a Buddhist practice called Tonglen, which is done as a meditation: As you breathe in, take in someone’s suffering and breathe out compassion for them. The primary reward for this practice is that it develops your compassion and may even be beneficial to the person you are focused on.

Some people think the Dalai Lama has special curative powers and come to him for healing. "But I don’t have any, in fact if there is a doctor in the house, I have a rash that needs attending," he said with glee.

In a lighter moment, the Dalai Lama talked about the awareness of seeing yourself as a spiritual practitioner and how important you are. For instance, someone who is called the ‘Dalai Lama’ and sits on a throne has to be careful not to think of himself as more than a humble monk."We are all one human family." No race, country, or religion is any more special than another.

There is reason to hope, he assured us. More people than ever want peace. War is an outdated concept. More of us realize that we are interdependent nations in the world and that we need to take care of each other. He was astounded that in Washington DC, our nation’s beautiful capital, that there are many homeless and poor people who are not being taken care of.

He commented that we have such material wealth here but people are not happy. We need more contentment and less consumption. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. There is too much greed and it leads to harming our planet. It’s time to re-think our attitudes and find more ways to be supportive of one another.

Near the end of his talk, he took a couple of questions, one of which was: What does the Dalai Lama do for fun? He’s almost 66 years old and his schedule in Portland for 4 days, included the public welcoming and peace walk, a 2-day workshop, the Tuesday night event, a youth peace conference, a luncheon, and a breakfast. "Fun?" he laughed, "well, I guess I sleep for fun." Yes, I can relate to that. I have felt for some time that you know you are getting old when you look forward to going to bed at night.

This week with the Dalai Lama was like a fast-moving stream as life’s boulders, rapids, eddies, blessings, and sadness swirled by - one moment, ecstatic, the next, tears. Life at its fullest.

Carol Merrick is a local activist and spiritual seeker who helps to organize the EarthSave Chapter in Portland area, and facilitates mandala workshops.