The event was well worth the effort- and the long security lines provided the time for a lengthy conversation with a Chinese colleague and her teenage son. We sat together throughout the event- and it was fascinating to see my friend’s own joyful and passionate spirit connect with the joy that seems to emanate from His Holiness. Having come from a culture in which he is portrayed as a criminal, I can only imagine what was going on inside of my friend during those two hours.
Interestingly, the beautiful ceremonial Tibetan dancing and singing which opened the program provided a point of connection for her. Though the art and culture of the Tibetan people has been much suppressed, yet she was able to recognize – through the music and dance – a culture that was connected to her.
In preparation for the Dalai Lama’s visit, a number of us seminarians read his book Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together (Harmony, 2010). The discussion groups around this book study produced fruitful ground for conversations. In one discussion I was at a table with two Ethiopian students and a student from Liberia. We pondered the Dalai Lama’s own testimony of how, through his forced exile, he was placed in a religiously pluralistic culture (India) and thus was forced to confront his own assumptions regarding the superiority of his Buddhist faith. Through meeting spiritual people of many faiths he reached a place in which he is firmly convinced that respect for all religions can be found in a shared commitment to compassion.
For him this position is not in conflict with a profoundly deep commitment to his own faith. In fact it is only through his own deep experience with the divine that he is able to relate to another’s experience of the divine. Thus he states that the “naïveté [of his youth] could be sustained only so long as I remained isolated from any real contact with the world’s other religions.”
The Dalai Lama’s insights into interfaith dialogue rooted in and flowing from relationship spoke powerfully to me and my African colleagues. Together we explored questions of how our religious convictions often become linked to assumptions of accepted conflict and presumed enmity.
How can religions possibly work together in contexts in which the only picture we have of the other is one of extreme violence? Some of the Christians around the table had witnessed churches burnt at the hands of Muslim extremists. How, we asked, could dialogue and peaceful coexistence ever happen in the aftermath of violence?
Could the Dalai Lama be right when he suggests that we human beings are fundamentally “wired to love?” Could he be right in his insistence that “compassion— the natural capacity of the human heart to feel concern for and connection with another being—constitutes a basic aspect of our nature shared by all human beings … [and that] in this respect, there is not an iota of difference between a believer and a nonbeliever, nor between people of one race or another[?]”
It was wonderful to spend time with His Holiness, to witness how he embodies and emanates compassion and peace in his words and through his being. But perhaps, for me, the even greater value of his visit was that he spurred a new conversation in our seminary community, and opened up new possibilities for relationship in real and tangible ways in our context.
Above Right: The Dalai Lama takes questions from moderator Cathy Wurzer Saturday, March 8 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimeida Commons