20 May 2013

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
                - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

This weekend, Husband and I were offered tickets to another amazing, decadent, and satiating event...no, not a fancy dinner gala! This time, we had the opportunity to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak at Tulane University's 2013 Commencement ceremony.

Commencement took place in the Superdome! It was my first time inside, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit. Husband pointed out the disparity in my embarrassment meter, as I regularly and unabashedly tell people that I play Dungeons and Dragons...but I digress...The Superdome! It's so big! And confusing! And we sat WAY UP HIGH, so my pictures don't really do it a lot of justice.

Waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Is anyone else weirded out when they put dresses on chairs?

The procession. Also a good reference to how high up we were.

I should note that, while not represented in pictures, the speech given by Tulane president Scott Cohen was extremely moving. He emphasized the importance of hope in troubling times. His closing remarks had me all misty eyed. I paraphrase: Hope didn't die in Boston. It didn't die in Sandy Hook. It didn't die in Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, and it didn't die on Frenchman Street.

This was the only reference today (or really in many days) to the Mother's Day shootings here in New Orleans which has had me seriously thinking about violence and how we use language to categorize violent acts. This may seem cruel and simplified, but it's what I've come up with: If violence is perpetrated by a white person, it is a tragedy. If violence is perpetrated by a "brown" person, it is terrorism. And if violence is perpetrated by a black person, it is what? Expected? Street violence? Someone else's problem? These words are imbued with prejudice, as is our framework for thinking about violent crime. I don't know how to express how I feel about this problem, or how to solve it, but I will be seeking out people who may have the ideas or power to do so.

So, after the president's moving and thought provoking speech, there was a speech by a graduating doctoral student that was so contrived I wanted to gag. But, in the spirit of compassion and hope, I will refrain from publishing negative impressions here. Instead, I will move on to the words of the Dalai Lama himself.

His Holiness Speaks

First, let me say, that being a language teacher, while fulfilling and exciting, sometimes annoys the hell out of me. Case in point, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama is, obviously, a second (or likely 3rd or 4th) English language speaker. Most of the beautiful quotes you edit into a waterfall photo to post on Facebook have been translated by professional interpreters and written in a way to make them more poetic. In real life, his English is halted, simplistic, and heavily-accented.

In many ways, I think hearing him speak is absolutely more powerful for exactly those reasons. He doesn't have (or need) complex grammar or excessive adjectives to express his teachings. Everything about his message is simple, smoothed down to the most basic of words: peace, trust, hope, patience, compassion. It's beautiful. It's powerful...

And it is completely outside my power to not try and pick apart his accent for ideas about how to help my Asian students with particular sounds. I can't stop recognizing patterns of language mistakes that my students make and immediately try and figure out why? how? It's so frustrating. Especially when you are trying to clear your mind to welcome a message of hope.

But I managed to still find the Dalai Lama's message. He began by talking about hope. Hope, he insists, leads to trust. If people can only trust each other, if they aren't afraid of each other, there can be peace. The only way, he says, we can really trust each other, is if we stop thinking that we are better or worse than other people. I paraphrase - Whenever I meet someone I think he is just a person, but so am I, so I am glad to meet him.

His Holiness encouraged students to not value their education too highly. Education alone is not enough, in fact, it can be dangerous. Education plus compassion leads to inner peace, which also allows people to trust each other and find peace.

It was very inspiring. You can watch the whole thing here (the Dalai Lama's speech begins at 5:30):

Afterward, Husband and I took a walk through the French Quarter and reflected on the idea of equalizing how we categorize people. It is amazing how much negativity we project onto the world without realizing it. In a matter of hours, we'd busted ourselves making snide comments about people's clothing, tourists' ignorance to local customs, even each other's choices for lunch - giant hamburgers from the Clover Grill...don't judge, we're not Buddhists.

So, we're going to focus on positive thinking this week. Hope, compassion, peace. I'll let you know next week how we do!

Here are some beautiful, professional photos of the event, borrowed from the Tulane University Facebook page:

His Holiness and Tulane President Scott Cohen Second Line into graduation

The Dalai Lama and Dr John, who also received an honorary degree
His Holiness speaks of hope, peace, and compassion

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic that you were able to hear the Dalai Lama! It sounds as though his speech was powerful and moving in its very simplicity. I hope you'll continue sharing your thoughts on peace and the violence we too often experience.

    It's amazing how powerful one act of violence can be. One can have thousands of experiences of peace and joy -- but one experience of violence can override the thousands of joyful experiences.