Dalai Lama offers theme of common humanity
New Orleans — About halfway through his opening news conference in New Orleans on Friday morning, fielding a question about leadership in times of public fear, the Dalai Lama paused and put a finger to his chest.
“Real gun control,” he said, “ultimately, from here.”
And again, to make sure he was understood: “Here, you see? We must educate.”
This was not a public-policy address. And no one expected the Dalai Lama to arrive with ready-made solutions for the type of violence that convulsed a Mother’s Day parade in the 7th Ward last weekend. But given the timing of his visit, it was probably inevitable that the juxtaposition of this diminutive, affable monk and the swaggering alleged gangster police arrested this week for the shootings would be top of mind.
The Dalai Lama brought the same message to New Orleans that he’s been promoting through more than five decades as exiled leader of the world’s Tibetan Buddhists, urging listeners to find compassion toward others by thinking of themselves as part of a whole, rather than as distinct beings.
Others will have to figure out how that message might find purchase in gang-plagued neighborhoods.
“Nonviolence is the only way to solve this problem,” the Dalai Lama said, employing a practiced but imperfect English, and sometimes signaling toward a translator seated next to him for a word or phrase.
Violence, even employed with the noblest intentions, always has unintended consequences, he argued. “Use a gun, kill someone, or injure someone — always wrong,” he said. “So therefore, you must educate people.”
Draped in his famous saffron robes, the Dalai Lama took questions for about 20 minutes before moving on to a panel discussion in front of an audience of several hundred, sporting a green Tulane University visor that someone had left on the lectern.
He laughed deeply and often, poked fun at his old age — he is 77— and used an upturned index figure to emphasize his points.
Before leaving a group of reporters there to see him, he offered some advice: Tell the truth about what’s wrong with the world, he said, but don’t ignore the positive. “It is very important, all these sad things, negative things,” he said. “Meantime, you should provide people the basis of a hope, basis of enthusiasm.”
On stage a few minutes later, he opened on a note of humility and expanded on the basis of his philosophy.
“Brothers and sisters,” he said. “Firstly I want to make clear, we should not think that the person who is speaking is someone special. Don’t think that. We are same human being, mentally, emotionally, physically, we are the same human being.”
He continued, “Everyone wants a happy life, everyone wants a right to achieve a happy life.”
More than once the Dalai Lama came back to the theme of religious tolerance. All of the major religious traditions of the world, he said, “carry a message of love, affection. And in order to practice love and affection, even in difficult circumstances, you see the teaching of tolerance.”
Somber at some moments, he rarely went long without a penetrating, mirthful laugh.
Ronald Marks, the Tulane University professor who invited the Dalai Lama to New Orleans, told him that members of the audience had been asked to sign a “commitment to compassion,” which the Dalai Lama read approvingly, line by line. Except where it spoke of a “wish to promote happiness and reduce suffering of all beings.”
Since the phrase “all beings” could technically encompass plants, that would make it “difficult to eat vegetables,” he said. “I think that’s too far!”
Otherwise, he said, the commitment sounded “wonderful, wonderful,” but he admonished his audience not to let ideas about compassion fade “after one week, one month.” He warned that to “implement these ideas — not easy” and “you may lose your enthusiasm or your interest in these practices.”
“That should not happen,” he said. “Even in your dreams, remember these things.”