Anyone know the scoop on Mr. Fire and Brimstone here? Freedom of speech debate aside, you have to give him credit for the sign…
Five Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in south India are creating a beautiful table-sized sand mandala in the lobby of the Arrillaga Alumni Center. This mandala-in-progress, which began construction on Thursday, is being created to honor the current visit of the Dalai Lama. Anyone and everyone is welcome to watch the masterpiece in action today through 5 p.m., Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday, Oct. 19, 9 a.m. to noon.
I stopped by this afternoon to check out the meditative artwork, and it’s definitely well worth the visit. “Mandala” is a Sanskrit word meaning cosmogram or “world in harmony.” According to UNI, Buddhist sand mandalas are “sacred designs created by hand using compasses and chalk lines, which are filled in, grain by grain, with colored sand.” Accordingly, mandalas had been a closely guarded secret visible for centuries only in Buddhist monasteries to those who had completed a twelve day initiation ritual. Fortunately for us, in recent years, monasteries and other groups have made mandalas more accessible to the general public. Mandalas are intended as vehicles to generate compassion, to remind us of the impermanence of reality, and to create a social and cosmic healing of the environment.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am woefully ignorant when it comes to the Dalai Lama (although less full of woe thanks to Kristi’s great background post on His Holiness), but I was still jittery with excitement as I flocked to Maples Pavilion this morning with hoards of students and visitors. I was eager to hear the man himself speak, and in my opinion, he did not disappoint. After a brief introduction by President Hennessy, the Dalai Lama began to address the packed arena (but not without a bit of jovial debate beforehand about whether he should sit or stand while speaking. For those of you salivating to know, he did, in fact, stand)
Although flanked by his long-time interpreter, His Holiness spoke to the crowd in English in a low, raspy voice. During his lecture – entitled “The Centrality of Compassion in Human Life and Society” – His Holiness discussed both the religious and secular justifications for compassion in life. He argued that regardless of faith, there are numerous reasons to engage in compassionate behavior (my favorite being low blood pressure). The Dalai Lama stressed that in order to achieve happiness for ourselves, we must incorporate not only compassion, but also trust, into our lives. The argument was simple, but the message powerful. In our wildly complicated world, the Dalai Lama can serve as a reminder that sometimes the path can be clear and simple – even if following it isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
While I could go into more detail about the specifics of what was said during the lecture, I’m sure a script will soon be available online for the interested, so I’ll defer. His Holiness’ talk was followed by a question-and-answer session led by James R. Doty, Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research (CCARE), which hosted the event along with the Stanford School of Medicine and the Office for Religious Life. Questions were submitted by attendees prior to the event, and included topics such as “Does scientific research on human qualities such as compassion reduce human morality to mere chemical reactions?” To which the Dalai Lama replied that the mind, at least at the moment, appears to be a far more complicated thing than simply the combination of physical occurences. How else, he pointed out, could different emotions – happiness, laughter, sadness – result in the same physical reaction of tears?
Although many interesting things were said during the talk, the most striking part of the experience from my perspective was His Holiness’ absolute lack of pretense. I find it amazing that as renowned and revered a man though he his, his demeanor is completely free of pomp or stiffness – his shoulder sans chip, you could say. Even from my seat way in the upper deck, I could easily feel his famed humility and good humor. From unabashedly asking to be reminded the title of his talk to happily recounting anecdotes about his childhood, the Dalai Lama managed to set a informal tone without compromising the sincerity of his message. His entire attitude was that of someone who doesn’t take himself overly seriously – a true anomaly at a place like Stanford, where taking ourselves seriously just might be a prereq for admission.
So we all know that the Dalai Lama is a really big deal. But do most of us know exactly why? Probably not. Have no fear; here’s a primer on everything you need to know tomorrow to understand and appreciate the importance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
What’s in a name?
The literal derivation of the phrase “Dalai Lama” comes from a combination of the Mongolian word Далай “Dalai” meaning “ocean” and the Tibetan word བླ་མ “Blama” (the b is silent) meaning “chief” or “high priest.”
The meaning behind the name is more complex. The Dalai Lama is the head Buddhist leader of the religious officials of the “Yellow Hat” branch of Tibetan Buddhism. He is believed to be the rebirth of a long line of tulkus – high-ranking lamas, or spiritual teachers on Dharma (duty) – descending from Avalokitesvara, “the Lord who looks down” and the embodiment of the compassion of all of the Buddhas.
Becoming the highest lama:
The current Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Thondup on July 5, 1935 to a poor farming family in Tibet. He was barely three years old when a search party sent out by the Tibetan government to find the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama arrived and swept the young boy off to Kumbum monastery where his training would begin. He began his monastic education at the age of six, when he began studies in logic, Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine, Buddhist philosophy, poetry, music and drama, astrology, motre and phrasing, and synonyms.