This blog is, just now, emerging from a lengthy vipassana (“Do not spit on the footpaths! – Be Happy!”), full of all that clear-headedness and deep insight that only silence can confer. Or that’s the hope — and the story.
If ever there was a day to shake me from my writing stupor – I mean, meditation – it was yesterday. I attended an address by His Giggliness the Dalai Lama in the afternoon and watched Barack Obama become President of the United States late at night. That’s a pretty heady one-two punch.
HHDL (or, as they would say in Bollywood, H2DL) was in Auroville to inaugurate the new Tibetan Pavillion. He spoke, nominally, on Ideas of Human Unity; or that’s how it was advertised. In fact, he touched on his familiar themes of compassion and other-regarding ethical behavior.
Though I have, at times, been critical of the Dalai Lama, I am a huge fan. Leaving aside the brilliance and unimpeachable truth of his message, he is simply the most adorable person on the planet. He is like the kindly uncle you never had. And I carry a special place in my heart for people who laugh at their own jokes, as he does. When the Dalai Lama chuckles his way through a speech, it is disarmingly heartwarming. As the refugee leader of a people whose country has been snatched from them, he understands the nature of the world’s imperfections better and more intimately than most; and yet his incessant laugh reveals a pervasive and inextinguishable delight and joyful bemusement with life and with the world as he finds it.
To be honest, the Dalai Lama did not bring his A-game with him to Auroville. His talk was more rambling, less focused than we have come to expect from him, and he seemed thoroughly unprepared to deliver the usual platitudes and anecdotes specific to his Auroville audience. Still, the Dalai Lama on an off-day is infinitely more inspirational and brilliant than I am on all my best days put together; so the experience was wonderful and the message sublime, as ever. There is tremendous elegance and persuasive force in the ability to speak with simplicity and authenticity. This is the power of the Dalai Lama, a manifestly kind man who states his central thesis as “the need for more warm-heartedness.”
As Barak Obama ascended to the most powerful office on the planet, he too delivered a speech I will not soon forget. Yoo-Mi, Puru, Maya and I sat around the television watching history be made half a world away. If the Dalai Lama’s talk was about love and delivered with tenderness, Mr. Obama’s address was a tough, muscular repudiation of eight nightmarish years of American history. The new president neither softpeddaled the monumental challenges facing his country, nor was reluctant to outline the new, grown-up behavior that would be required to set things right.
It would not be hard to paint the Dalai Lama as the idealist and Mr. Obama as the clear-eyed realist. But both are clear-eyed, in their own ways; and there was idealism to burn in the inaugural address, which, if anything, was about a return to American first-principles.
Indeed, the two speeches shared a number of messages. Both men spoke of the need to see beyond the narrowness of our parochial interests and find the fundamental commonality with those in whom we now see only difference. Both spoke of democratic principles. Both spoke of the moral emptiness of greed-driven lifestyles and the need for a fairer distribution of opportunity. Both paid respect to those of us who do not participate in any religious or spiritual tradition, thereby asserting the truth that so many unthinking believers find so difficult to accept: that one may have a righteous ethical compass without partaking in prayer or worship. Above all, both emphasized the need to cultivate the “spirit of service”, in which we learn to embrace the rest of humanity with the compassion we typically hoard and allocate only to those closest to us.
Two great men. Two uplifting speeches. One fine day.