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Monday, May 11, 2009

At the Dalai Lama Conference

Social Perceptions of a Curious Neophyte

By Silvia Uribe

As the organizers had recommended, my daughter and I arrived at the Thunderdome a little over two hours in advance. We had been anticipating this day for six long month, since the day we bought the tickets. Although people might think the Dalai Lama quite removed from our Methodist affiliation, in reality, spiritual values, good morals, and ethics are universal, as the Dalai Lama later told us.

However, what happened before, during, and after His Holiness's appearance was as enlightening as the conference itself, in a different way. We found ourselves standing at the beginning of a very short line, with the eyes of many security guards upon us. They were probably wondering if our legs would be strong enough to stoically stand for the next two-and-a-half hours, since, as we soon learned, the morning conference was not yet over. What? "It'll be ten minutes before this session is over, and we will open the doors in about two hours after that," admonished an authoritative-looking man in a black suit.

The weather was sunny and warm, but breezy enough to be comfortable. Before we knew it, and immediately after a big round of applause that was audible from outside, the crowd started pouring out from every side of the Thunderdome. It took us by surprise to see that many of them had something in common: They were wearing accessories or items of clothing that had an Asian motif--from scarves to dresses, pants, bags, shoes, jewelry, you name it. Some of the attendees were wearing several such pieces. Whether these pieces matched or not was a different story. They had them, and they wore them! It was definitely a loud and colorful fashion statement!

By this time, some others were standing behind us. Small talk began, and shortly thereafter we were like old friends reunited, chatting and sharing our reasons for being there. We learned that several of them practiced, and were very knowledgeable about, Buddhism and the Tibetan traditions. Some had traveled many miles, from north and south, to see their spiritual leader. We saw some who were meditating in lotus position, eyes closed, along the wall.

Finally, a tall, thin man who spoke through his teeth told us that the doors would be open in five to ten minutes, but a half hour passed before they started screening us and letting us in. For the first time in my life, I was the first person to go into an event!

Coming in, we could see the stage, and along the basketball court, rows of white chairs, followed by rows of blue chairs. Only the narrowest of aisles divided the colors in the soon-to-be-packed multitorium. The white chairs, we were told, were for VIPs.

My daughter and I were way up in the bleachers, so we had great vantage point from which to watch everything happening down below. It was interesting, for instance, to observe how some of the people who were sitting on the blue chairs--whose tickets were more expensive than the bleacher seats even though they were quite far from the stage--were having a hard time sitting in the back. A few of them tried to get moved forward, but their efforts were in vain, so they finally accepted reality and sat down.

I was wondering how I would be able to sit on the bleachers' hard wooden bleachers for two hours. The mere thought made my derriere hurt. Still, people became close friends for the time being, up there in the bleachers; talking to each other, laughing, even sharing snacks. It was dark up there, so we helped each other reach seats and climb stairs.

Finally, the Dalai Lama came out. We stood up to greet him with respect. I like those formalities! Some UCSB directors and the University's Chancellor Yang came out with him. They were there to introduce the Dalai Lama, and to promote UCSB's academic leadership and accomplishments. To be really honest, it felt out of place. Don't take me wrong! I want UCSB's status as one of the nation's top universities to be known, but I would have preferred to hear the Dalai Lama speaking for those additional 15 minutes.

Since you've already heard or read a lot about the Dalai Lama's talk, I'll just say that he spoke to us in a rather simple, everyday style. He used clear reasoning, but no pompous words or concepts. His teachings always had a positive slant. This humble man, who seems to have no ego, who possesses a good sense of humor, and who obviously enjoys laughing, focused on three things: compassion, the importance of values, and a global conscience. He emphasized seeing things from different points of view if we want to understand others and maintain a dialogue.

At the end of the two hours, I did leave with a hurting derriere, but happy that I had seen and heard one of the most important spiritual leaders in the world deliver the same simple message that other leaders have given us throughout the times, but we seem not to be able to hear.

Maybe one day:

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

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