Friday, July 20, 2007

Still inspiring me

Over my 64 years, I have been lucky enough to meet a number of extraordinary people. When, in 2000, I was on a Spiritual Direction training course, we were asked to find an image for our personal spiritual journey. My own choice was a Monopoly board. Although I am still working through the different components of the board, I was clear that the "Chance" cards would be the names of people that I had met. Among them, of course, would be my parents and some of my teachers at the Lycèe and at Oxford, clergy who have directed my studies and friends. At the top of the list must be Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, whom my son Jack and I met in a private audience in April 2001. A photo of the meeting sits on my desk and my blog would not be complete without it.

Here is what I wrote shortly after returning to the UK:
This April, Jack and I spent just over two weeks in northern India. The journey was sparked off by the time we had spent, while Chris (my wife) was dying, two years ago, watching Martin Scorcese’s film Kundun about the childhood and adolescence of Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Tibet is currently occupied by the Chinese who are undertaking the systematic destruction of thousands of years of history, the genocide of the native Tibetan population and the eradication of the Buddhist way of life. Monks and nuns are tortured, humiliated and forced to break their vows. People may no longer even have a picture of the Dalai Lama in their homes. Since 1959, the present Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, world-wide, travelling and speaking out for the freedom of his people.

There have been thirteen previous Dalai Lamas since Gedun Drub in the fifteenth century. Each one is believed to be the reincarnation of the previous one and the incarnation in the world of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion. A bodhisattva is an individual who has achieved perfection and could go on to Nirvana but chooses to return to incarnation out of love and compassion for all sentient beings. The title, Dalai Lama, is a Mongolian title given to the third Gyalwa Rinpoche (Precious Victorious One) when he reconverted the Mongols to Buddhism. It means “Ocean of Wisdom”.

I wrote to His Holiness’s secretary in May 2000, telling him about Jack’s wish, after his mother died, to see the Himalayas and meet His Holiness. The secretary emailed me back with a date of April 20th this year. I was stunned: who are we, after all, to be given a private audience with a man who is feted by presidents, popes, monarchs, etc.?

After visiting Delhi (mercifully for only 24 hours), Manali and Rewalsar, we arrived in Dharamshala where the Tibetan Government-in-exile has been set up. On 19 April , we celebrated Jack’s 11th birthday with a party at our guesthouse. Amoing us were a lot of the other pilgrims and researchers, Tibetan, American, Australian, Swedish and Indian whom we had met as we travelled.

The audience with His Holiness was due to last 15 minutes. He kept us for 45! He asked us about Chris and wept as we talked. He made jokes, spoke about his faith and said, to me: “Lord Jesus is your door. Lord Buddha is my door.” And he gave us presents: a small diptych of Christian icons, a thangka (painted representation of the Shayamuni Buddha) which he signed, writing (in Tibetan): “To Simon and Jack, in memory of your visit to Kundun”, and, for Jack, his Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.

I am still assessing and integrating all that happened on our trip but I am convinced that I have met the truth of Christ’s promise in Matthew 28:20 in the person of the Great Fourteenth Dalai Lama and, through him, am learning the joy of seeing Christ in each sentient being that I meet.

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