May 24, 2010

The Dalai Lama and Open Space

As you’re probably all well aware by now, the Dalai Lama was in NYC last week speaking to a packed house at Radio City Music Hall. Since I was fortunate enough to attend on Thursday and Friday, I thought I might share some of my thoughts and impressions from those talks.

I should preface this post by admitting that I’ve always had a hard time with authority figures, especially religious authority figures. So, for me, the Dalai Lama’s entrance was distracting. Dramatic music started playing overhead. A woman behind me started loudly weeping. I was prepared to sit through this, uncomfortably.

Of course, then the Dalai Lama didn’t do what he doesn’t do best: he didn’t take himself too seriously. He lightened the mood. He put on a red visor, smiled at everybody and began to speak.

“There are six billion people in this world with great intelligence. We should use our intelligence to bring more joy and happiness, not suffering and sadness.”

Oh that Dalai Lama, always transcending cultural bounds with ease. It’s these moments when you can understand why so many humans are attracted to this man. He seems boundless. Which brings me to my favorite topic that he discussed (after ditching the English language to speak about finer philosophical points in Tibetan)—the concept of emptiness as open space. [Side thought: Can things get lost in translation when they come from an enlightened mind?]

While exploring Nagarjuna’s Commentary on Bodhicitta, the Dalai Lama said that we should think about emptiness as open space. When we try to find the essence of anything and instead find it to be empty, we should regard that discovery as having no bounds. Insight into emptiness will open space in our minds, allowing us to move about and act freely.

I’d like to think more about this, certainly, but for now I just find that idea so inspiring. We’re used to hearing Buddhist terms like “suffering” and “emptiness,” and it can all come across as a bit dreary. But here the Dalai Lama was talking about happiness and open space. Sure, some accused him of being overly optimistic in his view of humanity’s future, but honestly, what’s the problem with that? In my opinion, if we can’t be optimistic in the face of endless personal and global disasters, we’ve got no chance.

So yeah, I was uneasy when the talks began and I left feeling rather comforted—the space in between those two moments being filled with what felt like wisdom.

Image: Getty

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[...] Tricycle » The Dalai Lama and Open Space [...]

R. Donald Rollo's picture

Bill: Take a pill, arsehole. You own NKT cult has enough sex scandals, corruption of lineage and money laundering to busy you on the domestic front, why accuse someone else who you have not the slightest knowledge of?

Bill's picture

Oh, another point, the Dalai Lama considers himself as Marxist!

Um, wasn't it communism that destroyed (and is destroying) Tibet and caused him to flee to India? I've heard about embracing your enemies, but this is totally dumb and going too far! Why is the Dalai Lama endorsing a political system that has nothing to do with Buddhism and that has been responsible for many horrors in this world such as the cultural revolution in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia? More causes for concern!

Bill's picture

I'm wondering why Tricycle feels it necessary to 'hero worship' the Dalai Lama and report his every word and movement? If you examine the history of the Dalai Lama institution, it's completely about mixing Dharma with politics, an incendiary mixture to be sure!

The Dalai Lama himself has a history of hypocrisy and a dubious human rights record, so why exalt him? Just a question!

The reason why it's not appropriate to be overly optimistic about humanity's samsaric future is that we then invest time and energy in samsaric solutions that don't produce happiness. Buddha said we should see the faults of samsara and then develop the wish to escape. The only reason for optimism would be if people developed an interest in developing wisdom and compassion through following the spiritual path. The Dalai Lama himself can be seen to be investing energy to obtain worldly political solutions that will not work. What is the point of an autonomous or even a free Tibet? Tibet is a samsaric place, a true suffering, so obtaining a 'free Tibet' will not lead to happiness either now or in the future for the Tibetan people or anyone else. This makes me wonder if the Dalai Lama has a serious misunderstanding about Buddha's teachings on renunciation and selflessness in that he's leading people to grasp tightly at the idea of 'Tibet' and 'Tibetan culture' which is causing a great deal of anger instead of encouraging people to put Buddha's teachings on non-attachment and emptiness into practice and to find true freedom.

bb's picture

don't quite see the revalatory dimensions here but am glad you got something out of HHDL's talk:sure emptiness can only be good at the appropriate time as any meditator surely knows..?