Last week I sat in front of the Dalai Lama of Tibet at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., where he was leading the 2011 Kalachakra for World Peace and heard him talk about the union of wisdom and compassionate action, and how being an honest and caring person is more important than mere external religiosity or parroting prayers and mouthing platitudes. He said:
"We must be 21st century Buddhists, not just ritual faith and belief Buddhists -- and live our values in our daily lives, combining the development of modern scientific knowledge with timeless wisdom understanding. Self-discipline is the real answer to bringing about a better society and more peaceful world. Hypocrisy and corruption have nothing to do with religion or the lives of we who strive to practice according to our own traditions."
The Dalai Lama seemed to be holding up fine, though the schedule was strenuous and the teachings and empowerment thorough and lengthy -- along with public talks around the city and appearances, such as three hours on the steps of Capital Hill and a visit to the Senate. Always good at remembering to lighten up while enlightening up, one day His Holiness even demonstrated a small Tibetan yoga and energetic breathing exercise, usually done at the outset of meditation sessions, involving throwing the arms out and to the left and right. Instructing us to be mindful not to hit the person sitting by our side in such a packed crowd, he afterwards joked that, if we wanted to strike our neighbor, this would be a good excuse!
There was a great air of celebration, appreciation and optimism, with many Tibetan and Himalayan people there since this Kalachakra empowerment and Dharma-fest was sponsored by the local Tibetan Association of Washington. The feeling of joy leaped noticeably when His Holiness said he's planning to be around and active for at least "20 more years before saying bye-bye." In recent months he's said he might be around till more than 100, adding that he'd "hope to see his people return to a better situation in their own homeland long before then."
There was a great diversity there and a sense real friendliness and camaraderie. This is especially delightful when one considers the current state of the world, the economy and our violent times.
Visiting any of the local Starbucks or cafes one could see a smattering of all the variously colorful Buddhist robes of the world, not to mention exotic Himalayan outfits, jewelry and mala beads adorning the customers. At the teachings, the applause was longer and somewhat deeper than usual, revealing peoples' genuine appreciation to be together with His Holiness and the assembled four-fold sangha (monastic and lay, female and male) in the name of peace, harmony and love, at that time and place, for so long, undisturbed in the sacred circle of Kalachakra and spirit of authentic Buddha Dharma.
The Kalachakra is an esoteric Vajrayana tantric teaching from Highest Yoga Tantra, an empowering initiation which introduces disciples to the Deity Yoga practice of the Kalachakra Buddha. Kalachakra means "The Infinite Wheel of Time," including chanting, mantras, visualizations, samadhi, energy work, clear light meditation and the like. It is considered a blessing for world peace and harmony and is extraordinarily efficacious for developing the wisdom of enlightenment in our era. This is the 31st time that HH the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has given this important initiation in public during his lifetime.
Such advanced tantric Vajrayana (diamond path) empowerments and consecrations were traditionally given only for smaller groups of carefully trained, prepared and devoted disciples, although the Kalachakra has sometimes been an exception to that rule. And in modern days, most if not all Tibetan lamas have become more open regarding these transmission ceremonies and teachings. The large attendance at these Dharma teaching events was partly due to the Dalai Lama's tremendous popularity as a wise and saintly spiritual leader and moral conscience, combined with his ongoing global efforts on behalf of human rights, peace and universal responsibility. HH himself is quite lenient about allowing people to participate just for a blessing, even if they're not Buddhist practitioners, as he reiterated standing alongside Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington. He often says, perhaps only slightly in jest, that he offers these renowned advanced initiations partly as a pretext so people will come and thus allow him to present the basic Buddhist teachings he feels we really need to hear and take to heart, including the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. During this week-long teaching and transmission session he offered explanation on two important Mahayana Buddhist texts, "The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva" by Ngulchu Thogme and Kamalashila's "Stages of Meditation."
This event is very significant as it took place in the heart of our nation's capital during these decadent times (as Tibetans call the current age). But perhaps more important to note is that as Americans our right to freedom of religion allows for such auspicious occasions. During his evening presentation, Professor Robert Thurman, New York's Mr. Tibet, commented that we should work together toward having this Kalachakra for world peace and harmony presided over by His Holines in Beijing and Moscow, as has occurred in other world capitals.
Throughout the week the Grand Lama, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, was present onstage at the right hand of His Holiness. Also present were Lodi Gyari Rinpoche, special envoy to the Dalai Lama, Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche, the past prime minister (Kalon Tripa) of the Tibetan Government in Exile and Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the recently elected new prime minister. There was also an unusually large and diverse transectarian gathering of monks and nuns, lamas, tulkus, khenpos and rinpoches as well as people from other traditions Buddhist and otherwise, including many learned and accomplished teachers -- some of whom offered Kalachakra-related Dharma teachings almost every evening. Famous Hollywood faces of Buddhist affiliation were, as ever, present.
I personally feel very fortunate to have been at the Kalachakra for World Peace, and pray for the longevity and health of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet and all of his people.
Lama Surya Das is the author of the recent "Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now" (HarperOne, May, 2011), as well as the bestselling "Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World," and 10 other books.