Stretching for a Glimpse of the Dalai Lama

October 1, 2004

I TRIED obtainingtickets for theDalai Lama’s speechSunday at theNational Theateralmost two monthsbefore his arrival, butwas unsuccessful.How-ever, havingread his biography,several of his booksand listened to hisrecordings, I wantedto see this exceptionalindividual in person.I arrived across from the main entranceabout 30 minutes early and climbed onto thecut stone rim of the fountain for a betterview. I had been practicing meditation andstudying Buddhist philosophy long enoughnot to have expectations of some spiritualmilestone‚ on a personal level, as a result ofthis event. Progress on this path must ultimatelybe achieved alone.There are five precepts recommendedfor lay people (non-monks) in Buddhism.The first clue that these cannot be comparedto the 10 Commandments, are that they arerecommendations. Their purpose is not tomake you a moral or good person, but toabstain from introducing elements into yourlife that preclude a clear mind.These appear to be extremely practical tome and I try to practice them in my dailylife, with varying degrees of success. Inbrief, they consist of not lying, stealing,killing, taking intoxicants or engaging insexual misconduct. Although I do prettywell in not violating these in an overt ways,there are increasing levels of subtlety thatare uncovered as I become more aware. Thisbrings us back to the fountain.As I stood in the surprisingly sparsecrowd and gazed at the spectators, my attentioncontinuously moved to the shapelywomen that were plentiful around the plaza.My thoughts were less than pure, as my wifeleft Costa Rica more than a month before.Although I had no intention of acting outthese impulses, it would still qualify as asubtle form of sexual misconduct, as it didmake maintaining a calm and clear mind allbut impossible.A friend that had entered the theater severalminutes before suddenly appeared andclimbed up on the fountain next to me.“What happened?” I asked.“What we thought were eight tickets,were actually only four tickets with stubs.Then we noticed that there was an unguardeddoor on the side, so my wife and herfriends snuck in one by one,” he replied.So much for the precept on stealing.Several minutes later, the Dalai Lamaarrived in a large black car that pulled intothe side gate of the theater. I saw the familiarprofile as the car door was opened, thenhe rose and waved to the crowd. Even at adistance, his calm demeanor and genuinelyhappy expression had some affect on me.The man I glimpsed for at most 10 secondshad clearly spent much time traveling a pathI had only begun.Buddhism is not a religion, as no beliefin a deity is required. As Buddhism spreadto Southeast Asia, China and Japan, it didnot seek to replace the existing culture, butto adapt to it. The Buddha was simply a manwho discovered a method anyone can use toend his or her own suffering. It involvestraining the mind through meditation to fullyexperience each moment as it is happening.The resulting state is called mindfulness.Compare this to our normal state, where weare either thinking over past events andactions we should’ve taken or fantasizingabout what we will do in the future. Theonly reality that actually exists, which is thepresent moment, usually passes by withoutnotice.After the Dalai Lama entered the theater,we climbed down from the fountain andstrolled to the hotel across from it to watchhis speech on the big screen. I spied ajumbo-sized Gringo with whom I had previouslyplayed some guitar, and he informedus that tickets for the hotel viewing werealso sold out.“We might as well all get drunk,” heexclaimed, and gestured for us to sit.There went the precept against takingintoxicants.After declining the invitation, I walkedquickly back to my bus stop, completelyunmindful of the people and events thatwere constantly unfolding around me. As Iclimbed on the bus, I hypothesized abouthow different our planet would be if we allmade a minimal effort to practice the fiveprecepts. War would be impossible and theDalai Lama’s visit unnecessary. Then mymind drifted back to the women on the bus.So much for mindfulness.

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