Last week, the Dalai Lama visited Memphis, Tenn., where he received the key to the city, accepted an award from the National Civil Rights Museum and made a stop at the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. If you had an opportunity to sit down with His Holiness, what would you talk about? What issues would you address in your conversation? And would you greet him with a fist bump?
Several years ago while in France, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner party where I was seated at a table with Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain. I found her engaging, friendly, candid and interesting. We talked about her time as prime minister and her relationship with “Ronny” (as she called President Reagan).
She treated all at the table with respect, and she was willing to listen to and answer questions. She did not exhibit the traits of her nickname, “The Iron Lady.” I was sorry when the evening ended.
Along these lines, Mike Wallace, the famed “60 Minutes” reporter, recounted some years ago his first meeting and subsequent interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, the Latter-day Saints president and prophet who passed away last year.
Wallace said: “I was taken aback by an unexpected invitation to a luncheon at the Harvard Club in New York City . . . I’d been asked to break bread with the hitherto mysterious octogenarian president of the Mormon Church, and because the invitation was tendered on the president’s behalf by a Jewish-owned public relations firm, it was too tantalizing to pass up.”
After the lunch, Wallace invited Hinckley to be interviewed on “60 Minutes.” Of that interview, Wallace said, “Well, what happened was that my ‘60 Minutes’ colleagues and I learned, from the time we spent with Gordon Hinckley and his wife . . . that this warm and thoughtful and decent and optimistic leader of the church fully deserves the almost universal admiration that he gets. I know that may sound more than a trifle corny coming from a dyed-in-the-wool, jaded, New York-based reportorial cynic.”
From that interview, Wallace and Hinckley developed a warm and lasting relationship.
For some people, such as the Dalai Lama, Thatcher or Hinckley, fame has not changed their true nature. They are human beings who understand others and who treat others with dignity, respect and understanding. They are people who listen and who share a common interest in humanity — with or without a fist bump.
BISHOP FRED L. CARPENTER
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader whom I deeply respect. I believe he is one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time.
If I had a chance to sit down for a few minutes with him, I would ask him about laughter and how he finds joy in his life. I would like to know how he maintains his inner sense of joy and how he radiates joy to others in the midst of all the tragedies he witnesses in our human experience.
Joy is an expression of Divine Love. I would like to have a conversation with His Holiness about Divine Love being an attribute of the One Power and the One Presence. I would like to hear his comments on how he connects with Divine Love, how he has really developed an inner “knowing” about the healing energy of Divine Love, and how he lives and teaches others about expressing a consciousness of Divine Love, or joy.
When you look at the photo of Memphis, Tenn., Mayor Myron Lowry “fist bumping” with the Dalai Lama, both men are laughing, and His Holiness obviously responded to the uniquely American greeting with good humor.
I have been introduced to Buddhist monks in the past and was instructed not to touch them — no handshake or hugs because it was part of their belief that women were “unclean or unpurified in spirit.”
So, in respect for the Buddhist faith and the culture in which the Dalai Lama was raised, instead of using the fist bump, I would put my hands together in prayer pose and bow with respect. But I would smile when I bowed. I believe he would like that.
PASTOR JERI LINN
Unity Church of the Valley
In the book “The Jew in the Lotus,” Roger Kamenetz describes a historical meeting between several American rabbis and a group of Tibetan monks that included the Dalai Lama. The meeting was inspired in part by the perception of Jews as “survival experts.” The Dalai Lama felt that the Jews, experienced in exile and the preservation of faith and practice, could offer advice and comfort to his persecuted people.
If I had a meeting with the Dalai Lama, I would first of all greet him with a polite handshake and friendly “shalom.” I would encourage him to continue to stand strong, even in the face of intense opposition. We, the Jewish people, are living testimony to the fact that ultimately good will prevail over the forces of darkness. Over the past 3,000 years, many aggressors have tried — unsuccessfully — to annihilate us. Through a combination of resilience and spiritual commitment, we have persevered.
In 2006, during a meeting in Jerusalem between the Dalai Lama and the chief rabbis of Israel, it was proposed that a “religious United Nations” be established so that spiritual leaders will get the opportunity to meet one another and discover what they have in common.
I would suggest that he impress upon his millions of disciples and supporters the urgent need to establish this center, which will hopefully bring about peaceful relations among all the world’s religions.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills
The title “Dalai Lama” means something on the order of “Spiritual Ocean,” as in, some tremendous reservoir of eternal truths. The current one, whom we know mostly by virtue of his impression on Hollywood’s elite, is better known worldwide as a political activist, especially on behalf of Tibetan independence.
We can all appreciate his efforts, but I am no fan of his religious beliefs, nor do I find him to be sea of spiritual wisdom. In fact, if you can imagine yourself treading water in the ocean you’d experience more the feeling of drowning than divinity.
I don’t begrudge anyone their privilege to believe whatever they want, but if there is anything true spiritually, and I think there is, then whatever is not true is false, and anyone who leads people down a false path is no enlightened being, nor are they by any means “holy.”
Repeatedly, the Dalai Lama denies belief in a personal creator God, affirming instead that God is one’s own mind. This is standard Buddhist fare. It’s the one religious system that doesn’t really regard God as especially significant.
There is no resurrection in Buddhism, like that of Christ’s, and like that which we all expect who are his redeemed of earth. Instead, it holds to reincarnation, and the Lama believes himself to be the 13th reincarnation of previous Lamas, more enlightened than mortals, and perhaps even the last of his kind.
I believe that we are individuals, created by a personal God, and that we have everlasting destinies. We don’t lose identity and merge with some semiconscious temporal emptiness, but heaven or hell awaits, and the determiner is Jesus Christ.
I’d say “Hello Dalai,” give him a friendly fist bump, then I’d sit him down and tell him about his need to really be “born again.”
PASTOR BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
My first instinct would be to ask him what he’d like to talk about — he’s the Dalai Lama after all; he’s probably got things to say, or questions of his own to ask, without prompting. But that makes for a short article, doesn’t it; so I’ll imagine more specifically.
First, I would quite selfishly ask for his spiritual direction and blessing. What an amazing thing it would be, to be blessed by the Dalai Lama!
I’d want to worship with him somehow, to chant and pray and meditate with him. He’d have to teach me how to do that, Buddhist-style, and that would also be incredible. (“Where’d you learn to meditate, Amy?” “Oh, the Dalai Lama taught me.”)
Theological questions that come to mind:
1. You are three things at the same time: a “regular human being,” a monk with lifelong training, and an incarnation of divine light. What struggles and successes have you had, balancing those three modes of being?
2. Especially, how do you feel yourself to be ontologically different (i.e.: having to do with one’s very nature, as opposed to differences of training or experience) from other human beings, and from other monks?
3. How does your being compare and contrast with Jesus? How do you identify with him, and in what ways are you different from him?
4. How is reincarnation different from resurrection? Is it a different sort of hope, and does it make for a different path through life?
5. Christianity is in an era of remaking itself, finding its place between extremes of jaundiced secularism on the one hand, and rampant religious fundamentalism on the other. How is Buddhism changing or adapting itself in this era?
6. What do you miss most about Tibet?
7. Do you have cool Ninja-like martial arts training; and if so, could you show me a little? If not, have you always wanted it?
At this point, as you can see, the conversation would be starting to deteriorate, so I’d ask for his blessing, and maybe give him some ice cream or pie.
RECTOR AMY PRINGLE
St. George’s Episcopal Church in La Cañada
If I had the honor of sitting with the Dalai Lama, I would have many questions to discuss with him. I think that foremost, however, would be questions regarding his life’s dedication to humanitarian efforts and how those labors are under scrutiny as to the moral or political reasoning behind them.
I would be fascinated to process with him my own desire to work for humanity and how he feels about the fact that this type of work often does not integrate well with the population overall; some individuals or groups make a great effort to oppose humanitarian efforts, analyzing and ridiculing those who partake.
I would want to know how he has sustained his passion and call through the difficult times of persecution and how he has kept his own morale up. Has he ever felt like giving up? Has he experienced depression? Does he feel alone? These would be my chief inquiries. Would I personally greet him with a “fist bump”? That is not my personal style in a formal situation like this, but the reasoning behind why Mayor Lowery did so is appropriate and an interesting story in and of itself.
Counselor at La Vie Counseling Center in Pasadena