Friday, October 22, 2010

Got the t-shirt (Not!) . . .

On Sunday and Tuesday of this past week, I was fortunate to hear the Dalai Lama in person. The Sunday event was a small gathering of university chaplains (there were only about 25 of us--plus security personnel). At that gathering, His Holiness spoke of things of concern to us: compassion and harmony -- common enough topics for him. (His current book is entitled Toward a True Kinship of Faiths. In it he argues that compassion is part of all religions and that we can strive toward harmony through that understanding, without diluting any particular tradition.) Near the end of our time together, he turned to another common topic of Buddhism: attachment, or non-attachment. In the context of what he'd just been saying he cautioned us not to become attached to our own religious traditions. And then he turned the tables and pointed to himself, "I cannot become too attached to my Buddhism! And I'm a Buddhist leader!" And he began chuckling.

The Tuesday event was a conversation between the Dalai Lama, Richard Gere and Alice Walker, or the topic of Creativity and Spirituality. This was a "buy-a-ticket" event, and apparently some 1200 folks bought tickets. The conversation between the three was fascinating. And it was wonderful to hear them answer such questions as "is there a connection between compassion and art?" The Dalai Lama, "Yes. Next question?" More chuckling all around! And when that conversation was over, we were all encouraged by the event planners to visit the Tibet Shop on the 2nd floor. I was with a group that decided that leaving the auditorium was more to our interest than a crowded gift shop.

As we were walking back to our conference room, we ran into another of our fellow conferees. He had purchased a t-shirt commemorating the Dalai Lama's visit to Atlanta. And I began to wonder aloud about attachment and gift shops. As I spoke of my musings, another colleague pointed out that the gift shop was raising money for Tibet. I understood that. But what I found humorous was that we had just heard about non-attachment, and then we were encouraged to buy something to keep us attached (via t-shirt) to the experience we just had.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, let me state that I have LOTS of t-shirts from sporting championships, concerts and bike rides that remind me of those events!) And I was reminded of the Dalai Lama's own self-caution about holding on too tightly to things that might keep us from moving forward.

I'm reminded, too, of the Israelites who, after their Exodus from Egypt -- believing in God's promise of a "land flowing with milk and honey" -- when things got a bit rough, forgot their future and began wishing for their past: "[O]n the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt, . . . [t]he whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Ex 16:1-3). Slavery preferable to freedom. Hmmmm.

And, of course, at this time of THIS year, I'm reminded of this attachment to the past with each television ad for a political candidate, or each dinner-interrupting phone call from US Chamber of Commerce funded tele-marketers.
The disillusion of some voters who chanted the "change" mantra of just two years ago is a counter-melody: "Let's go back to when we believed in change. Far be it from any of us to actually do the hard slogging to realize change -- however long it takes. It hasn't happened in the last eleven months? Throw da bums out!"

The Dalai Lama tirelessly works for change (Richard Gere said that he couldn't keep up with the octagenarian leader!), and he has changed his attachments over the years. Alice Walker asserted that she has to find "joy in the struggle" -- THAT's a positive, look-to-the-future, attitude. No attachment to the past, or even a static present, there.

There is a future to which we can aspire, a future for which we must work if we are to create a better place for our children and grandchildren. Are there attachments to the things of our parents and grandparents that we must be willing to relinquish to realize that future? Certainly there are gifts from the past that empower us. May we build with them.



PS: If you'd like to know more about the Dalai Lama's recent visit to Emory University, there's some good information on the event in general here and on the conversation on creativity here.

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