October 11, 2007

Dalai Lama Stresses Tranquility at Ithaca College

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The small man seated with his legs crossed beneath him, draped beneath gold and maroon fields of fabric, spoke animatedly and laughed freely, much in the same way he did at Cornell the day before. The Dalai Lama gave no signs in his talk, entitled “Eight Verses on Training the Mind,” that he was deterred by the 2,000 member audience seated before him on folding chairs yesterday in Ithaca College’s Ben Light Gymnasium, or that he was tired from over five hours of speaking at three different Ithaca locations over the past two days.
Though the Dalai Lama’s talk was the central event of the day, many events preceded his speech. At noon the Namgyal Monastery, which sponsored the lecture series, “Bridging Worlds,” and the Du Khor Choe Ling Monastery, projected a slide show. The show was followed by a performance of the Ithaca College Musicians. Then, the Namgyal Monastery monks took over with an array of chants.
Just after 2 p.m., His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama prepared to speak.
Outside the gymnasium, the atmosphere was one of high security that belied the day’s theme of tranquility. Dozens of police officers, security guards, student, administration and community volunteers made up a strong force surrounding the building, whose doors were closed at a quarter to 2 p.m. A motorcade lay in wait for the Dalai Lama, whose role as a man of peace has ironically placed him in the center of conflict, most specifically in the Tibetan struggle for independence.
Though the gym lights reflected off of many pins with the word ‘Free’ and an outline of Tibet, politics were absent from the Dalai Lama’s speech.
Instead, the Dalai Lama’s teaching focused on a text of the same name as his talk. These eight verses, in the lojong method of Tibetan Buddhism, outline methods of shaping one’s mind to “engage the world in a more compassionate and idealistic way, whereby the ideal may become real,” according to a pamphlet given out at the event.
“Why is inquiry into the nature of ourselves important?” the Dalai Lama rhetorically asked the audience through a translator. The answer to the inquiry, he continued, has a direct impact on how one views the world.
He went on to talk about this pursuit of identity, referring to it as the ‘I am’ and following it to the roots of anger and aversion.
The speech touched on a variety of topics, with both philosophical reasoning and laughter.
“There must be causes … you have to ask how, why? Everything must have a reason,” he said.
He warned of the dangers of having an unrealistic attitude, defining it as based on a fully-realized reality, a basis for the Buddhist concept of salvation.
“The more knowledge comes, ignorance is reduced,” he said. “We must utilize our intelligence.”
Altruism was also a major theme of his speech.
“When we speak of altruism, we are talking about our awakening mind,” he said, “the kind of mind that cherishes others, the kind that is being cultivated here.”
As he concluded his talk, he led the audience in prayer, bowing his head, clasping his hands, and rocking back and forth.
“Whatever faith tradition you may follow, you can imagine yourself being in the presence of your own teacher,” he said.
After the prayer was concluded, he joked, “Two hours of lecture: completed.”
He left the stage with a bow, a thank you and these words: “The reality is we are right here. Please be more sensitive … be a realistic person … find the tranquility within ourselves.”
A representative from the Namgyal Monastery thanked the Ithaca community for hosting the Dalai Lama for the duration of his visit and for its contributions.
The Dalai Lama left the stage with the help of the monks seated to his right and left during the talk, and to the sounds of a standing ovation.
Zach Williams, a sophomore at Ithaca College, volunteered at the event and described the students’ roles.
“Basically we just worked in helping to make the event go smoothly. It was well planned out so it made our jobs easy,” he said.
Courtney Clemente also volunteered.
“I didn’t get a ticket but I wanted to hear him speak,” she said. “The Dalai Lama is such a huge world figure. I don’t know much about Buddhism, I’m Catholic, but I was intrigued. He had a lot of good things to say.”
While Ithaca College students were well-represented in the volunteer force and the audience, many members of the larger Ithaca community came up the hill to hear him speak as well.
“How could we not come?” asked Paula Jacobs, an Ithaca resident since she came to Cornell in 1967. “I want to submerge myself in the experience of no self. There is no other message, there is no other hope.”
Linda Thoran, mother of Susan Thoran, a senior at Ithaca College, drove from Virginia and gave up three days of work for the event.
“There’s a great deal of trouble in the world right now,” she said. “He is in the center of dangerous times … yet there was none of that bitterness or political disturbances that are reality in his talk. He seems to have true compassion — that is what really came through.”