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Inspiration

A Day with the Dalai Lama

1st December 2016

A Day with the Dalai Lama

Lizz Lincoln, Evergreen Middle School

     My journey with PeaceJam was sparked seven years ago when I was involved with planning the Journey of Hope concert at Red Rocks for the Central Asia Institute. Since that September day, I have admired this organization’s unique mission; a journey that started in 1996 with a courageous Denver couple and a simple Buddhist monk who just happened to be Nobel Peace Laureate, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff’s vision has since drawn together a  dozen more peace laureates, many thousands of youth, and teams of dedicated adult mentors for a common purpose: to educate and inspire the younger generations to bring about positive change in the world through active compassion within our communities, among our nations, and throughout the world.  Although my connection with these remarkable people has been intermittent since 2009, our paths have merged once again as we pursue a mutual commitment to build a culture of peace for the 21st century.

     Last fall I mentored a small PeaceJam group as part of our middle school’s leadership council.  We followed the stories and ideas presented in the service-based lessons offered through a diversity of resources – including a stellar curriculum, workshops and trainings, as well as regional and international conferences. They were enthusiastic participants in the Rocky Mountain Slam, even though the much anticipated attendance by the Dalai Lama was postponed due to his poor health. The highlight of the year was presenting a new service project for One Billion Acts of Peace at the Rocky Mountain PeaceJam Conference in March, where these young ladies were able to meet and speak at length with 2003 Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi. While I was not able to bring my small group to the rescheduled visit from His Holiness I was privileged to find myself in Boulder early on June 23rd, waiting patiently in traffic with my husband and three 13-year-old family members in tow, then chatting with friendly strangers in the long lines around the CU Event Center as we arrived to see and hear the wisdom and insights of this humble spiritual leader. 

The first event of the day was a teaching: The Eight Verses of Training the Mind.  We arrived just in time for the Dalai Lama’s introduction to the stage, which was beautifully adorned with traditional Tibetan décor and further blessed by the singing and dancing of children from the Colorado Tibetan Association.  Boulder Mayor Sara Jones presented the Buddhist leader with a bicycle helmet and jersey, and the entire arena was endeared by his child-like smile as he put it on his head and chuckled about how he would wear this even though his fragile old body would not allow him to ride on two wheels any more.  The rest of the 90-minute described the nature of the mind and how each of us can learn to balance the blessings and afflictions of the world using a common cultural and religious idea: empathy and compassion open the path toward peace.  While the poor acoustics and inadequate sound system made it quite difficult hear and understand all of the words he spoke, the message of hope and possibility was loud and clear.  It was also clear the younger members of the crowd struggled to follow as well, and I wondered what impression this would make on the young teens I had brought with me that morning.  Happily, during a quick lunch afterward, there were unsolicited comments of, “He was cool!” and other expression assured me they would never forget the experience.

The afternoon event, Educating the Heart & Mind, was a discussion of practices and policies that could cultivate stronger moral values within education systems and communities. Once again this humble, elderly monk captivated the crowd with his larger-than life laughter, sporting a CU-Buffs visor as he opened the session by answering questions from a few fortunate members of the audience. His Holiness responded to inquiries both personal to philosophical, including his first communication using American Sign Language.  The most profound response for me was simple and direct:  What did he consider to be the purpose of human life? He replied in the most jovial tone of the day with one word – happiness – as if it was the only possible answer. Regarding how that may be achieved, the Dalai Lama offered his advice and wisdom for coping with issues concerning human rights, the environment, and the materialistic behaviors that interfere with the growth of compassion and altruistic ideals. He cautioned about rapid pace of technology and how easily it has fueled a lack of empathy among our youth, and called for a more secular approach to education that provides lessons about ethics and consideration of the needs of others. Once again I was hearing that the way to spread a culture of peace to mentor young minds through involvement with people and experiences that foster strong moral values for each new generation. 

The Dalai Lama urged citizens of the United States to use our status as a leading nation of the free world to mentor the global community in efforts toward a more peaceful future for all cultures.  In the wake of the Orlando nightclub shootings, he emphasized the potential for teaching universal ethics that draw upon both the scientific and spiritual knowledge of humanity. While this is indeed a challenging task, there is great hope that intentional action for peace in our world can be achieved.  This was the message of a simple Buddhist monk who has spent most of his 81 years in exile following China’s occupation of his native Tibet, and it came through despite the barriers of sound, language, and ideologies.  Reflecting on these lessons from the 14th Dalai Lama, my connection to PeaceJam seems to have come full circle.  The message of both the teaching and the lecture was the same: a culture of compassion starts with one individual, then becomes ten, then grows to a few hundred, and eventually blossoms into thousands; it is indeed believable that millions and even billions will be reached before the end of the decade.  We will continue to be part of One Billion Acts of Peace; the next phase of the Evergreen Middle School Project, Behind the Looking Glass, will bring to light the issue of Inclusivity & Cooperation by raising awareness and offering alternatives to stereotyping others, ultimately bringing about the growth of acceptance and compassion in our school and community. Happily, this journey of hope continues….

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