US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The threat and appeal of the Dalai Lama

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I had the privilege of seeing the Dalai Lama speak twice before Monday’s panel discussion on “Bridging the Faith Divide,” but I was particularly interested see how he would interact with other faith leaders this time. As I wrote in the news story about the panel, the Dalai Lama seemed more interested in listening than speaking.

And while his fellow panel members expounded on the complex issues of religion and politics into today’s society, everything the Dalai Lama said was so simple. We’re all sentient beings, he said. Everybody wants to be happy. But none of us are perfect, he added, and each religion is applied poorly—even Buddhism!

Still, these simple ideas have bigger implications. As I pointed out in the new stories, each of the interfaith leaders on the panel had taken up political and social causes simple religious ideas because of such ideas. And of course the laugher-filled monk is particularly seen as a threat to the Chinese government.

In our interview on the church in China (you’ll have to subscribe for the August issue to see it), Father Francisco Carin explained that there only can be one authority in China. The Vatican and China don’t always get along, he says, because they both insist on being the one authority.

Meanwhile the Dalai Lama is an authority who denies his own authority. No new ideas come from my brain, he said. “I describe myself as a messenger of ancient Indian treasure.”

I could never imagine the pope saying that all religions can lead to inner peace. The Dalai Lama’s challenge to authority is as much to the other religious leaders, including our pope, as it is to the Communist Party.

Interestingly, it is exactly his humility that draws so many to the Dalai Lama. He relates to others simply as one sentient being to the next. He challenges us all to place compassion above authority. Live truthfully and compassionately, he concluded, and you’ll be a model for others. And it’s for this message that I’ll go see the Dalai Lama speak again and again.