“Do not think religion, think humanity.”

This past Sunday, May 19 I had the once in a lifetime opportunity of going to see His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speak here in Louisville. While even I was not completely sure as to what brought the Dalai Lama to the city, from what I can tell it was due to Louisville’s involvement with the idea of compassion including but not limited to Louisville’s signing of the Charter for Compassion and a 10 year plan to promote the concept of compassion through the school districts and volunteer projects.

I made several attempts to get a friend to come to the event with me but saw no success. Looking back I think this might have been for the better as the event would prove to be an incredibly personal experience and having company might have changed that. Plus, I may not have been able to head downtown extra early so I could get lunch at Chipotle if I had to drive someone else! Priorities, people.

Of course Louisville’s weather picked that day to be a cool 85 degree, cloudless day as almost 14,000 people waited on the steps of the YUM! Center to go through security. I actually did run into two friends from Bellarmine which was nice to pass the time but once through security (which proved to simply be a metal detector with no bag check or anything) we parted ways as I was sitting in the very last row of the top section in the arena. It was quite a climb and even being a two-time skydiving veteran I had to take a minute to get used to being so high up. Pictures are below.

There were some thoroughly entertaining mini-concerts before the Dalai Lama took the stage and I was particularly impressed by the performances of Andrea Davidson and Ben Sollee. Picture below. I was familiar with Sollee due to his popularity amongst my friends but Davidson was truly an engaging performer. Of course all the music was very laid back and relaxing to go with the mood of the event and I look forward to exploring both of these artists further. You should too!

Finally the Dalai Lama took the stage and the entire crowd immediately rose to their feet to applaude a man that none of us knew and who hadn’t said a word to us yet. The power that such a seemingly small individual had was incredibly moving and it was inspiring how many people shared that feeling. After a moment of silence (the largest moment of silence that I had ever been a part of save the one on Anzac day in Australia) and a brief introduction by several parties, Tenzin Gyatso finally took the podium. Pictures below.

At first it was almost impossible to hear the man but as I got used to his broken English and he got more confident speaking said broken English, I quickly began to pick up on the insights of one of the most impressive humans on this planet. The subject of his talk was on compassion and obviously had a large religious twist and I hurriedly attempted to write down the most impactful quotes while not missing the next. The Dalai Lama opened by saying that in order for a peaceful world to exist all humans and their systems, specifically religion, must become compassionate towards one another. He suggested that a great way to begin this transition is to always remember that the person you are dealing with is a human. When you are at the peak of your happiness or your most bitter arguments, the person across the table from you is just that; a person. He followed that up with the simple sentence, “All world should be free world.” Never has a broken, simpler sentence ever been more profound.

The next part of the Dalai Lama’s talk was incredibly powerful to me due to recent events that had happened in my life. As many of you know my faith is incredibly important to me and is a large part of who I am. While I have always faced a certain degree of adversity due to my faith I very rarely have felt that people held my belief against me. Unfortunately I was faced with a situation in which I did feel that way and therefore when the Dalai Lama began talking about inner peace and religion in daily life I found myself incredibly moved.

The Dalai Lama addressed the superficiality of the hundreds of posters and pamphlets that the word ‘compassion’ had been slapped onto by saying that, “Peace must not remain a slogan, but must come from here.” A simple motion towards his heart was all it took for the statement to hit home.

The Dalai Lama said that we all must accept the limitation of prayer and that only action can truly effect the world. This was completely unexpected on my end. Here is one of the most devout, pious men the world has ever known and he is saying that we must accept the limitation of prayer. Unfortunately he didn’t elaborate further but what I took away was that this was a comparison back to those posters with compassion on them; talk is good but means nothing without action. A person who prays all day yet never acts on the values they supposedly have doesn’t truly embody those values. I also took away that prayer does not give you all the answers to your life, if any at all. While I will always respect those who do choose to seek guidance through prayer, I personally don’t find answers through that practice.

Now that Tenzin Gyatso had my attention he decided to throw another curve ball by saying that, “Everyone knows I am religious. A serious practitioner. I hope I am a serious practitioner. I hope. I don’t know.” WHAT. What do you mean you don’t know? You mean to tell me that you don’t know if you are a serious practitioner when you are one of the most respected religious leaders in the world? I took away that this means there is no way to be completely certain of what is out there as far as God and its when everyone claims that they do have that certainty when problems arise.

But one of the last things that the Dalai Lama said in his speech had me in tears simply because I needed to hear someone else express what I had been struggling with at such length. All it took was six words…

“Do not think religion, think humanity.”

Like a ton of bricks the statement hit me. I had been struggling for so long with the people seeing me as different and I fully admit that I am guilty of the same. But with this most recent event I had truly begun to struggle with why a difference in my belief and yours should limit our relationship or end with one of us in hell. Because it shouldn’t. There is no reason why my identical twin who believes something else should be treated differently than I am. No reason at all. And I knew that this entire time but truly needed to hear it from someone else. It just so happened that that someone else was the Dalai Lama, which I cannot express how lucky I am to have experienced.

All in all, going to listen to the Dalai Lama was pretty intense and I am so glad that I didn’t let the fact I had no one to go with stop me from going. I may have been closer to the rafters than to the Dalai Lama, it was such a profound experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

So here’s to not living by slogans. To living life with humanity and not titles, both the ones we claim for ourselves and are assigned by others.

All my love,

The Wanderer

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2 thoughts on ““Do not think religion, think humanity.”

  1. I’m glad you took the time to see him while he was in your town. I hope you include Tibetan Buddhist areas in your wanderings. They are fascinating.

    I’ve always been impressed and a little surprised that often the higher a leader makes it in a church hierarchy the less dogmatic they are about what is “true” and the path to “salvation.” Perhaps because they’ve given it so much thought. Perhaps because they’ve seen their own religious system fail at times. They’re almost like spritual psychologists or anthropologists, asking questions and probing what helps people in different situations. The Dalai Lama is even more impressive because he was born into it. He could have turned out spoiled but seems the opposite.

    I hope we get the chance to discuss your religious beliefs some time. Though I know you went through bar mitzvah I didn’t realize faith meant that much to you. I’d like to understand that journey.

    • I would love to have that conversation with you, Dan! Although it is hard to explain faith and why you have it, I believe the only way to grow that faith and make it stronger is to talk about it openly with people who agree and disagree with your beliefs.

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