I had the deep privilege of attending the Dalai Lama’s lecture at the LSE this morning – and it really was a privilege. The subject was ‘tolerance’… …and, frankly, I thought he was remarkable.
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but not what I heard and saw. Pretty much everyone knows who he is – or at least they think they do. Yes, he’s the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, and yes, he’s referred to as ‘his holiness’ – but though his speech was full of deep thoughts and ideas, that wasn’t what struck me or what impressed me. Some of what he said would be familiar to anyone who’s studied Buddhism even a little – about calmness, clearing the mind, about reducing attachments and so on – but that was only a small part of it. No, the things that impressed me weren’t what people always connect with spirituality. Three connected things stood out.
The first of these – and ultimately the point of the talk – was that life was ultimately to be enjoyed. And it was clear that he, the Dalai Lama, the deep spiritual leader, knew how to enjoy himself. He was funny! Really funny. He made jokes, he teased Conor Gearty, who was chairing the session, he laughed, he played – and completely naturally. I don’t know how to get this across properly – it was just fun.
The second he said directly: that wishful thinking, that prayer, didn’t change anything. To change things you have to take action. Real action, in the real world. I’m sure that wasn’t what people expected too – but it fitted perfectly with the first point. There was a connection between the philosophy and the real world.
The third was that he didn’t actually mention his religion at all – I don’t remember him mentioning Buddha or Buddhism at all. He talked generally very practically – though with philosophy behind what he said – and in terms that could at least in general terms be accepted by anyone of any religion, by atheists, by agnostics. He didn’t try to proselytise, he didn’t in any sense suggest that his ‘way’ was the best or only way – or to denigrate anyone else’s religion.
There was of course a lot more to what he said – the podcast and transcripts of what he said will doubtless find their way onto the LSE website soon (or may even be there already) – but, from my perspective at least, the details really didn’t matter nearly as much as the overall impression. I came away from the lecture full of hope and a sense of joy. That’s enough.