My title for this post was going to be "Lama, Lama, Philosophical Drama," but I was afraid you wouldn't get the reference. So the Dalai Lama came to speak at Macalester yesterday. I want to tell you about why I found it to be... meh. But first, some disclaimers.
Disclaimer #1: I usually miss the point of things. So the fact that I found it to be meh is quite possibly the manifestation of the limitations of my own pea sized brain.
Disclaimer #2: I realize that if you speak ill of the Dalai Lama, you go straight to hell. Wait, no, you are condemned to an endless cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. So, yeah, I have that to look forward to.
Disclaimer #3: There were a lot of things about the Dalai Lama that I liked. He entered to bagpipe music (only at Macalester!). He graciously accepted a Mac honorary degree and a Mac ball cap. Which he immediately put on and wore the entire time. He supports science. He spent time with students. Also -- this surprised me -- he was hilarious. As one Facebook poster put it: "Will he be at the Ha-Ha Shack later?" And quite frankly, if I were the booking manager at the Ha-Ha Shack, I'd be all over it.
Disclaimer #4: I feel lucky that we got to have His Holiness as a visitor at Macalester, and I feel grateful to the amazing people at Macalester who made the visit happen and made the event so professional.
Ok, so now, what left me feeling meh? Two things.
First, The Dalai Lama's main message in his talk (and it really was more of an informal talk, and less of a formal speech) was "violence is bad, and don't hurt people." Don't get me wrong. I like this message, and I certainly like it more than the alternative: "go out and shoot people! now!" But I find it oddly not helpful. I am admittedly totally nonreligious, but I guess I hope that spirituality, religion, and what have you will provide practical, useful advice for dealing with the challenges of our world, and life in it. To me, the message "don't hurt people" really ignores quite a lot of complexity. I think that, you know, most of history has been concerned with the subtleties here. I have a few working theories about why this is His Holiness' main message:
- He is a philosophical ninja but chooses to go with a very simple message for a public audience.
- Everyone around him has been a yes man for much of his Dalai Lama life (and certainly for the past few decades) so he never gets challenged on his message.
- Yes, there is lots of subtlety and complexity to philosophical issues but everyone has her/his message and you can't expect everything from everyone and shut up Chad, will you stop complaining.
Second meh-inducing factor: some weird stuff about women. There was part of the Dalai Lama's speech where he was talking about the importance of inner beauty. He started the out by saying yeah, it's great when women put on lipstick and make-up (he was doing this is a jokey way). But really, what matters is their inner beauty. Then he told a story about a -- friend? colleague? -- who was married to an ugly woman. The Dalai Lama said to him "wow, your wife is really ugly." The guy said "true, but her inner beauty is amazing," and the Dalai Lama said "oh! you got me there -- that's more important." I am only paraphrasing very slightly here. So this was weird to me on two levels. First, if the core message is that inner beauty is important, why are we talking about women at all? I mean, he didn't really have other messages about women or women's rights or their condition in the world. Just this. Why not the message inner beauty is more important for EVERYONE, and not gender-ize it. Second of all... why the weird anecdote? Like, I AM going to judge you for your looks, but oh, good thing inner beauty is more important. You know what's even better, though? Not judging people's looks in the first place.
In short, weird.
Ok, internet, let me have it.*
*Addendum: A few people on Facebook offered reactions to this post. I found the reactions interesting, so I want to share some. I will paraphrase.
- Macalester's choice of bagpipes and a ball cap essentially set the tone as entertainment rather than a serious conversation.
- The "inner beauty" anecdote should be interpreted as an example of how His Holiness learned to stop caring about outer beauty.
- Some of the ideas/anecdotes may have been lost in translation.
- Maybe His Holiness merely had an off day -- we are all entitled to a few.