Tea with the Dalai Lama, part 2 | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Apr 27, 2018
Courtesy of: Maria Montalvo Maria Montalvo and Strom Peterson, at right, were among a delegation from Washington that visited the Dalai Lam.

“The many factors which divide us are actually much more superficial than those we share. Despite all of the things that differentiate us – race, language, religion, gender, wealth and so on – we are all equal concerning our fundamental humanity.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Two weeks ago, this column began the story of a remarkable and unexpected journey to Dharamsala, India, for an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In order to tell the story of the day our 15-person Washington delegation brought a message of hope to His Holiness, asking him to return to Seattle to reinvigorate compassion in our community, I have to write less as an interpretation and more as an attempt to digest and internalize the experience.

The morning came early that day just two weeks ago, anticipation raising everyone before dawn. How do you prepare for an audience with the Dalai Lama, the 14th incarnation of the Buddha?

We gathered to leave for the Dalai Lama’s compound, by Tsunglagkhang, the main Buddhist Temple in Dharamsala. Before we left, my husband asked one of our members, a young woman who met His Holiness in Seattle in 2008 as a teen (now a brilliant, engaging advocate about to begin divinity AND law school) to say a group prayer to help us feel united and positive:

“However it is you pray, I invite you into a space of intentional thinking. Creator, thank you for our hearts, our minds, our ears. Allow us to be open. In this opportunity of a lifetime, we bring our whole selves.”

We headed off together full of nervous energy and expectation, but also with a palpable sense of gratitude.

Throughout our-hour-and-15-minute audience, His Holiness joked and laughed and shared, and so did we. We came to understand that like all of the Tibetans we met on this journey, the Dalai Lama as a person is a funny, joyful but strong, committed, and resilient being.

His receiving room is an understated, colorful and comfortable setting, but you did not look anywhere but at him. He is small and large at the same time, wrapped in beautiful robes that appear different from those other monks wear, even though they are not different.

Despite his 80-plus years, his face is smooth except for crinkles around the eyes from what seems an almost permanent smile. After greeting us all warmly and inviting us to sit, he asked that we all have tea! We settled in on small couches or chairs around his chair, cradling each cup of tea as if a gift.

He began by speaking to us about Tibet and his willingness to work with China, not to pursue independence but autonomy (a sentiment also expressed by the President-in-Exile). His Holiness talked about the work we have yet to do, to promote “the oneness of all people.”

For example, Tibet and China can find a solution and work together, he said. “It is logical, so not a problem.”

We discussed the strategic and environmental importance of Tibet and how the region both impacts and is impacted by global warming, as its fragile environmental condition affects the whole world, so we have a shared responsibility to protect it.

Often, he would repeat the phrase, “like that,” so logical, so clear.

He expressed concern about people being controlled by anger and fear, our minds are not working with our hearts, but in conflict. We are too reactive –he called it emotional confusion. He thinks children should be taught how to process feelings and to study and reason, rather than reward competition.

For those of us who are no longer kids, he encouraged us to focus on progressing our inner selves. We must promote active compassion wherever we are for our own inner peace and for the betterment of society as a whole. Active compassion means that you do not just feel bad for someone who you see suffering, you do something about it.

If each of us helps 10 people and they each help 10 people, we are at 100. “Like that.”

He stated universal truths as if reciting a family recipe. If only the world could comprehend that so much is not unsolvable and worth improving for the sake of humanity as a whole, understand what can be “like that.” In our final moments, he reiterated that around the globe race and other differences don’t matter – we can and should be one.

Those words sent us out to the Temple grounds and to the prayer wheels and into the community. Staying still after the experience would have been difficult, so several of us decided to punctuate the day with a beautiful afternoon hike in the nearby mountains.

The sunny weather suddenly turned to a strong storm about 2 miles in, pouring rain and hail, and it seemed so appropriate: cleansing, beautiful, funny.

And even better, we found a small teahouse nestled into the hillside to protect us from the hail, and had another sweet, warm cup of tea.


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