On April 17, in the palindrome year of 1991, his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama officially opened Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, an exhibition organized by the Asian Art Museum in association with Tibet House, New York. I was living in San Francisco at the time, so I decided to see for myself, with an open but somewhat skeptical mind. I went to Golden Gate Park where the week-long event was held, and was able to get in. The Asian Art Museum would later move downtown, but then it was in the park, and the Japanese Tea Garden was next door. It was crowded, with people seating on the floor of a huge atrium. Soon after the event began, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford arrived, and though people were sitting wall-to-wall, the Dalai Lama rose and waved for the newlywed celebrity couple to come up front and sit by him. He was very happy to see them, and he had a big smile. I wondered if he was slightly star struck: Gere was a big Hollywood Star, and his wife Cindy was a Super Model, and one of the most beautiful women in the world. They just waltz in, late, but get put in the seat of honor. They were wearing jeans, and I think later I heard that they had come from the gym.
The event was amazing with Tibetian Monks throat singing, a way of chanting where one voice makes several distinct sounds. There were about seven monks chanting, but it sounded like a hundred. The atrium was pretty resonant and echoy, but still it was amazing to hear. The throat singing was beautiful but a little gruff. If you close your eyes you could imagine it was an underground ritual for the cult of Cthulhu, the ancient beings imagined by author H.P. Lovecraft. Along with that some other monks were painting a sand mandala. This is a complex circular design used in meditation, but it was made entirely of different colored grains of sand. It took several days for the design to be finished. It was incredibly intricate. It would be destroyed eventually. When it was finished, they would dump the sand back into the ocean. This mandala was however a prayer. Looking at mandalas and contemplating the design was a way of praying, or perhaps meditation, but I maintain that mediation is but a way to pray.
Afterwards I saw there was a big stretch limo parked on the lawn. Richard and Cindy’s no doubt. They had just parked right on the lawn, with no regard for the grass, or the other people who had to park far away. The nerve of them was really something, and of course they hadn’t gotten a ticket or anything. I kind of felt like there was something a little fishy about their behavior. They were treated differently because they were celebs. But on the other hand, the Dalai Lama was so warm and generous. They were like his friends, and if Richard Gere had been a little behind schedule, his presence did lend a little luster to the event, and no doubt helped their cause.
I knew one guy who was immersed in Tibetan Buddhism and had even stayed in a monastery. I asked him about it and he said that the Dalai Lama probably didn’t look at it that way. That he was extending special privileges to a Movie Star and a Super Model. They were his friends. Also, with their believe in reincarnation, who is to say that Richard Gere hadn’t done some really great stuff in a previous incarnation, and he was now being rewarded with fame, fortune, and good looks. Karma cuts both ways.
So anyway, I still kept an open mind and was kind of disposed to think kindly of the Dalai Lama. But then I saw on the news that a crazy lady had somehow been drawn to the event, but had attacked the sand mandala and stomped on it, destroying all their hard and patient work. It was just about to be finished. The newscasters interviewed the Dalai Lama and asked if he was mad at her for spoiling the sand mandala just before it was completed. The Dalai Lama smiled and said it didn’t bother him one bit. The mandala was a kind of prayer for peace, and the pouring of the sands were prayers that had already been made. They were sending out their vibrations, doing their job. Having an effect, in spite of the disruption. It was very nearly completed, and was going to be destroyed soon, anyway.
I was very impressed with the Dalai Lama from that point on. He was very spiritual and able to rise above the anger most of us would have felt over something like this. He kept his eye on the important thing–the prayers of peace and the vibrations that the pouring of the sand mandala was sending out. That was what mattered. The dramatic destruction had gotten them back on the news, after the initial excitement of Gere and Crawford showing up. Also, you got to see that he really could rise above anger. His message of Peace really got through.
One other thing I will say about His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He was raised by the monks from an early age after they determined that he was in fact the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Yeah, right, you’re probably thinking. But after watching Unmistaken Child, a 2008 documentary about reincarnation, I am convinced. In Nepal, a venerable monk, Geshe Lama Konchog, dies and one of his disciples searches for his reincarnation. They find a child who fills the bill, and put him through some tests. He passes them all, and remembers things that only the deceased Monk would have known. If you are skeptical, take a look at Unmistaken Child. You might be convinced, as I was.
What is happening is that since Chairman Mao, the Dalai Lama has been exiled from Tibet. The Chinese say they are going to pick a boy to be the Dalai Lama. Of course, they aren’t going to actually try to find him and test him, as they did in Unmistaken Child. They are just going to arbitrarily appoint someone at random. This is very sad in my opinion. This is much worse than kicking a sand mandala in someone’s face.