When I heard about the Dalai Lama's scheduled visit to Ann Arbor (where i live), and the series of lectures he was scheduled to give, I was overfilled with joy. It has been 14 years since Tenzin Gyatso last visited Ann Arbor, I was not fortunate enough to have participated in that visit, and have been wondering for years if I would have the good fortune to ever see him speak. Especially with the recent violence and heat surrounding Buddhist monks in China. Today, that wonder was put to sleep at 10:00 am when, with pro-China protesters gathered outside, the Dalai Lama gave a lecture on Buddhist thought and values, and I was there.
For those who do not know who he is, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, making him 3 very special things. One, he is the political leader of Tibet, currently running a "government in exile" based in India, as The Chinese government forced him and his closest followers and advisors out of Tibet about 50 years ago. Aside from being the effective president in exile of Tibet, he is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan culture has always been a deeply spiritual culture, and their leader is their holiest citizen. This leads to the special third quality of Tenzin Gyatso, and that is that he is believed to be AVALOKITESHVARA, or the reincarnation of the Buddha of Infinite Compassion, the holder of the seat of Dalai Lama. So, Tenzin Gyatso is his birth name, Avalokiteshvara is his name as Buddha of Infinite Compassion, and Dalai Lama is his title, he has held that title now 14 times.
Raised from a child in Lhasa, Tibet as the reincarnation of a Buddha, he has been trained in Buddhist thought by the foremost masters available in the world, and has had the responsability of guiding his people politically since he was 15 (3 years early due to the struggle with China). One could say, if there was any one soul on the entire planet that knew and practiced Buddhist thought and compassion, it would be him, and I'm still in a state of awe that I was able to share audience with him, now in his 72nd year. To a Christian American, I suppose you could understand it by imagining that Jesus Christ would be reborn eternally until everyone got to heaven, and he also was president of the United States, forever. Unfortunately, we have George W. Bush, and he is a FAR CRY from being the Living Christ reborn into flesh.
I was raised Catholic, but found myself fascinated by the novelty of Buddhist thought, and the novelty that Buddhist thought and philosophy mirrored much of my own. I would not necessarily consider myself a Buddhist, but I do wholeheartedly believe in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanga (the prerequisite condition for being a Buddhist), so take that as you will.
So, today I was able to be in the immediate presence of and listen to the 14th incarnation of the Buddha of Infinite Compassion give a lecture explaining, in wonderful depth, Buddhist thought and philosophy, and on the practice of altruism and compassion, and I am a VERY happy camper.