We’re going to write a lot more about HH the Dalai Lama’s appearance at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall this week and weekend, but I wanted to briefly relate what he spoke about and two humorous anecdotes he told today. The theme of his teaching was Nagarjuna’s Commentary on Bodhicitta (the awakening mind). Therevadan monks chanting in Pali opened the day, then the Heart Sutra (long version) was chanted. The stage was full of monks, mostly Tibetan, but quite a few Theravadan and Korean Son monks as well. There was a detailed discussion of emptiness, but the Dalai Lama’s talk began by looking at the following poem, which precedes Nagarjuna;s commentary. The Dalai Lama discussed this stanza at some length.

Devoid of all real entities; Utterly discarding all objects and subjects; Such as aggregates, elements, and sense-fields; Due to sameness of selflessness of all phenomena, One’s mind is primordially unborn; It is in the nature of emptiness.

Deep stuff. Nagarjuna’s commentary is addressing this stanza. But the Dalai Lama can lighten the heaviest of teachings and with his characteristic humor he related the following stories: 1. The Dalai Lama is frequently invited to Jain events in India, and he recently attended one in Gujarat (Gandhi’s home state.) At a certain ceremony, he found himself seated next to a Jain yogi who was stark naked. The Dalai Lama, shocked, looked him up and down: “He just showed—everything! All of his things were right there!” The audience roared. The Dalai Lama was extremely impressed with the intensity of this man’s practice—nothing else mattered to him. So he got down on his knees and touched his forehead to the yogi’s knee as a sign of respect for him and his dedication to practice. 2. In the context of his familiar talk about the wisdom of keeping to one’s own tradition, the Dalai Lama told the following: In the years immediately after the Tibetans arrived in India, they were very poor and struggled mightily. Some of the people who helped them most were Catholic missionaries. Being missionaries, they sometimes tried to convert the refugees. Around 1963, one older Tibetan woman arrived at the Dalai Lama’s residence in tears. She explained the Catholics were so nice and they were feeding and educating her children. She owed them so much, she was going to become a Catholic. But in her next life, she said, she would be a Buddhist again. With a comedian’s timing the Dalai Lama paused and let the laughter die down. “This shows some misunderstanding,” he said. There’s much more to tell, and we’ll keep you posted in the days to follow. (We’ll also try and have pictures.)

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