Within a gleaming complex of temples and monasteries high on a hill in Hacienda Heights, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet sat on an ornate rosewood chair and looked out on the reverent crowd.
He had spoken to the Taiwanese Buddhists of Hsi Lai Temple, whom he addressed as "brothers and sisters from China," on compassion, tolerance, forgiveness and the ups and downs of relations between China and Tibet over the centuries. Now he was ready for questions.
"Your Holiness," a young woman started, reading aloud from a stack of written questions collected from the audience, "Tibetan Buddhism is always very mysterious. We are curious to know about your daily religious life."
The Daily Routine
"There is nothing special," he began, looking amused and chuckling. "I get up early morning, 4 or 4:30," he said, drawing his words out in mock solemnity, untroubled by his syntax. "I wash my face, and sometimes again more sleep!"
Then he told them how, as a practitioner of Buddhism and as an ordained monk, he renews his vows, recites certain prayers so that "through blessings, my whole day's thought become something useful, also something positive . . . then meditate without words, sometimes with a feeling of hunger."
Breakfast at 5 or 5:30, meditation again until 9, then on to the day's program, meeting with people, treating such occasions as a time to practice Buddhist principles, controlling negative feelings of anger, reading or studying, if he is not too busy.
"Then after this, some evening prayer, some recitation and meditation--half-prayer, half-sleep. My eyelids become very thick. Before I sleep, if my mind is active, I calculate what I've done that is positive, what mistake, make confession, sometimes prostrations. Around 9 I go to sleep. Without a sleeping pill. I can go to sleep very easily, very peacefully."
And thus it has been throughout his 17-day visit to California, which ends today--that seemingly inseparable blend of seriousness and playfulness as Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, keeps the sublime and mundane, ceremony and informality always in balance. It is a manner consistent with Buddhism and typical of many Buddhist leaders. At the same time, it seems uniquely his.
It is not by accident that he is often called "the presence." He seems to experience the moment in its entirety--whether the moment involves listening to the concerns of the Buddhist leadership of Southern California; addressing an audience of 5,000 on inner and world peace at the Shrine Auditorium; enjoying an outdoor birthday party given him by followers and friends, including his Los Angeles host, jeans magnate and peace activist Fred Segal; conducting the complex Kalachakra initiation for about 3,000 followers at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium; greeting an old friend; encountering the press.
He has been here at the invitation of Geshe Tsultsim Gyeltsen, a Tibetan monk who is spiritual director of the Los Angeles Tibetan Buddhist center, Thubten Dhargye Ling. Gyeltsen asked him to come in order to confer the rarely performed Kalachakra (literally: "wheel of time") initiation ritual. The center organizing committee describes it as an advanced level of Buddhist meditation and a "vehicle for global peace because of its power to unite the inner and outer worlds into a harmonious relationship."
Although he has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India, since 1959, the Dalai Lama is still regarded by many as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, and he travels with the entourage of a government and culture in exile:
With him to assist in the rituals are monks from Dharamsala's Namgyal monastery, lama dancers about to go on a 22-city U.S. tour, his cabinet ministers, diplomats and aides, bodyguards, a personal secretary, an interpreter and a legal adviser. He is making this visit accompanied by representatives of the Office of Tibet, an unofficial embassy in New York; members of the U.S. Tibet Committee, a voluntary organization to help preserve Tibetan culture; Tibet House, a New York-based cultural institution chaired by actor Richard Gere, and staff from the International Campaign for Tibet, the Washington-based advocacy group that promotes Tibetan self-determination and human rights.
Increasingly, he is a visible spokesman for world peace and human rights, and members of his entourage mention often that he has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Thus before coming here, he attended a peace conference in Costa Rica, where he and President Oscar Arias were keynote speakers, and stopped in Mexico City, where he met with President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and joined in that country's first interfaith service. Now on his way back to India, he goes today to New York to receive the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Award, named after the Swedish diplomat and World War II underground activist, from the Congressional Human Rights Foundation.
Orbit of the Lama