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  • GUEST OPINION

    Dalai Lama's words to schoolchildren were memorable

  • Editor's note: The Dalai Lama is speaking at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Matthew Knight Arena on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. Watch his address live online at www.uoregon.edu.
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  • Editor's note: The Dalai Lama is speaking at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Matthew Knight Arena on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. Watch his address live online at www.uoregon.edu.
    This was one of the most amazing days of my life. I hope that, years from now, our young son will look back and feel the same way.
    The Dalai Lama.
    Often Westerners have no idea what to make of this kindly, bespectacled personage in his maroon and orange robes.
    A few years ago, my son's class was among several thousand students who made the trip to Seattle for a "Children & Youth Day" ceremony. I wanted to go along, but all tickets were long gone. Disappointed, I let it go. Then, the school said a space had opened up; could I still help out? It struck me as ironic that in true Buddhist fashion, I wanted it, I let it go, and it came back to me.
    We were told not to bring anything inside: no cameras, phones, or purses. What? I'd have no cool photo of the Dalai Lama to email? I couldn't even be clever and threaten to alter my friends' karma if they didn't send it on to five others right away?
    In getting ready, it was a relief not to fret about electronics and I became aware of how much simpler life can be without all of the stuff and why Buddhist monks choose simplicity. There can be freedom in having, caring for, and owning, less. I stuffed a Kleenex in my pocket, and left the rest behind.
    The arena had none of the rowdy chaos I'd seen at other student events. Fifteen thousand kids sat respectfully for close to two hours. Not a single cellphone rang. Their faces were rapt with attention as they leaned forward in their seats. Quiet. Listening. No iPods, no texting.
    People of all races, creeds, and colors — what America is supposed to be about — watched as performers from different cultures, through dance, music, and storytelling, wove tales of compassion and our inter-connectedness. We heard nothing of the need to dominate the world, export our values and views, or to kill, torture or destroy to achieve our goals.
    The Dalai Lama spoke in a calm voice of our need to develop our own "seeds of compassion," of how we are all born with this compassion as seen in the mother with child, the child with mother. He stressed this instinctive compassion is not strong enough to extend to strangers, or to our enemies. It is the seed of a greater compassion; as we mature, and through education and choices, we can let it grow until it is, indeed, possible to have limitless compassion.
    He spoke of how, to be healthy, we must have calm minds, even in times of stress and during turbulent times or when our hearts are breaking — as his does with concern for his people and the children of Tibet.
    When he said these are not religious, but secular, views, the arena exploded with applause. I'd heard that some Christian schools hadn't come because they felt it was a "religious event." To me, that is akin to saying one shouldn't support civil rights because Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister.
    He spoke of the spirituality that connects us all if we quiet our minds and open not just our ears but, more importantly, our hearts. He talked of moving from "they" to "we," and I looked around at the sea of multi-colored T-shirts which every child had received, silk-screened with: Respect Yourself, Respect Others, Be Responsible for all that you do.
    One man, alone on stage with an interpreter. A man reaching out with a spirit so large we felt his presence as a wave flowing over us, the room standing as one when he entered. The cheering youthful exuberance thrilling him as a joyful contrast to the staid deference he so often receives.
    The students learned about compassion that fine day, and they also witnessed respect, graciousness, humility, and gratitude on that stage in a way not often seen in our current "15 minutes of fame at all costs" YouTube culture. He did not rant, rave or call names. Nor did he deride, chastise or condemn. Rather, he spoke of what we can do to make ourselves better; how we can listen, and reach out, to others in need. How we can help to heal this ailing world.
    The Dalai Lama calls himself "a simple Buddhist monk." I call him a mirror in which we can see a reflection of everything we can be.
    Susanne Severeid lives in Ashland.
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