Today is the 82nd birthday anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
(His Holiness was born on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan year of the Wood-Pig, equivalent to July 6, 1935.)
I received several happy messages today related to His Holiness’ birthday, including one this morning from a couple of my old Bay Area friends, X, an American, and her Tibetan husband, Y, a former monk. I’m posting part of their email below, following my comments.
(Caution: The following comments are mostly about myself, and only just barely about His Holiness the Dalai Lama.)
I first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Switzerland in 1973, during his first visit outside of Asia. He was visiting a Tibetan refugee resettlement community and giving a series of initiations there. I was staying not too far away, attending retreats and advanced teacher training courses in Transcendental Meditation with my beloved primary teacher and life-long best friend, His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (c1917-2008). To my surprise and delight, Maharishi informed me of the Dalai Lama’s visit, and asked me to go and meet him, attend his teachings, and receive the series of initiations which the Tibetan master and former ruling pontiff-king was giving. This fulfilled a childhood dream I had had since watching the TV news coverage of the then-23-year-old Dalai Lama’s harrowing escape from Tibet into relative safety in India in March 1959, an event that had taken place a few weeks after I had first met Maharishi in January 1959.
Prior to the news stories about the Dalai Lama’s escape, I had known only a little about him and his young life in Tibet, learned from various sources, including info related by my beloved elderly Japanese American Zen Buddhist teacher and family friend, Venerable Nyogen (“Uncle Nogi”) Senzaki-sensei (1876-1958). Dear Uncle Sensei passed away in May of 1958, and then in January 1959 my life’s spiritual journey really began in earnest when I met His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for the first time when he came to my hometown of San Francisco on the first of a dozen world teaching tours. Fittingly, Maharishi’s first public talk in the City was given at one of Chinatown’s tiny temples, the Jeng Sen Buddhism and Taoism Association, an intimate spiritual center well-known to my family. The temple was served by its Chinese resident monk-priest and founder, Rev. Master Ng, another old family friend and teacher.
Rev. Ng had met Maharishi the previous year, during Maharishi’s first teaching tour of Asia, his first travel outside of India. The two monks had formed a friendship and met up again when Maharishi sojourned in Hawai’i shortly before arriving in San Francisco in January. Growing up in pre-Communist China, Rev Ng had studied Tibetan-style Vajrayana Buddhism, as well as Chinese Chan or Zen Buddhism, and Daoism, and had become a master of each tradition. It was through my family’s friendship with Rev. Ng and our connections with his traditionally-eclectic neighborhood temple, that I first met Maharishi. And that was the first real blossoming of my life.
Then in March or April (1959) the news broke of the Dalai Lama’s hair’s-breadth escape from the Communist Chinese Army’s invasion and violent annexation of sovereign Tibet as part of Mao’s expansionist scheme for the military creation of a “Greater Chinese Motherland.” The Chinese invaders had attempted to quietly kidnap and then “disappear” (murder) the Dalai Lama. When that plot had failed due to thousands of Tibetans surrounding His Holiness’s home to protect him and his family, the invaders had commenced shelling the compound with heavy artillery, seeking to obliterate the young monastic king and everyone in his household and government cabinet and the thousands of civilian protectors amassed outside the walls. Meanwhile, under heavy fire, His Holiness had secretly slipped out of the compound in disguise and with only a small party, traveling on horseback, began undertaking the many days’ long journey to India.
Avidly watching the TV news reports of the Dalai Lama after he had been received safely into exiled refuge by Nehru’s Indian government following his several days’ journey over the Himalayas, I felt a very intense bond and desire to meet him. I think this was true for thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of young (and old) Americans who watched the televised reports or even read about this event, and perhaps for even more hundreds of thousand of persons, young and old, all over the world. Seeing film footage of his smiling face for the first time, I felt somehow as if I’d personally always known him! It didn’t occur to me then that I might one day be able to actually meet and even personally receive formal teachings from the Dalai Lama, and even end up studying with some of the great master lamas who were his own personal spiritual guides. But so it happened. “The course of karma,” the Gita, says, “is unfathomable.”
My early close friendship with beloved Ven. Zen Master Uncle Nogi, and my beginning studies with him and with Rev Master Ng, had helped open my eyes and plant my feet in the right direction, but meeting Maharishi had instantly captured my entire heart and permanently settled my course. In Maharishi I knew I had met the fully enlightened being who thenceforth would be my lifelong personal guide and best friend (I’ve never claimed to be his best friend — that’s quite a different matter!). I was of course still just a child when all these things happened, but after meeting Maharishi I knew who and what I wanted, where I wanted to go, how I wanted to get there, and who would safely guide me there and beyond throughout my life. From that moment on, I felt no further need or desire for any other teacher or spiritual guide in any big sense, such as I had yearned for in the months after Uncle Nogi had died and before Maharishi entered into my life.
(For time’s sake, I’m skipping ahead here because it’s taking too long for me to tell this story. I’m posting this truncated version now, the rest will follow later.)
. . . I also got to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his first visit to the US in 1979, and again during his US tour in 1981. During the ’81 visit, I was able to join a thousand or so other people in personally receiving the Kalachakra Tantra teachings from His Holiness in a series of initiations over several days at the Deer Park Buddhist center in Madison, Wisconsin. . . .
Some years later, my wife and I were fortunate to receive various teachings and series of initiations from His Holiness on a number of occasions.
. . . I remember a funny incident when my wife and I had just driven up to Santa Monica to spend a week once again receiving the Kalachakra initiations and teachings from His Holiness in 1989. A couple of thousand people were quietly converging on the small downtown municipal area for the event, to be held at the Civic Auditorium next to City Hall and the city courthouse. As we were getting out of our car in the free public parking lot, a rather haggard, conservative-seeming middle aged man was just exiting his vehicle, parked next to ours. He was dressed in a rumbled business suit and crooked tie. He was somewhat portly, balding, bespectacled, a little ruddy in the face, and looking mildly perturbed and somewhat feistily resigned — if that makes any sense. He looked up, took us into account for a long moment, picked up on our giddily-sober elation, and our non-courtroom attire, and in a gravelly but friendly voice asked, “And what brings you two sunny folks to deary old City Hall this early on a workaday Monday morning?”
He looked and sounded exactly like the comedian Lewis Black.
“We’re here to see the Dalai Lama! We’re attending the week of meditation instructions and initiations he’s giving next door at the auditorium.” His mouth fell open and he stopped in mid lurch up out of his car seat. “You’re here to see THE Doll – Eye – LAMA? — from Tye-BET??!!”
“Yes,” we chuckled “The very Same, the One and Only. His Holiness. He’s here for the week, giving morning and afternoon talks and special teachings every day this week.”
“Do you mean to tell me I’m having to spend my Monday in a stuffy courtroom waiting to argue with a judge, fighting city hall over a grossly unfair $60 parking ticket, while you two are going to be spending the day,—no!—the entire week, you say, with THE Doll – Eye LAMA?”
“Well,” we assured him, “its open to anyone, donation basis, and the last we heard, there were still some empty seats available. Why not just pay the fine as quickly as possible and come join us. We have reservations, of course, but we’ll save you a seat if we can. Come find us when you’re through over here.”
He looked a little pale, then actually started to trickle a coupla tears as his face once again turned red. “I GOTTA go,” he managed. “. . .But thanks. I really appreciate it.” “…Where in the hell did I go wrong?” he muttered resignedly, half to himself as he turned to shamble toward the courthouse.
“No, seriously, man! come join us!” we both exclaimed. “It’ll change your life.”
“Gotta go!” he cried out. And rushed off.
We both almost cried on his behalf. “That’s so sad!” we said to each other as we walked over to the auditorium.
But during a brief break in the teaching session that afternoon, this same guy rushed up to greet us and thank us profusely. “Got into the morning session just a little late!” he exclaimed, beaming. “This is fantastic! Canceled all my appointments! Couldn’t find you, but saw you just now and had to come over and thank you from the bottom of my heart. Some magic was at work, you two: the judge dismissed my case without a fine! I didn’t even get to argue my point!”
Here is part of this morning’s email from my friends in San Francisco:
Today is a beautiful day – His Holiness’ 82nd birthday – and we are deeply grateful that we live in a time when the world can receive his masterful teachings on compassion and wisdom. We offer our prayers for his joyful return to Tibet and to the Tibetan people longing for his presence.
Here is a short version of a prayer that Tibetans all over the world pray today, and everyday, for His Holiness’ long life — please add your voice!
Gangri raway korway shingkham su
In the land encircled by a ring of snow mountains
Pendang dewa malu jungway nay
Is the source of all happiness and benefit,
Chenrezig wang Tenzin Gyatso yi
All-knowing Chenrezig, Tenzin Gyatso.
Shaypay sitay bardu tengyur chik
May you stand firm until samsara ends.
Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama!