His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama playfully deflected attention from his introduction by donning a Princeton University baseball cap before addressing a capacity crowd of mostly co-eds on a sunny Autumn day. His relaxed posture and conversational tone bespoke that of a caring father unfazed by pressing time schedules. He began his teaching on the development of the heart by reminiscing on his childhood and the early markers on his Buddhist path of spiritual learning and compassion.
As someone who is warm and laughs so readily, it is not hard to imagine the precocious youngster he described who at a very early age exerted a strong will. He described how he would signal his mother while astride her shoulders pulling one or the other pigtail to get her to go in the direction he wanted her to go. Looking back, he realizes that this gentle countenance of his mother was an early marker for compassion that was in sharp contrast to that of his father who having a short fuse was given to stricter discipline. His Holiness saw in his younger self his own predilection to wanting control and having his way—what Buddhists term as attachment, or self-cherishing—and shared antidotes to becoming more “other-cherishing” by growing in compassion through such practices as mediation to bring one to an understanding of a deeper reality that ultimately lead to peaceful experiences. No matter what his busy life entails, His Holiness shared that he is a constant practitioner even when he is speaking in front of thousands of people. His equanimity is such that he is not the 14th Dalai Lama, but a member of the human community just as everyone who he encounters in his daily duties. Reflecting on his days as a student, His Holiness said one wish he has now is that he applied himself better, so his advice to the current students is use your time wisely and study. He also spoke of the important mental processes of listening and study, critical thinking and reflection without being dependent on one source-a text or even a teacher—but analyzing many different views and arriving at a conviction as a result of a firm belief of moral value. It is this conviction, he emphasized that is extremely important for it is what brings about greater change. After an hour and a half he was still asking for the next question from a stack of index cards submitted by students ahead of time: to the question “What is the key of happiness?” “Money!”he quipped and then added “sex!” and guffawed at his own joke on the audience. The answer was this: to arrive at an inner strength that comes not from self-confidence but truth and honesty, is happiness.
The final question put to him was on the role of the artist and the poet toward a more peaceful existence at which His Holiness acknowledged was an excellent question.
October 28, 2014. HHDL on Princeton University’s motto and issue of racism: https://dalailama.princeton.edu/