Calgary, Edmonton, Canada, 1 October 2009 (By Robert Remington, Calgary Herald) - He's adorable, the Dalai Lama. From the moment he stepped off Prayer Force One (not the official name of his plane, but in the press gallery Wednesday, we couldn't resist), the Tibetan spiritual leader charmed Calgary with grace, humility and his famous, irrepressible smile.
It's more like an impish grin, one that even he admits tends to disarm people.
"I am constantly smiling," he told 15,000 people at the Saddledome on Wednesday, adding that his obsessive smiling often takes people by surprise.
"Especially some young women. They feel I am exploiting them or something like that."
What? You were expecting to hear about the true meaning of life? That you could buy for $10 on a scroll at one of the souvenir booths in the concourse, along with various other items: Singing bowls, $60 and $145. Prayer wheels, $28, $45 and $130.T-shirts, $20 and $25. Tote bags, $15. Kata scarfs, two for $5.
The lineups were deep for the stuff. If there had been Dalai Lama bobbleheads, I might have joined in the frenzy myself.
The Dalai Lama's much-anticipated visit to Calgary began with the obligatory gift of a white hat, the city's official symbol of hospitality, from the mayor.
He also received gifts from First Nations chiefs, including an eagle feather, their most sacred symbol.
It must have stunned them to see a Dalai Lama aide try to affix the feather, which is always treated with reverence, to the cowboy hat for the official photo, like it was some sort of cheap decoration. Unsuccessful, the feather was returned to its carefully crafted storage box and nothing was said.
At the Saddledome, hungry devotees who arrived three hours early for the 1:30 p. m. address by the Dalai Lama lined up for typical arena food, including Pocket Dawgs, beef-on-a-bun, popcorn and onion rings. Not very Buddhist-like, but when your stomach is crying out for inner peace, one must oblige.
This near carnival-like atmosphere, however, couldn't detract from an underlying mood of tranquillity and wellbeing as the Dalai Lama spoke of compassion, benevolence and non-violence.
Yet, the thing that came through the most about the Dalai Lama during his hour-long address was that he is just a man, albeit one who strives every day to do better than the rest of us on a spiritual quest for peace and happiness by helping others.
In addition to his remark about young women--I get the feeling that, though celibate, he definitely cherishes female companionship--he also made clear that he has no healing powers and is not a god. To underscore the point, he gave us a little too much information about his recent gall bladder surgery, crediting his inner peace for a quick recovery of only one week.
"Some people call me living Buddha or god king. Some
people call me a demon (an apparent reference to the Chinese government). These are just labels . . . I am just another human being."
Among his wisest comments were that "On a basic level we are same. I want a happy life. You want happy life. We can communicate, we can walk together, we can make a common effort for a better world." And, "The destruction of your neighbour is destruction of yourself. The concept of war is out of date."
They were simple messages, none of which will have materialistic Calgarians shedding their earthly possessions for monk-like spirituality, but it did give pause for reflection about the true meaning of life, the one that was printed on the scrolls at the souvenir booths.
"We are visitors on this planet for 90 or 100 years at most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people's happiness, you will find that goal. This is the true meaning of life."
Comfy in our monster homes and SUVs, we can all say amen to that.