Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cultural boob

So, apart from nearly going to the wrong venue (if you happen to know Wellington you will know immediately what a dick I am for trying to go to the 25,000 seat Cake Tin/Westpac stadium rather than the 4000 seat TSB Arena) and then being unable to find a car park and nearly missing the whole thing my audience with HHDL all went according to plan. At least from my side of things.

While my preparations were all cool, level headed non-attachment and included waking up too late to consider walking into town, then nearly missing a meeting I had at 11am due to not being able to find a parking space (something that was to happen for a second time just a short time later the same day), not having a watch to know how much time I had and then realising that I hadn't enough change for the Pay and Display so necessitating a brief but enjoyable mid-city jog to and from the nearest ATM then in and out of the nearest 24/7, the DL had clearly found himself in disarray that morning following our meeting at the airport on Monday night.

He took his seat calmly enough, raised as it was on a stage and gilded in Tibetan reds and golds, but I could tell from the surfeit of nonchalance in the way he casually softened up the expectant audience with one anecdote after another about what, exactly, he likes to carry in his maroon shoulder bag that he was clearly rattled. However he soon got over his nerves and pulled it together to begin his discourse: World Peace - a Human Approach.

Basically the meat of it was this - World peace depends on cultivating compassion, while at the same time realising that sometimes action is preferable to just looking on with compassion. Where is this compassion to come from? Well, apparently (and here's the Human bit), the seed of compassion is best sown in the strong emotional ties that can be fostered between baby and mother. To illustrate this the Dalai Lama recounted an old family tale from the childhood of his father.

As a boy his father had been very close to his own mother. This woman, the grandmother of the Dalai Lama (pronounced dally laama round these parts), had cultivated an very strong bond with her children, thus ensuring a supportive and solid family structure and environment. Her children would not want for the attention of their mother. A deep spring of compassion and love would flow within the family, eventually manifesting among other things in the person of the 14th Dalai Lama himself. Just how strongly the bond between mother and child had been spun could be seen from the fact that the young boy would rush home after a hard day in the fields and demand to be taken to his mother's breast, there to suckle. Even though there was no milk to be had as it had been 10 years since this birth.

It was these last two concrete details which kind of took the sheen off the moment really. True to form the Lama chuckled good naturedly at his own joke, as is the wont of the Lamas I have thus far encountered. Unfortunately, this being New Zealand, not too many other members of the audience felt inclined to share in his sprightly mirth. I felt a wave of discomfort wash back and forward around me, like a wave in a bath tub filled with 4000 people where you kind of slap the surface and watch the ripples rebound off the sides, to and fro.

This passed after a few moments luckily.

I elected to leave before the final questions but these apparently included one asking for his views on euthanasia and another asking whether or not being in a committed (or presumably any) relationship is a barrier to becoming enlightened. The answer to this last one was apparently a diplomatic 'yes'.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Two birds with one stone

The guy in the grey suit, large checked yellow and pale blue shirt and dark blue tie had strolled down the narrow concourse between the arrival gates some minutes earlier. He was in his mid 30s, with neat but slightly weathered features – like someone who spends time outside. Perhaps they like hiking, or they were in the army. What with the mini scrum of gathering media types, small cameras and security tags hanging from their necks, this lone individual didn’t catch our attention at first, but then N noticed he had a mini earpiece and was doing the ‘talking to the cufflink’ thing every few minutes. Must be the next flight then, we guessed.

It was pretty warm in the terminal and I was starting to get thirsty. I wandered to the drinks machine and back, feeling slightly dehydrated but unwilling to shell out the $3 for a small bottle of what was probably tap water.

As I turned my back to the wall railing and lent against it my gaze caught a new arrival strolling past – amazingly this little jaunt had just killed two birds with one stone. Helen Clark, the NZ PM, walks past with her security detail and into the door of gate 17. Clearly going to say hi to the DL out of the glare of the media. They had been fed the story that this visit wasn’t to be officially recognised as the pair had ‘accidentally’ met at Brisbane airport a week or so earlier, thus obviating the need for them to meet again but it would seem that she is at the very least more polite than that and possibly simply more honourable. I suppose if you line them up together you could argue that you have the two least corruptible public figures in the world side by side.

We hang around a few more minutes and then notice a press man shuffle quickly in front of the open double doors and snap a couple of flashlit shots off. Clearly the arrival is in progress now and a few seconds later a group of about 8 people walk steadily into view, just a metre or two in front of me. The press and a few suited Tibetan types gather ound as they keep moving through. The Dalai Lama is of course exactly as you expect him to be – right down to the bare right arm poking from his robe and the dark cherry red, polished but slightly scuffed clompy shoes he wears with grey ankle socks.

I walk up the concourse next to him with just one security person between us. On the short video N took you can see the small, and I mean small, bald spot on the crown of my freshly clippered head. Casually strolling along next to the Dalai Lama.

He is not a person I had given a great deal of thought to previously, though we have tickets to see him speak on ‘A Human Approach to World Peace’ today in Wellington, but I have to say that as he came into my view from the doors of the arrival gate I felt something. You could barely name it really. If anything it was like the impression of a small pulse or wave passing through and around the immediate vicinity. The ghost of a shimmer. A simple presence perhaps.

As the entourage proceeded along towards the main hall in the terminal filled with coffee, book and underwear shops there was a larger gathering of people, many from the local Buddhist community of course plus the rest of the airport population for the evening, caught unawares but readying the camera phones or getting excited anyway. Some walked past in the opposite direction, looking at this red robed individual with blank unknowing stares, perplexed and even a little put out. Somehow resentful that they didn’t know who this was.

While N struggled to get the perfect shot from behind the gain line, P and I just took up position at the end of the informal greeting queue and casually, gently, shook his soft hand and said hello as he passed by; a slightly stooped 71 year old Tenzin Gyatso without any hand luggage.