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[whitespace] I Am Only a Monk

The Dalai Lama brings a message of peace and nonviolence to the Heart of Wisdom Teachings weekend at Shoreline

By David Templeton

THE DALAI LAMA has been called many things over the course of the last half-century: world leader, holy man, diplomat, hero. A unique national figure ever since his escape from his homeland in Tibet--fleeing the occupying armies of China in the late 1950s--his holiness has accumulated a vast and growing volume of names and labels, both adulatory and (if you happen work for the Chinese consulate) condescending.

Not surprisingly, the most colorful of these labels (God-King, Devil) tend to lean toward the extremes. Others, often coined by flippant journalists attempting to understand the Dalai Lama's remarkable international popularity, are mere comparisons to other important figures: his work for peace and nonviolence inspired the phrase "the Tibetan Ghandi."

An ability to fill a stadium, as exemplified by the near-capacity crowds expected at this weekend's three-day extravaganza, Heart of Wisdom Teachings, at Shoreline Amphitheatre--where the Dalai Lama is appearing for public teaching sessions each day--might even lead some to call him "the Billy Graham of Buddhism."

But that's just the nattering of slogan-junkies. What does the Dalai Lama call himself?

"I've often heard him say, 'I am only a monk,'" reports Rev. Heng Sure, of the Institute for World Religions and the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. "He'll say, 'God-King? Nonsense. I am not a God-King. Nor am I a devil. I am a monk.'"

Rev. Sure, who, for the record, is not a Tibetan Buddhist (he observes the Chinese Buddhist tradition) has met the Dalai Lama a number of times over the years, and allows that finding oneself in the presence of the Dalai Lama is a one-of-a-kind experience. In 1999, at a world conference in Cape Town, South Africa, Rev. Sure was admittedly charmed by the Dalai Lama's response after a visitor asked about the potential doomsday of the coming millennium.

"His Holiness," recalls Sure, delightedly, "in his characteristically gruff tone of voice, said, 'Millennium! Millennium! Ask the trees. Ask the mountains. Humans make millenniums. Not nature.' "

Asked to account for the Dalai Lama's popularity, Rev. Sure replies, "Unlike most religious celebrities, there is not a shadow on him. From the moment he came onto the radar screen of the world, the Dalai Lama has been a reliable source of wisdom and compassion and truth. There's never a time when we don't need a fresh dose of truth."

"The Dalai Lama embodies the hopes and dreams of so many people, and not just the Tibetans," explains Karen Pierce-Gonzales, a Northern California writer and the founder of Preserving the Sacred, a company specializing in the promotion of ethnic, cultural and sacred arts. Having met His Holiness on several occasions and seen him speak both close-up and in stadium settings, Pierce-Gonzales is sure that those attending the Shoreline event will be irreversible touched, even among a crowd of thousands.

"It's amazing to think," she says, "that this is the man for whom people have walked barefoot over the snows of the Himalayas, just to be in his presence, and here he's coming to us. It's a great opportunity."

She recalls an early encounter with the Dalai Lama, as part of a press corps attending an event in Northern California. Allowed to ask a single question, she eschewed the heavy political queries of her colleagues, asking instead for the Dalai Lama to reveal what he did for fun.

"He consulted with his interpreters for a few seconds," she says, "then he leaned forward, and with a big smile he confessed, 'I gossip.' "


The Heart of Wisdom Teachings take place Thursday-Saturday, 10am-noon and 2-4pm; Medicine Buddha Empowerment, Sunday 9am-noon; public talk, Saturday at 5:30pm. All at Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View. Teachings $150, empowerment $45, talk $35/$15 (Ticketmaster).

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From the May 16-23, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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