This post is way overdue. Disclaimer: I'll be doing some major name dropping here.
I just realized that I let the entire summer pass me by without mentioning my experience at the Kalachakra with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) in July. When I look back, I still can't believe that the weekend actually happened. In the days leading up to the Kalachakra, DC was all a-buzz with amazing energy. My daily routine was given a much welcome burst of freshness and change of pace as Buddhist monks sat next to me on my morning bus ride. They were often spotted hanging out in front of the local Whole Foods and partaking in the city bikeshare. I must say, it takes quite a bit of courage to ride a bike in DC...but riding while wearing a long robe...now, that's talent. I noticed there were less people on the metro with their heads buried in blackberrys as I received smiles and cordiality from passengers with prayer beads and Ganesh tattoos. There was even a strange crispness in the air, as if the all the enlightened energy was somehow making DC cooler and brighter. I savored the crap out of it. I wanted it to last forever. But, it was also no better time to acknowledge the impermanence of it all.
The weekend started with a World Peace lecture on the West Lawn of the Capitol. It was quite inspiring to see so many people show up at 7 a.m on a Saturday morning in honor of peace. The Reverend Desmond Tutu gave us all a big welcome via video screen with the message that it is up to each and everyone of us to cultivate peace. As he and his old friend the Dalai Lama reach the age of retirement, the time has come for them to enjoy solitude and contemplation. They have paved the way and we are now the future of peace activism. Whoopi Goldberg then came out as the emcee for the event and welcomed HHDL to the stage.
The Dalai Lama had a lot to say. He spoke for nearly 3 hours on the topic of happiness in the sweltering heat. I could write an entire essay on his lecture but will try to make it brief here. He told funny stories and spread his contagious laughter over the entire Capitol Hill area. The path to happiness is clear, he says. It begins from within. Only when we do away with formalities and extend "warm-heartedness" and compassion to others will we understand the true nature of happiness. As human beings we are born with a massive amount of intelligence, which causes us to create enormous difficulties for ourselves. The counter-force to these difficulties (ignorance, darkness and negativity) is awareness. As a simple Buddhist monk, he said that we didn't have to take his word for it or believe his message if we didn't want to. He encouraged us to, "think often, investigate, theorize and experiment. That is what develops conviction."
The following day, my friend and I attended the 3rd day of the Kalachakra event at the Verizon Center. A makeshift Tibetan market had popped up in the streets surrounding the Center and we had to dodge Nepalese vendors trying to sell us momos and mini-Buddha statues. As we entered the stadium and caught a glimpse of the stage, we both gasped and stood in awe of the radiant, ornate, and glowing altar. A flood of gratitude came over me for having the fortune of standing at that spot at that very moment. As we took our seats and listened to the sound of the making of the sand mandala and observed endless prostrations in the audience, a number of high lamas, including His Holiness the 17th Karmapa came to the stage to welcome HHDL. The 4-hour session begun with a chanting of the Heart Sutra and was followed by a very dense and philosophical discussion of the Buddha's teachings. Again, a little too deep to focus on for this piece. The Dalai Lama, strutting his famous red visor, often switched between English and Tibetan and had the help of his translator, Thupten Jinpa. The take-aways were many and I can't express enough how my heart expanded after the weekend ended.
We wrapped up the day with Sharon Salzberg and Krishna Das at the historic 6th and I Synagogue. From our seats in the second level we could spot Richard Gere in the front row with his entourage of Lamas. There was no better way to end the weekend than with some kirtan lead by the one and only KD!
Go and be creators of PEACE!