Today I heard the Dalai Lama speak, and it was beautiful.
So what was a nice atheist like me doing in a place like this? His Holiness said it himself: "it doesn't matter whether you are religious or not, we all deserve care and compassion."
The Dalai Lama made a special effort to come visit Christchurch - making room in his schedule before visiting Australia - because he wanted to extend his care and compassion to our people after the February 22nd earthquake. I've never really made a point of following the Dalai Lama, but I can appreciate his struggles and hard work for world peace and education, and I've had him down on my mental list of "People I'd Like To Hear Speak During My Lifetime". I'm very glad I got the opportunity. He was warm, kind, funny, cheeky, open, compassionate, humble and brutally honest.
While his words of peace and spirituality - I say spirituality because he didn't really speak to one religion or of needing a god, more of finding inner peace during a time of turmoil - were nothing unusual coming from him, sometimes these words need to be reiterated, and said to us with the weight of belief. I've seen politicians, leaders and celebrities give lip service to our grief, but the Dalai Lama, out of all the people who have turned their gaze on Christchurch in the last three and a half months, made me really believe he hurt and cared for us. I'm not the sort of person who needs (or wants) to be prayed for, but if he has us within his thoughts that makes me feel pretty good.
The crowd at the CBS Arena was the quietest, most well behaved crowd I have ever been in. The pin drop cliche really rang true here. Perhaps the attentiveness and respect was due to the Dalai Lama's quiet speaking voice - perhaps he's from the school of thought that if you speak quietly, everyone has to shut up and work to listen. I'd guesstimate up to four thousand people were there, and even the kids in attendance seemed chilled out. Why should anyone be afraid of the power of peace like that?
Afraid they are. Very telling was the fact that no national or local government official in attendance, at least not that I could see or in an unofficial capacity. He was greeted and attended by people from the local Tibetan community, local iwi and, I believe, Victoria Matthews, the Anglican Bishop of Christchurch. That's right, an official of another religious order stood in solidarity with the Dalai Lama.
But why? Because he speaks the truth about democracy and freedom for all people - freedom in and from religion, freedom to be educated, freedom to live our lives in a healthy and safe way, freedom to be happy. Shocking, isn't it?
The Dalai Lama was very direct in voicing his opinion about the way some countries treat and suppress their native peoples. And when responding to a question along the lines of 'how do we move on from this tragedy?' he raised a laugh with "If your government doesn't do enough to help you, then you know what to do at the next election!"
The Dalai Lama's main message was of coming together as a community, caring for each other, and finding ways to let go of fear, worry and anger. While his simple words are very sweet and kind, I diverge here a little in my personal philosophy because I believe there is a place and time for anger. Sometimes anger and loud voices can get things done, and some of the marginalized need to shout louder to be heard.
However, today was not a time for anger. Even though I am not religious, probably not even that spiritual, it was wonderful to see and hear someone with such a warm, kind-hearted message coming to give spiritual aid for no other reason than "we are all fundamentally the same". I didn't come away with any revelation or "seeing of the light" from hearing the Dalai Lama speak, but it was nice to have a few hours of peace and quiet and hear one very chill dude say "it's going to be ok" and "the world is a dangerous place and when it comes down to it there's nothing you can do to change that, so why worry". I came away with a lighter mood than I've had in quite a long time, and I made the most of some winter sunshine by doing some gardening when I got home.
I'm going to add His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to my dream dinner table, along with Freddy Mercury, Mick Foley and Lady Gaga.