A Double-Header (and Then Some)

Yesterday I attended the first day of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, whose theme this year is Crossing Boundaries to Create Common Ground. The keynote speakers for the day were two of my heroes: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Sr. Helen Prejean. I went with great excitement, as I knew I would be part of a small group who would get to personally meet the Dalai Lama after his public address.

Almost the first person I saw after getting through security was Sr. Helen, who I had the good fortune to sit next to for the Dalai Lama’s morning keynote. She and I had time to converse before the program began; as interested as I was in talking about her work, she seemed equally interested in hearing my own story. Talking with her about our ministries was a great way to start the day.

The Dalai Lama’s address was, as always, powerful. Although I could write an entire post just on what he said, let me share only one of his opening remarks. He said that when he was young, he thought of himself as first Tibetan, then Buddhist, then Dalai Lama, but that now, he sees himself first as a human being. His earlier way of thinking was one that emphasized difference, and created an attitude that leads to anxiety and pretension. The more we emphasize difference, the more we create a we/they mentality that excludes and makes universal compassion more difficult. Seeing oneself first as a human being – as one of seven billion other human beings – reminds us that we are, first and foremost, related to each other. And that was his emphasis in his talk – our interdependence and relatedness, and our need to approach each other that way.

It was a powerful experience to get to meet the Dalai Lama after his talk. During my years as a Buddhist, when I ordained as a Buddhist nun, it was he who ordained me. I felt privileged to be able to give him a copy of my book adapting Tibetan Buddhist meditations for Christians (Growing in Love and Wisdom) and to share some words with him about it and my journey.

In between the two keynotes were two break-out sessions. It says something about the strength of the program that I waffled in indecision about which ones to attend – it was an embarrassment of riches. In the end, I settled on a program on forgiveness for the first session and one titled Religious Communities: Bending the Moral Arc of the Universe Toward Justice for the second. Both were worthwhile and offered me much I will reflect on in the coming days.

As good as the were, the break-outs were warm-ups for a woman who inspires me each time I hear her speak. Starting with the observation that “waking up is everything,” Sr. Helen described her own journey to “awakening” – from her realization that charity alone (without justice) is not enough to her determination to tell the story of the death penalty and those on death row. She was eloquent and powerful in her condemnation of a system that fails to respect human dignity, one that is detrimental to all who participate in it.

A powerful day. As I think back on my last three weekends: the Seattle Search for Meaning Book Festival two weekend ago, the weekend retreat on the Beatitudes I gave last weekend, and yesterday’s event, I am filled with gratitude.