Yes, I Met the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama walking under an umbrella with a group of people.

I’m in Sydney, Australia for the Happiness and Its Causes conference. I’ve never been to Australia before, so that’s terrific, and I love being at the conference.

I was also excited to be meeting the Dalai Lama.

I’d been thinking about what question to ask him, if the opportunity arose. I’d decided to ask, “What one habit do you think people should follow, in order to be happier?

But when the moment came, there were several people around, and I was worried about shoving my way into the conversation.

I wanted to ask a question, but I felt sheepish — it seemed somehow very self-serving to do it. Also, I have a friend who’s a devout Buddhist, and I really wanted to present the traditional white scarf (a kata) to the Dalai Lama, to ask him to bless it for her and her family. So when I had the opportunity to stick my oar in, that’s what I did.

One notable thing: very intense eye contact.

As we all turned to go to the main conference event, I had that let-down, disappointed-in-myself feeling that I used to get when I was too scared to raise my hand in class.

But then I had another opportunity for engagement. We all had to walk a fair distance to the conference hall, part of it outside, and the Dalai Lama (who is eighty years old, and in great shape, but still) grabbed my hand and leaned on my arm for the duration of the walk; Ruby Wax was on his other side.

I didn’t take a single picture. I didn’t even think of it. Later, though I did get a bad photo, as you see. I hope that there’s some official photograph.

One small thing really struck me — the same thing that struck me when I was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, about forms of address.

People constantly refer to the Dalai Lama “His Holiness.” Now, “holiness” is a big word. It would be quite something to be constantly associated with it.

I remember being flabbergasted to learn that the accepted way to address Justice O’Connor was just to call her “Justice.” “Hey, Justice, the cert petitions arrived.” It’s quite something to be constantly associated with justice.

I wonder if after a while,  a person ceases to notice, or if being called by an honorific like that helps people to remember the high standard which they’re called to uphold.

Other random observation: it’s surprisingly jarring to cross the international date line.

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