I never would have imagined myself going to see the Dalai Lama a while ago. If you had mentioned the idea to me even five years ago I’m sure I wouldn’t have been interested. I imagined the Dalai Lama as being a mystical, God-like person with a deep spirituality but far removed from my own world, much as the North Pole is from the South Pole.
Well no doubt he is living in a completely different world to me and that of most people I know but I think I have changed a lot as a person over the last five years and perhaps I have also become more open to new ways of thinking and being.
So when my stepbrother mentioned that the Dalai Lama was going to give a public talk at the O2 arena in London a few weeks ago and asked me if I wanted to go along with him, I immediately said yes. His talk was called ‘Compassion: The Foundation of Wellbeing’ and it was to be followed by a Q&A session with the audience afterwards. I was really looking forward to it.
When we arrived at the O2 that day, there were huge crowds of people queuing outside to get in. It was obviously a very popular event. When we took our seats, which were not far from the main stage, I looked around the arena and saw hundreds of people taking their places. It was absolutely packed.
I used the hearing loop, which was excellent, and there was also a BSL interpreter signing at the side of the stage. The access would have been fully inclusive if they had also provided speech-to-text reporting, but I managed to follow it well with the hearing loop.
The stage looked beautiful and serene, with images of snow-capped Tibetan mountains being projected onto a screen in the background. After a very touching musical intro with a large group of Tibetan children dressed in brightly coloured traditional costumes and a musician serenading the Dalai Lama with Tibetan welcome songs, he began to address the audience.
He talked about lots of different things but kept bringing it back to his key messages about how having compassion for others will make you happier and enjoy better health.
He described how there are seven billion people in the world, each facing their own personal emotional and physical difficulties. He said that despite differences due to culture, race, religion, gender, education, disability, sexuality or age, underneath it all, we are all fundamentally the same.
He said that we are all human beings, who came from our mothers and have the same brains, hearts and organs. There is too much emphasis on differences and divisions between different people, instead of treating people equally, as we are all the same underneath.
Negative emotions such as fear and distrust of others resulting in divisions lead to all sorts of problems such as bullying, abuse, oppression, conflict, war and killing others. We can see this happening all around us in the world today, whether it is brutal terrorist attacks in the Middle East, senseless shootings in the US, online bullying and trolling on social media or different groups of people being treated unequally and discriminated against in our own country.
“Compassion is the basis of happiness and good health”, he said. He also spoke about how the key to a more peaceful, happier world was education and that we must educate ‘Generation 21st Century’ young people to be more compassionate towards others.
He said that the whole of humanity has the responsibility to build a happy humanity because most of the problems in the world are man-made. “You are your own master”, he said.
To me, although you may think that this is an oversimplified and simplistic view of today’s world, there is a lot of truth in it. All over the world we see negative images and hear stories everyday of people killing, abusing, torturing or attacking others because they believe those people are different or inferior to them.
People are creating divisions everywhere, because they belong to a different community or culture, they have a disability, they are not as well educated or they are poor or disadvantaged. It is all around us and seems to be getting worse with the constant onslaught of public criticisms or negative attacks being made against people on social media or in the press.
I really don’t like all these divisions or labelling people who we feel are somehow different to ourselves. I agree with the Dalai Lama that we have a responsibility to be more compassionate towards other people, to listen to their concerns more and always treat them with equality and respect. I abhor discrimination of any kind.
He also spoke about personal happiness, health and inner peace. His message was that if we are constantly searching for happiness in external, material things, we will never find it. There will always be something else we want to buy or something more exciting that we want to experience, so we will be permanently restless. If, on the other hand, we can learn to be mindful and just focus on our inner peace, we will become much happier within ourselves and will also enjoy better health.
I think the Dalai Lama is a very wise man, who speaks a lot of simple, universal truths about humanity. He is a Buddhist but he respects and values people of all religions, cultures and faiths. He comes across as being a very peaceful, respectful man with a very playful sense of humour. He clearly enjoys the company of others too.
At the end of the talk, one of the contestants from ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ TV series came onto the stage and presented the Dalai Lama with a cake he had made for him to celebrate his 80th birthday. It was a surreal moment but a really touching tribute. The audience cheered and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him in unison. I came out of the O2 arena feeling really happy and uplifted. It was a great event.