Hello, Dalai!

I got to hear the Dalai Lama speak at Stanford on Friday. I was actually a few minutes late because I was walking up from a non-standard direction and so I was trapped on the other end of his motorcade and the accompanying security detail. At one point I was about 15 feet from him.

A few thoughts in no particular order:

  • A student asked me why in world I would want to hear the Dalai Lama speak since he’s a leader of a rival religion. And then I read an article describing how some scientists are having the same reaction to the Dalai Lama’s scheduled appearance at a neuroscience convention: This merger of serious neuroscience with a particular religion is a practical joke because the very recognition of the Dalai Lama relies on the belief in reincarnation,” said Yi Rao, a neurology professor at Northwestern University. (source). I always find it funny when I see a scientist getting all fundamentalist. This is the flaw in that criticism: to say someone is wrong about one thing is not to say that they are wrong about all things. Of course I think the Dalai Lama teaches a lot of absurd ideas. That doesn’t mean none of his ideas are good ones. Plus, I figured I’d probably get a sermon illustration or two out of the mix. I was right, too–check out the next bullet point.
  • The talk was about nonviolence, and the Dalai Lama is a well-known pacifist and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, so I was fairly shocked when I heard him say that the jury was still out on whether or not the Iraq war was justified. I am not taking this out of context at all–this was in direct response to a question whether or not war was ever moral. I don’t think the audience knew what to do with that at all. I was laughing pretty loudly on the inside.
  • He has a wonderful lack of decorum. In the midst of one question he took off his shoes, rubbed his feet, and tucked his legs underneath him.
  • He contradicted himself quite a few times, but it could have been a byproduct of not being fluent in English. He was talking about some subtle things and he may have used a few words imprecisely.

update 11/7/2005: the Stanford Daily just released an article about his visit echoing many of my points above (including the Iraq war thing).

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