Question for the Dali Lama: Transcendance vs. Tradition

Going to see him at Middlebury College today (Friday) and tomorrow.

How do you balance the defense of tradition made increasingly "exotic" by globalization, with the Buddhist empowerment of transcendance?

The Dali Lama, in his foreign robes, is empowered by the role of the "underdog" in a globalization of messages.  He commands thousands of people to see him, like a rock star.

Imagine if he was carried out Lady Gaga style in a flashy egg, wearing Elton John pinball wizard goggles.  Imagine him giving the exact same talk, differences invisible to the blind, but no longer defending a rural mountain culture of centuries old religious traditions.

If I was blind, or listening to the talk only on audio, I would focus on the message of transcending, of nirvana as a release from worldly trappings.    If I was a small child, I'd be wowed by either exotic outfit, whether it is the red and gold robes of Tibet which he's usually photographed in, or the Gaga-Pinball-Wizard outfit.  Either would be unfamiliar and exotic, and would bind the impression that people flock to see someone who is different than the rest of us.

The difference which true religious people revere is not the trappings, nor even the weight of centuries old tradition on the brink of extinction beneath the foot of the Chinese military government.  The difference in the message is enlightenment, and the promise that even the poorest person can achieve spiritual noblesse via meditation and truthful pondering.

The Dalai Lama
gotta be the shoes?
Looking for a recent photo I could use, I found a review of his convocation at William and Mary College this morning.  The Dalai Lama is wearing the red robe, but also an accountant's visor (photo from

The Dalai Lama, I hope, has learned to balance the truth of globalization and shared visions, shared displays of affection, shared compassion, with the sacrifices globalization brings to religious and cultural traditions.

"On the philosophical level, both Buddhism and modern science share a deep suspicion of any notion of absolutes, whether conceptualized as a transcendent being, as an eternal, unchanging principle such as soul, or as a fundamental substratum of reality. ... In the Buddhist investigation of reality, at least in principle, empirical evidence should triumph over scriptural authority, no matter how deeply venerated a scripture may be."
This, my friends, is on the same page as my post written earlier today on BAN's use of "witch words" to describe exotic suffering.  The power of BAN is oddly harnessed between the power of human compassion which the Dalai Lama represents, and the economic power of self-interested manufacturers, protectionists, dictators, and shredding machine marketers.

This makes me think about the wisdom of crowds, balanced by the patterns of cognitive fear of the unfamiliar, or reverence of unfamiliar when it's found to be "safe" for consumption.

I chose karma yoga, hoping to stand apart from the crowds and yet to leverage my transcendance to achieve something concrete for sustainability.   We have known for a long time that our species consumption of the planet is tragic.  Recycling gave me hope.

No comments: