An Afternoon with His Holiness Himself

Words of Wisdom from the Dalai Lama

This past weekend the Dalai Lama, an international icon of peace and wisdom, visited Birmingham, Alabama. Why Birmingham? As a student of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a humans rights activist himself, the Dalai Lama intentionally visited a city known for its civil rights history.According to, the Dalai Lama controversially banned worship of the Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden in 1996. For this reason, on Saturday, October 26, 2014, he was greeted by many fans as well as nonviolent protestors at Regions Field.

The audience was not limited to the capacity of the sports arena. Rather, many viewers all around the country watched the event via a live stream available on the internet.


Birmingham buzzed with people of all nationalities and backgrounds. Several downtown streets were closed off, and parking was impossible to find. I had the unique opportunity to be invited to sing as a member of the Birmingham-Southern Concert Choir proceeding the Dalai Lama’s speech. Along with everybody else, the choir members were thoroughly searched at the door by security. Once we were in, we were escorted to an air conditioned seating area above the infield. There, along with an international audience, we waited in anticipation to hear the Dalai Lama speak. His speech was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. (Rumor has it Mayor William Bell was the one running late.) Regardless,the Dalai Lama graced the stage around 2:30 p.m. instead. The microphone and his accent made his words hard to hear. The sun was in everybody’s eyes. The October heat was competing with June’s earlier this year, and the poor man whose job it was to hold the umbrella for the Dalai Lama had a two-hour task keeping that comfortable shade on-hand. Yet, all nuances aside, though his words were often unclear, his message was not.

dalai lama

The Dalai Lama visits Birmingham, AL and speaks on the issue of secular ethics.

The Dalai Lama addressed secular ethics emphasizing oneness and equality. “Today we really need a sense of oneness in humanity. We are social animals. Our very survival depends on others,” he began. As he said this the bright sun hit his glasses, and the umbrella holder immediately shifted to adjust. Soon, the mayor seated next to the Dalai Lama was covered in sunlight while His Holiness was comfortably shaded. So, the Dalai Lama asked the man with the umbrella to shift to allow both of their faces to be covered. He went on to say, “If you yourself act like something special, you isolate yourself.” He claimed that he is a normal human being just like anybody else. He is a human being who need not be viewed as a figure who could not be touched, could not be talked to. “Consider yourself a human being, the same,” he said. The words “the same” became a motif. He focused on the similarities between humans rather than the differences. His examples were relatable and frequently brought on zealous applause.

BSC junior Maggie Ward, another member of the choir, was particularly moved by his demeanor. She felt his decision to come to Birmingham was brave due to its history of violence. “I think I will take his emphasis on humanity and remembering we are all human beings to heart,” Ward said. “We are easily star struck by important figures like the Dalai Lama, but we forget the importance of the person next to us,” she said. In a world where celebrities are revered, Ward and others were brought back to reality by His Holiness’ words.

Keeping within his theme of sameness and oneness, His Holiness spoke of unity and harmony. “We can develop genuine harmony with the spirit of brothers and sisters. Very possible. Very necessary.” His wise words seemed easier said than done until he brought a smile to everyone’s faces with his next anecdote. He spoke of a baby. A baby, he said, will seek its mother’s milk from her breast before that baby can even open its eyes. Then, even the Dalai Lama began to heartily giggle as he spoke of nipples bringing the entire audience to laughter. He so profoundly said in so few words, “All 7 billion of us come from a mother.” Every single person listening could relate. He identified one thing that made us all the same. He urged us to remember that tie we have with our fellow man as he circled back to his view of secular ethics stating, “Out of 7 billion people, 1 billion are non believers. They are still brothers and sisters. They still have the right to be happy persons. If they have no interest when we talk of faith, we must find another way. Use your own experience. Use your scientific mind.” Though some people had zoned out and some were falling asleep in the hot metal chairs, those still listening agreed by nodding that the Dalai Lama’s words were a call to action.

The Dalai Lama’s last message on the topic of oneness in humanity and secular ethics began with talk of the tactics, the means to the end. He declared that no matter the socioeconomic status of an individual or a family, the happiest people are those who have been loved. He said, “[The] real source of happiness is love and compassion. Sense of together, sense of community is essential. Love brings us together. Jealousy distances us.” Vandna Kashyap, an Indian mother –my Indian mother– drove to Birmingham from her home in Anniston, Ala. to hear the Dalai Lama. After his speech, she was almost in tears. “I had always believed [this], but now I feel confirmed that good human beings are produced by unconditional love,” she said. She raved on about his stories and his unforgettable laugh and ended with, “I just want to try my hardest to be a mother and a wife and a person that His Holiness would be proud of.”


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