Dalai Lama Teaches Me Freedom from Suffering

The Dalai Lama recently visited Portland, Oregon for a four-day summit. His entourage stayed in the hotel below the condo where I live. A supporter of Tibetan culture, I was asked by the local Tibetan Rinpoche if I could help sponsor the visit. As I wrote the check, I asked him if there was any chance I could get a snapshot with His Holiness. Rinpoche replied that he thought it was possible and would see what he could do.

As the conference approached, Rinpoche asked me if the Dalai Lama’s cook could use my kitchen to prepare meals for His Holiness during the visit. I was delighted to be able to further contribute (even after I learned that his crew would be coming at 3:30 every morning to prepare breakfast and then take over my living space until 6 PM).

And so it was … four or five Tibetans streamed in and out of my place every day. This was fine by me because, having spent weeks in Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama resides in the foothills of the Himalayas, I love Tibetans. It’s a wonder how refugees whose culture continues to be destroyed in slow motion can still be so cheerful, forgiving, generous and kind. Tibetans, with the enlightening example of their spiritual leader, truly understand how to live out of joy and compassion, which makes them a delight to be around. Even though His Holiness never came over to visit, I was honored to be hanging out with his cook and personal secretary and others.

But I was also emotionally attached—very attached unfortunately—to my desire for that photo, and my suffering was growing daily. And this was the worst kind of attachment, because it was combined with some feeling of entitlement. And there was nothing I could do! The Dalai Lama was one floor away, surrounded by security, and there was no way I could get near him. So close, yet so far. (When I asked his secretary if he would take me down there, he grunted in his thick Tibetan accent “Very difficult.”)

As the last day of his stay approached, I realized that my growing anxiety was an example of what the Dalai Lama teaches about the Four Noble Truths. The first is that the life of a grasping ego is imbued with suffering and, as the second truth explains, the cause of the suffering was craving. My involvement with the Dalai Lama was teaching me Buddhism’s central lesson of freedom and happiness!

Of course I knew that the only important thing was to support his cause and what his model of compassion and selflessness offers the whole world. It brought tears to my eyes to consider that he’s getting frail, that he is going to die, perhaps along with Tibetan culture itself. This is when I flipped the internal “let-go” switch. In comparison to the value he brings, I realized how petty my attachment to having a photo was indeed. As I let go of my craving for it, I immediately felt freedom from suffering, just like the third truth promises (and I was able to sleep better that night).

At lunch on the last full day of the visit, Rinpoche asked me (much to my surprise), “Did you get a snapshot His Holiness?” Stunned, I replied, “No … but I would love it if that can happen!” He went silent, thought for a moment and said, “Be on the 5th floor at 6:30 AM.” Replied I, “No worries … I’ll be there!”

The next morning, when my turn came in the photo line, Rinpoche said to the Dalai Lama, “This is the man whose kitchen we’ve been using for your meals.” I chimed in, “It made me happy to help … and the leftovers were delicious. Thank you.” His Holiness put a ceremonial scarf on me and smiled knowingly. Snap!

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3 thoughts on “Dalai Lama Teaches Me Freedom from Suffering

  1. What a wonderful story. You had me on the edge of my seat. And laughing! Paul, you are such a talented writer. And what an experience!
    I’ll share one of my own. This summer I visited my mother in Tallahassee, Florida. She invited four friends over to lunch to meet her daughter, the psychic Tarot card reader from New York. These ladies were questioning me about my experiences, and I was telling them about the other side coming through during readings, to talk to their loved ones.
    The doorbell rang. We all looked at each other in surprise. Mom’s house is in a quiet suburb. It was 100 degrees out. No one would be walking by on the sidewalk, or driving by on the street.
    Finally I got up to answer the door. There was no one there, just radiant sunlight. I waved a welcoming arm to invite the spirits in. Evidently someone had arrived.
    They all could see the door. Who was it, they wanted to know.
    Suddenly I understood. Your fathers, I said.
    But my father is dead, said one after another.
    I know, I agreed, but that’s what happens during readings, and they want you to know that they are still here, looking after you.
    I don’t think anyone will ever forget that lunch!!!

  2. Hi Paul,
    my brother Rupert (who lives in Portland) was telling me your exiting start of this story about providing help, share your appartment and share your daily life with the crew of the Dalai Lama.
    So I was checking your Website to see how the story went on. I think this is a miracle, that they just picked you or better your appartment as their base. You are blessed – and I´m sure this was ment to be. There sure is a higher reason behind it than getting a picture.
    Finally you got it, and I´m glad for you.
    And for sure, in your heart there are much more impressions like a simple picture. Use them !!!.
    By the way, even not knowing you in person, I had to smile, when I saw the excited impession in your face. . All the best for you. Greeting from Germany Monika

  3. Hi Paul,

    I just saw this story come up on your blog, and recalled when you spoke with Michael Gaeta and me just after this experience. Your story about attachment is one I’m very familiar with in regard to meeting His Holiness. In my early 20s, I was fortunate to meet His Holiness at a public audience in Dharamsala.

    I then traveled to Dharamsala for one month a year over the course of seven consecutive years, leading a group of students. Each year, I spent great time and emotional energy trying to gain an audience with His Holiness. Eventually, I recognized the irony in my actions and was able to let the notion go. I was able to focus on the truly beautiful interactions that were in front of me each moment, and that I often missed because of my attachment.

    I hope this finds you well. It would be a delight to have lunch or coffee at some point in the near future, if you’re so inclined.

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