The joy of meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Spending a few hours in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a joyful and mind-expanding experience. He has a great sense of humor and makes you feel like an equal — we are each of us worthy and are capable of achieving “Buddhah hood.”

Western Connecticut State University and Do Ngak Kunphen Ling (DNKL) , the Tibetan Buddhist Center on Putnam Park Road in Redding co-sponsored the Dalai Lama’s visit to WestConn on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 18 and 19.

Growing up in Redding, my parents were friends with Maurice and Martha Pate, previous owners of the house and property where DNKL exists. Maurice Pate founded UNICEF and bequeathed his house and property to a peace organization, which then passed it to the Tibetans.

For the past 15 years, my wife Sherry and I have been supporters of DNKL When I became a sponsor of the talks. All I expected was guaranteed seating, but was later thrilled to learn I was also helping to fund WestConn’s program for peace. I’m pleased that WestConn and DNKL have become close and there is potential for further cooperation in Buddhist teachings. His Holiness believes only a well-educated and ethical younger generation can create a new paradigm in the 21st Century.

His Holiness’s talks reconfirmed for me the possibility of world peace. I’ve always been an advocate for peace and nonviolence. Growing up in the ’50s, my parents were active with various organizations working for nuclear nonproliferation. During the Vietnam War, and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, I applied for conscientious objector status, but never had to fulfill that duty. From then to the present, I’ve been marching for peace. I have been a regular with the peace group that stands vigil every Saturday morning at the War Memorial in Danbury. I was encouraged to hear His Holiness advocate for determined action in the pursuit of one’s goals.

I don’t practice Buddhism, per se, but I do practice yoga associated with Zen Buddhism — because it calms and strengthens my mind and body. And I attempt to incorporate into my life many Buddhist principles and lifestyle choices such as exercising mindfulness, moderation and compassion.

Growing up, my mother used to say, “If you’re feeling down, do something for somebody quick.” His Holiness told us we will find happiness through helping others — when we wake up In the morning, think about what we can do to help other sentient beings, and at the end of the day, review our actions.

Through compassion for others one also realizes compassion for oneself. In my battle with cancer eight years ago, I found the principles of Buddhism especially helpful. In particular, I acquired a better understanding of the principle of compassion — primarily for myself. During my treatment, Sherry and I chose to display Buddhist prayer flags (horizontal) and victory banners (vertical) as a means of giving us any advantage we could find. We don’t know what the payers mean, but they look lovely fluttering in the wind and who knows…

Four years ago, we visited Bhutan, a Buddhist nation bordering India. Our guide taught us the concept of earning merit to achieve good Karma. Also, we were impressed by the Bhutanese concept of “Gross National Happiness” — the actual reading of the citizenry’s level of happiness. His Holiness’s pursuit of happiness seemed worth investigating, so we listened to his most recent book, “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World,” on tape.  When we learned he was coming to WestConn, we jumped at the opportunity.

In his talks, His Holiness was adamant that practicing a religion was not necessarily the way to peace and happiness. This appealed to Sherry and me because we are not religious, but we make an effort to seek to live more compassionately with each other and all other sentient beings.

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