ON THE WEB, 25 May 2013
His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently spoke about religion and tolerance in front of interfaith groups in Washington, DC.
I was not expecting an extremely busy person like his eminence who daily shakes hands with a thousand people to remember me, especially since I had met him 14 years ago for a mere 10 minutes.
“We have met before,” says His Holiness the Dalai Lama when I introduced myself as “nga Baltipa in ju.” Surprised and with my jaw open, all I did was clasp my hands together and nodded happily in agreement before I once again lowered my head to show respect.
The Dalai Lama was in Washington, DC on the invitation of the University of Maryland.
Sensing his interest in meeting the Muslims of America, the Marist College of New York and Washington-based Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies co-hosted a private meeting and lecture on inter-faith harmony on 7 May 2013. The twenty or so people who we invited belonged to all faiths including Hinduism, Scientology, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, and were representing the interfaith NGOs of Washington.
We also ensured that all sects of Islam, like Shias, Sunnis, Sufis, Alevis, Ahmadis and Ismailis were represented in that room. The Dalai Lama spent forty-five minutes with us. Afterwards, he moved to the auditorium to address Islamic Sufism and Buddhism. Our dear friend Lobsang Chophel introduced the group members to His Holiness before the lecture.
One thing that the group liked about the Dalai Lama was his comment about emotional attachment with one’s religion which can limit objective thinking and analysis. He stressed on having compassion for people of other faiths. If understood, his message can help reduce killings and wars which happen in the name of protecting or maintaining superiority of one religion over the other.
Throughout the lecture, he talked about promoting humanity and showed concern about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. He called himself a son of India because India nourishes his body and mind through the food he consumes and the knowledge he receives from the Nalanda scriptures.
The Dalai Lama is unique among other world leaders as everyone irrespective of their religious background can relate to him
For us, he is a spiritual father figure who can instill hope and the sense that he belongs to all of us and not just one faith or racial group.
I requested His Holiness to pray for the freedom of Gilgit-Baltistan. I was hardly able to look at his face while trying to control my tears. I am not sure if I even used the right Tibetan language (Shesa) to communicate to him since Baltis do not know Shesa. But he smiled when he heard me talking in Balti and held my hand. Love for the Balti community was noticeable on his face.
On behalf of our group and Marist College, John Thomas Pinna presented a framed picture and a DVD movie to the Dalai Lama which will remind him of the times when Tibet was still a free country. The DVD was produced by a broadcaster, journalist and photographer, Lowell Thomas, who had visited Tibet before the Chinese occupation and filmed his meeting with His Holiness in Lhasa. The Dalai Lama liked the gift very much and desired to meet our group again.
His Holiness and I greeted each other with the phrase ‘Thsering shoks’ or may you live long. As I was praying for his health and long life, I was also hoping to meet him again.
About the author
Senge H Sering is the President of Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies and hails from a Tibetan speaking region called Baltistan (Baltiyul), which has been declared a disputed area between India and Pakistan by the United Nations. There are about 600,000 Balti people residing in India and Pakistan who profess Islam and speak archaic Tibetan.