In Washington, A Ritual For World Peace
MICHEL MARTIN, host: And finally today we want to talk about a spiritual happening that has brought thousands of Buddhists to this nation's capitol. The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader is in Washington, D.C. hosting an 11-day Buddhist prayer gathering. Devotees have traveled from across town and across the country to take part in this rare and complicated ceremony. It began last Wednesday, which also happened to be the Dalai Lama 76th birthday.
DALAI LAMA: The best gift for my birthday is the people here to make a pledge from now on follow nonviolence. Best gift is practice compassion.
MARTIN: Joining us to talk more about the event is Ani Tenzin Lhamo. She's a Buddhist nun who has been involved in planning the event, and she was kind enough to take time away from her activities to tell us more about it. Thank you so much for joining us once again.
ANI TENZIN LHAMO: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: First of all, what is the event called? It has a Sanskrit name and what's the translation?
LHAMO: It's called the Kalachakra. And some people refer to parts of the body as their chakras. It's a word that means wheel and then kala means time, so it's translated as wheel of time.
MARTIN: Why is this gathering important?
LHAMO: This ceremony is a 2,600-year-old ritual for world peace. What better place than in Washington, D.C. between the Capitol and the White House.
MARTIN: How does an event like this come together? It's not quite like a head of state calling the parliament into session.
LHAMO: Not at all.
MARTIN: It's not like that at all. But I guess what I'm wondering is how does it happen? Since it is such an ancient ritual is it something that the Dalai Lama says this is something we need to do? Is it bottom up? Is it top down? Is it something that you as followers say this is the time, this is something that needs to happen?
LHAMO: The Dalai Lama has a special relationship with the ceremony. It's been passed from one to another to another. And then it requires an extremely high level of understanding and spiritual accomplishment from their side. Then what happens is people out in the world that perceive a need for it and have a heartfelt request make a sincere supplication to him, please come here and do this. And then you present your reason for asking him, then he agrees and disagrees. Maybe not disagrees but can't fit it into his schedule. And once he says yes and you're given a date then that wheel of time starts moving, which is volunteer work. So since May of 2010 and then there's been a team of volunteers working on this.
MARTIN: Can you just describe if, I don't know if this is considered private information. But what are some of the preparations involved? I understand that even just preparing the venue requires quite a lot of preparation.
LHAMO: Oh, as if you were building like a Christian church, there'd be a ceremony where you consecrate the ground. So the building of the sand mandala and the preparation of bringing in all the ancient ritual substances and chanting prayers which is going on now, even traditional dances are the equivalent of consecrating the ground for a Christian church. On that sacred space the Kalachakra arises.
MARTIN: And what is the average day? Is the prayer constant? Does it go on all day and all night for the 11 days?
LHAMO: Day one is totally different from day six. There is the preparation of the ground. Then there are teaching so you can understand the ideas that underlie or that form the basis of the Kalachakra. And then there's the actual empowerment, which are the last three days followed by a ceremony of long life blessings for the participants and for its holiness.
MARTIN: And do who people attend too who are not already practitioners of the faith?
LHAMO: So many people come and they're coming from all corners of the earth, all different countries, all religions. They're drawn I think by the profound understanding, realization of the need for peace, and also the authenticity of the Dalai Lama, that there's really no difference between what he says and how he presents himself and how he lives. And that level of authenticity is so rare in our culture now. So when you get someone at that level committing themselves to 11 straight days of a ritual for world peace, that already has power. And then when you know there's going to be a community of like-minded people surrounding him and joining in that it starts to emanate.
MARTIN: So if one happened to be in the Washington, D.C. area and one were a non-Buddhist one could attend, one could stop by? That's allowed?
LHAMO: Absolutely. I think implicit in any understand of Buddhism is faith in the power of blessings, the power of goodness. So we would want to share that with everyone. There's no, there's never an evangelical form of Buddhism. It's not about missionaries. It's about come and expose yourself to the presence of goodness and participate in it.
MARTIN: And finally I wanted to ask, the Dalai Lama has been an I think a popular figure, an appealing figure for many people who are not practitioners of Buddhism for quite some time. Many people are fascinated by what he has to say, very eagerly anticipate his thoughts on many topics and I'm wondering why you think that is.
LHAMO: I thought a lot about that myself because I was raised in a different religion and I went many years without believing in religion. I wanted to but I couldn't find one I could align with. When I met him and had a personal experience with him it changed my life. So I've considered why did that happen, and I think it's because he lives in pure alignment. His words, his handling of his body, his teachings, his handling of the Tibetan government, everything is totally consistent and aligned.
And then and combined with that he's happy. You know, he seen a lot of suffering and he's sees his people suffered and deprived of their homeland and tortured; he gets reports of that all the time. But he's happy. And if we could learn the secret of how to endure the ordinary difficulties and suffering of life and laugh and be happy, that's irresistible. Who wouldn't want that? Has he says, no one wakes up in the morning and says I hope I suffer today.
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MARTIN: Ani Tenzin Lhamo is a Buddhist nun. She's been heavily involved in the preparations for the Dalai Lama's visit to Washington and the Kalachakra.
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MARTIN: Kalachakra, the Buddhist spiritual event that he is leading here. And she joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Ani, thank you so much for joining us.
LHAMO: My pleasure.
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MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And to tell us more, please go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also friend me on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at TELL ME MORE/NPR to give us your feedback. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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