New Orleans is lovingly called the city that “care forgot.” And for good reason; its love of revelry, rhythm and blues, and deep-fried everything, is legendary.
Yes, that city. The city that was nearly swallowed up and spit out in pieces by the punishing wind and waters of Hurricane Katrina.
Yes, that city, the one that inspires hope and loss in the same breath; the city that spurs the kind of violence that leaves you heart sick and slack-jawed from the shock and soulless brutality of it all. Like when two young males well-schooled in violence casually open-fired on a Mother’s Day parade wounding 20 people, including several children.
This was the city that the Dalai Lama came to visit recently. A city badly in need of healing.
This was the Dalai Lama’s first visit to New Orleans and he came to deliver a commencement speech to Tulane graduates and speak at several other engagements in the city.
Not surprising he spoke of peace in his speeches. To the Tulane graduates he said, “Please pay attention to securing your own inner peace. Our hopes for the future rest on your shoulders. Please think about how to make this a more peaceful, compassionate century.”
Speaking at a separate event at the New Orleans Lakefront Arena, he talked about non-violence and peace and compassion.
He said, “It is not our job to disturb the peace and then it’s God’s job to restore it. Violence isn’t created by God or Buddha; it’s created by human beings. So logically, the responsibility to eliminate it belongs to us too. Here in America there’s been a lot of discussion about gun control. But the real source of control is in our hearts.”
Wise words from a wise monk.
Violence and poverty and abuse all stem from a lack of compassion. The need for guns and the need for gun control is all the same to me. It’s all rooted in fear and violence in my book.
Look, I’m from the South. Guns are serious business here. This isn’t a subject that makes friends–unless you’re on the right side of the argument– if you get my drift. It’s a subject that I usually stay away from because I’m a peacemaker at heart and it almost seems counterintuitive to me to argue about guns.
“…Please think about how to make this a more peaceful, compassionate century.” I think of the Dalai Lama’s words to the graduates about securing peace, and working for a more peaceful world. I wonder what I can contribute to the cause.
I think there are a lot of us who are confused about how to walk in this world more peacefully.
I’m of the opinion that it starts with finding inner peace. Not an easy task. But I believe that meditation is a good start here. Finding compassion for ourselves, for our faults, and loving ourselves so we can better love others, is another strategy.
I think when we’re brave enough to do the inner work, to look at all of the places inside of us where we are at war with ourselves, where we focus on what’s wrong with ourselves, with our lives, is a good place to work on non-violence. Perhaps that’s the foundation of the saying, “Love others as we love ourselves.”
Maybe the idea is that we should love ourselves a little more, so we learn the capacity to be truly compassionate, truly kind to others. So that we can love others.
I think prayer is also a gateway to compassion. Praying to God, Spirit, Buddha or to your higher spirit for guidance is a good way to open up the heart. The older I get, the more I pray.
If we’re honest, we can admit that light and dark both exist in this world. But light, including inner light, can be the beacon that disperses the darkness. Within us and around us.
When we actively focus on non-violence, maybe we will lessen the violence in the outside world. Maybe we won’t have to live forever with the duality of seeing this:
His Holiness featured in an article about his visit to New Orleans in The Advocate with a gun ad on the opposite page.
a full page article in the Baton Rouge paper featuring the Dalai Lama’s visit to New Orleans with an ad for a gun shop placed on the opposite page from it. I’d like to think this was an accident. But the truth is, I’m not sure.
Which leads me to the truism that “there are no accidents.” Maybe there’s a message here about our society’s conflict. About how we all wrestle with the light and the dark.
If you’re interested in more thoughts on compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.