The Dalai Lama and I

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

The circumstances behind my seeing the Dalai Lama in April 1991 are indelibly etched in my memory. I arranged to first meet my friend George Hoole at his girlfriend’s apartment in Santa Maria, and then we would both go to the University of California at Santa Barbara to see the Dalai Lama give a speech.

I had only been driving for six years at the time, and I did something that killed the engine on my 1985 Mitsubishi Montero. Instead of staying on U.S. 101, I decided to take San Marcos Pass to Solvang, where I would have lunch before making my way back to the 101. Unfortunately, I drove up the pass in second gear. By the time I got to the top of the pass, my engine was a smoking ruin. I arranged to have the car towed back to Santa Monica Mitsubishi for repair, which was no easy thing as ’85 Monteros with automatic transmissions were a rarity.

George came to pick me up in Solvang and I was his passenger for the weekend. We heard the Dalai Lama give a great talk in his broken English … and this turned out to be the beginning of a difficult period for me. I teamed up with George to start a new company called Desktop Marketing Corporation, along with several of my co-workers from Urban Decision Systems, where I had been working since 1971.

It never took off, and I had to live on my savings for over a year, Ultimately, I left Desktop Marketing and managed to get a job in a Westwood accountancy firm called Lewis, Joffe & Company. Plus I had to shell out several thousand dollars for a new Montero engine.

Things don’t always tend to go your way. The early 1990s were a time of career change and retrenchment for me. But I never regret seeing the Dalai Lama in person. There is perhaps no religious figure I respected more, not even Pope John Paul II. There was something about the twinkle in his eyes which helped see me through a difficult period in my life.

I’d see him again if I could, but I would definitely avoid San Marcos Pass.

I Go To See the Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

In April 1991, I drove up to Santa Maria to rendezvous with my friend and business associate George Hoole. The next day we were going to go to the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) to see the 14th Dalai Lama give a talk. My attendance at this talk cost me a great deal: Driving up the San Marcos Pass on State Route 154 in second gear, I burned out the engine of my 1985 Mitsubishi Montero. That was just the beginning of my problems with the Mitsubishi, which lasted another four years before being T-boned by an elderly woman who was afraid of being late to a doctor appointment.

Although I knew my visit was going to cost me dearly, I remembered the Dalai Lama’s talk with great fondness. It is the only time I ever saw one of the world’s great religious leaders in person. I have read several of his books since then and realize that he is a living treasure. When he passes on, which can be any time now, the world will be without a man of his spiritual stature. Of course, the Chinese will be delighted: They will simply choose their own Dalai Lama. Will the exiled Tibetans in Dharamshala, India choose their own candidate? Who knows?

Present at UCSB when George Hoole and I were there was the late Spalding Gray, author of Swimming to Cambodia, who did an interview with the Dalai Lama which was published by Tricycle. In that interview, the following appeared:

Do you ever entertain the distractions, invite them into your meditation and let all of these women in bikini bathing suits that you must see here out by the pool come into your meditation? As a monk, I have to avoid that experience, even in my dreams, due to daily practice. Sometimes in my dreams there are women. And in some cases fighting or quarreling with someone. When such dreams happen, immediately I remember, “I am monk.” So that is one reason I usually call myself a simple Buddhist monk. That’s why I never feel “I am the Dalai Lama.” I only feel “I am a monk.” I should not indulge, even in dreams, in women with a seductive appearance. Immediately I realize I’m a monk. Then sometimes in my dreams I see fighting with a gun or a knife, and again I immediately realize “I am a monk, I should not do this.” This kind of mindfulness is one of the important practices that I do the whole day long. Then your particular point, about beautiful things or men, women, things that attract: the analytical meditation counters that attachment.

For example, the sexual desire. It is very important to analyze, “what is the real benefit?” The appearance of a beautiful face or a beautiful body—as many scriptures describe—no matter how beautiful, they essentially decompose into a skeleton. When we penetrate to its human flesh and bones, there is no beauty, is there? A couple in a sexual experience is happy for that moment. Then very soon trouble begins.

I can see that if I ever wanted to achieve enlightenment, I have a long way to go.