His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama entered the Buddhist monastery at the age of 6. Years earlier, a search committee identified the then toddler as the reincarnation of the previous dalai lama, the 13th, who was the reincarnation of the dalai lama before him (12), who succeeded the 11th, and so on—all the way back to an ancient boddhisatva (enlightened being) named Avalokiteshvara, the patron saint of Tibet. Depending on your faith, worldview, or familiarity with Tibetan culture, you believe this man to be—at the very least—a holy person or symbol of peace across religions and cultures, and, at most, a living saint or incarnation of Buddha.
He’s also a Nobel Peace Prize winner (1989), the most famous Buddhist monk in the world, former political leader of Tibet (until last year), current spiritual leader of Tibet, an author, teacher, and advocate for Tibetans both inside and outside the country. He resides in India, as a political refugee, since fleeing his homeland in 1959 following the Chinese occupation.
He’s also a spiritual rock star of sorts: touring the world, selling out large venues, and requiring topnotch security. Over the weekend, he was at New York City’s Lincoln Center. Last week, he was, here, in Boston, at MIT, the Marriott Copley, and the Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies. The first two locations, a world-class university and hotel franchise, were standard stops. Kurukulla was not.
I was fortunate to be at the humble Buddhist center, converted from a nursing home years ago and located in a working-class residential neighborhood in Medford, for its private talk. To say that the center was abuzz before HH the DL arrived is an understatement, and thankfully, I was there for some of this excitement, carefully stepping across the new carpet selected and installed weeks before and, yes, nodding approvingly upon learning an updated toilet was being installed for His Holiness. Then, I tried to make myself useful, lending my speech writing and public speaking skills to key people preparing to take the stage during the event.
I’ve compiled some of my favorite moments from my time at Kurukulla leading up to the arrival of His Holiness and the day of the event. Because, in the end, isn’t that what the teachings of the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and life, itself, are about—moments? Being present for them–whether a living saint walks among you or the plumber installing his toilet–regardless of faith or worldview, what you believe at the very least or most, in your open, peaceful, and compassionate heart.
An altar inside the gompa (meditation room) at Kurukulla.
Meticulous and metallic preparations for where His Holiness will sit on stage. The fumes in the basement of the center were potent. No one paid them much mind.
Event emcee Wendy Cook previews a freshly printed ticket. We’re inside the living quarters of a monk in residence. Above are Tibetan texts wrapped in silk.
Members of the diplomatic security service, a canine unit, state police, and Medford police all converged on Kurukulla to protect His Holiness and attendees.
Meet Julie. Her agent, Eric (not pictured), has been assigned to HH the DL for multiple visits. He did not use the word “assigned,” though. He said “blessed.”
Traditional Tibetan dancers await the motorcade. Their ceremonial dancing and drumming offer an auspicious welcome for His Holiness. They were all teenage boys–happy to oblige photos, possibly bored without their cellphones (as a security precaution, no phones were allowed for the 1800 people in attendance that day), but they were pure magic to watch in motion.
The motorcade arrives, preceded by two state police motorcycles and a cruiser transporting the Mayor of Medford, who was instrumental in orchestrating this visit.
Gingerly, firmly, respectfully, members of the diplomatic security service help His Holiness out of the car. The new prime minister of Tibet awaits with a ceremonial white scarf. I am the closest onlooker to His Holiness in this moment. This one and several others would take my breath away that day. (Please see the OG Facebook page for more).