Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Dalai Lama's coming to town

Spiritual rock star Tenzin Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, the living incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion, will be teaching and conducting religious ceremonies in Madison and at Deer Park from July 19th through the 24th. He’s a regular visitor to Madison and always attracts a huge crowd of admirers. The largest arena in Madison, the Alliant Energy Center Coliseum is booked for four days. Tickets range in price from $25 to $200 for each of many talks.

One of the things he will talk about while in Madison is Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara, commonly called the Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life. The poem is a common topic of Tenzin Gyatso's, but one which seems more than a little out of whack.

A primary message in Shantideva’s long poem is that concern for all sentient beings and effort on their behalf is the route to enlightenment. [“One should always look straight at sentient beings as if drinking them in with the eyes, thinking, ‘relying on them alone, I shall attain Buddhahood.’”]

It’s odd that Tenzin Gyatso talks about the Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life because he personally teaches a contrary lesson. According to him, hurting and killing sentient beings is admirable if one does it because he or she truly believes that by doing so better sentient beings will benefit. (Apparently, even the flavor of their flesh is sufficient.)

This seems to be a common thread in the Dalai Lama’s circle. When I met with Geshe Sopa, he argued that because humans are so much more valuable than animals that hurting animals in the name of helping humans is a good thing. This is why the vivisection community adores the Dalai Lama.

Because the opinions and pronouncements of celebrities carry much (undue) weight and influence the behavior of so many, public criticism of them, when they promote cruelty, bigotry, or any other evil, is more than justified.

I hope that as the Dalai Lama prepares for his talk in Madison on Shantideva’s Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that he notices the text’s fundamental message of not harming or contributing to the harm of other sentient beings.

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