Sunday, 24 June 2012

An afternoon with the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama was in Manchester last week for a series of workshops with young people. On Sunday afternoon he held a talk and Q&A session for the general public. The events were held at the MEN Arena which, with a capacity of 21,000, is the largest indoor arena in the EU, beating London's O2 Arena capacity by a 1000. A google search revealed an interesting chart showing that in terms of ticket sales it is far behind the O2, but still comes in second not just in the UK or EU but in the world! Even beating (by a lot) famous venues such as New York's Madison Park Garden. So the Dalai Lama was obviously anticipating quite a turnout!

I'd bought tickets for myself and a friend's daughter. My friend dropped her daughter off and came to wait with her inside the venue. Whilst waiting someone gave her a free ticket that by chance was not too far from where we were sitting.

Peering between heads

The venue was quite full and we sat on specially laid out rows of chairs on the floor area in front of the stage. Although this meant we were relatively close, it was actually quite difficult to get a good view because of eveyone's heads. In the fixed seating areas of the arena each row is higher than the one in front aiding the 'heads blocking the view' problem. We didn't have this advantage, but by manoeuvring by neck I did get to see him. Also to each side of the stage was a large screen showing the stage area.

On the screen at the side of the stage

The Dalai Lama stood and talked for about an hour without notes, and then for a further hour he sat down to take questions which the audience had written down and handed to the ushers. He had an interpreter with him, but rarely needed him and then only to clarify a word or phrase. In both his talk and his answers to the questions he came over as someone with a sense of humour who doesn't take himself too seriously and tries to cut through the hype that has been built around him. For example, when asked what is the best thing we can do to look after the environment, he laughed and said 'use common sense'. He did then develop his answer, but his first response rang truest.

With the seldom used interpreter

He spoke about the importance of mothers and the love they have for their children; told stories from his childhood; and joked about miracle cures and how sometimes things can happen in unexpected ways. After suffering from an itchiness problem on his neck someone prayed for him. Next thing, someone gave him a cream which cured the problem. Was it the prayer that had brought the cream or was it just coincidence? Either way he was happy because he no longer itched. He went on to say that since this happened and he's told this story, he's been given so much cream and ointment he could open a small shop.

Sitting to take questions

The whole talk and Q&A session was in this vein - giggling, joking, and reminding everyone to keep their feet on the ground and not be deceived by new age quackery. From listening to people talking before and after the session, many of them seemed to see the Dalai Lama as someone to be venerated; someone who if they worshipped and put on a giant pedestal, could improve their lives for them. The talk was probably not quite what they wanted to hear. And the Dalai Lama made it very clear that people do have some say in choosing their future and their fortune. Don't sit around dwelling on the negatives, instead concentrate on the positives and making the most out of them.

We all enjoyed his talk and came away thinking he was a very nice, regular guy with a good sense of humour. The sort of person you would love to invite down to the pub for a more informal social chat. Even my friend was very impressed, whereas beforehand she didn't think this would be her cup of tea at all. I'd invited her daughter along as she is currently reading Theology at university and we have some good chats about theology and the different religions and their beliefs, but my friend had said she didn't want a ticket herself. How fortunate she got a freebie!

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