Perhaps many of you have a Dalai Lama story. Here’s mine.
In my forties, I was back in graduate school and while I was there, the Dalai Lama came to visit. He and a faculty member were friends. So he met with a group for an hour or so. It was, of course, by invitation.
Next to the large room he spoke in, which held some 250 people, was the bookstore, separated by old French doors with the windows covered, but a crack between them. So we uninvited ones gathered to take turns peeking through the crack like a bunch of kids. And indeed we did feel like children—excited to be even this close to the great master.
When it appeared that he was finishing, we went outside, in silence, to line the sidewalk where he must walk to his waiting limo. He came along, smiling, greeting us as he went. I was struck by his seeming ordinariness. Not a shred of pretention.
He came to the open back door of the limo and began to fold himself to sit inside. So he was bent far over when the shriek echoed down the block. “Wait for me! Wait for me! Wait! Wait for me!” We students turned as one to see the source of this irreverent demand: a young woman running toward us, waving her camera. Indignation rolled through us like a wave.
“What will he do?” I wondered.
He paused in his folded position, straightened up, and stood there waiting for her. She arrived at about ten feet from him, snapped her picture and lowered her camera. The Dalai Lama put his palms together and bowed to her. Then he folded himself into the limo’s back seat. The chauffeur closed the door and he was gone.
No fuss. No entitlement. No hurry. He did as he’d been asked. And I, along with the rest of the grad students, stood reproved.
That was many years ago and it’s as fresh as yesterday. Why? I think now it’s because of the quality of presence the Dalai Lama brought to this simple, unexpected incident. It looked ordinary. It was not ordinary. It was kind, but it had to have come from an inner, unshakeable poise, offered to the particular moment as it arose. Today, still a gift—and a challenge.