Befitting a once in a lifetime opportunity such as this, the audience in the Usher Hall was reasonably diverse. As well as the usual liberal chattering classes, we could see a few Tibetans, some Tibetan independence campaigners, representatives of the main religions of Scotland and a great many school-age children. We were there to hear the Dalai Lama speak on his 3rd visit to Scotland and the large audience (tickets sold out within 48 hours) was testament to his broad appeal – not only as a religious leader or global statesman, but also as a “humble monk” (as he likes to refer to himself), a great teacher, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Presumably due to his packed schedule (he is visiting 3 cities in as many days) and security concerns, the audience was seated long before His Holiness actually arrived. We were treated to performances by Tinderbox Frontiers and their incredibly vibrant Youth Orchestra; an acoustic guitar set; an operatic contribution to world peace (with builder-turned-opera-singer Martin Aelred) and Tibetan dancers as well as various speeches from local political and faith leaders. Unfortunately, none of the cultural groups were on the programme, nor were they adequately introduced (although the innovative multi-media backdrop did give their names). When booking the tickets, it had not even been apparent that this side programme would take place. It was a pity that the supporting acts were not given the profile they deserved (and given that they took up over an hour, an interval would also have been welcome before the main act!)
But that’s all by the by…. the Usher Hall’s capacity crowd was there to see His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. His Edinburgh Lecture, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the series, was on ‘Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.’ It was more a series of observations interspersed with his characteristically infectious laugh than a formal speech and rambled around the themes of compassion, positivity, humanity, respect and good intention. Following the formal part, he took (incredibly challenging and well-considered) questions from local school pupils on a range of issues related to ethics and morals.
The Dalai Lama is such a charming figure. It is hard to imagine that he and his people have been through such hardship and even harder to comprehend his tireless campaign for global peace, his respect for fellow humans and his commitment to non-violent means. At the age of 77, he is spritely, good-humoured and incredibly vibrant. He even cheekily asked the school kids to guess his age, suggesting that he could pass for a man in his 60s. (He probably could).
The attraction of his message is in its simplicity. We would all like to hope that a life without conflict could be achieved. And he can make us believe it could. He spoke of how humans have more in common than that divides them – on a human to human level, we could all get along. No-one wants bother or conflict in their lives – isn’t it easier just to respect one another? He touched on the importance of genuine affection early in life and the vital role of mothers in providing that stabilising force to their babies. Surprisingly perhaps for a Buddhist monk, he even expounded on the theme of secularism, indicating that the secular approach – of respecting all religions as well as those who have none – was a cornerstone to avoiding conflict in the world.
The respect and admiration in the audience and on the stage for this diminutive figure in red and saffron robes, the talent of the performers given the opportunity to share that stage with him, and the award by the Dalai Lama of the first Edinburgh Youth Compassion Award conspired to create quite an emotional atmosphere and everyone was on their feet applauding loudly as His Holiness left the stage.
Surely, an audience with the Dalai Lama is on the top ten list of things to do before you (or he) die? What else would be on your list?
© Lynn Sheppard