On Saturday the 19th of September 2015, my alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5am. I woke up quickly, excited and nervous, I hadn’t slept as well as I had wanted to that night but I felt alert. It was dark outside whilst I ate some toast and drank my morning cup of tea, and I contemplated getting a taxi to the station. Not because I was running out of time, or felt lazy, I had plenty of time and energy, but I was worried as a young woman, walking the 15 minute journey to the station at 6am, in the dark. It’s a fear that resonates with me all the time, as a woman I feel vulnerable, even though I couldn’t tell you when this fear started exactly. I don’t trust people easily, and I’m also very introverted. So, leaving the house at an early hour, alone, in the predawn light was a very nerve wracking thing for me to do.
I could see the dark sky turning to a dark blue so I steeled my nerves, finished getting ready and left promptly just after 6am. I walked quickly to the station, checking over my shoulder a lot, and sticking to the main roads and well lit streets. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I was relieved when I reached the station, which is a tiny single platform under a bridge, to see two women and a man already waiting for the 6:30am train. Waiting under a bridge in the murky dawn light, potentially alone, was not something I was looking forward to.
Still, my nerves calmed at the sight of three individuals, and I was excited again. I couldn’t believe I was attempting this particular trip. I feel unsettled in large crowds, people make me nervous, and sometimes the occasional male will approach me, and I can’t tell you enough how uncomfortable that makes me feel. So going on the train, three in fact, all the way to London Euston, then to navigate the tubes and switch lines, something I am not used to at all, was almost mission impossible to me.
Needless to say, and to my great surprise, the journey was incredibly smooth and easy. Everyone I came across or sat next to was extremely polite or wrapped up in their own little worlds. I felt at ease for the first time in weeks with this journey, and when it came to the tubes, I quickly found out, that if you know the end destination (which I did), for the tube line, finding your way is incredibly straight forward. You only need to note the end destinations for a line, and of course your own stop, and then the signs are all there, pointing you in the right direction.
So I made it to the O2 with plenty of time to spare, you see, I was attending a talk on Compassion by the 14th Dalai Lama. A man I had only discovered a couple of years earlier, and a man that I have come to greatly respect. Not because of his religion, I do not follow any religion at all, yet I do not dismiss or think less of those who do follow a religion. Religion, or rather faith, is a very personal thing, and as long as the individual doesn’t harm others intentionally, I can respect that person, regardless of the religion they follow. I respect the 14th Dalai Lama because of his wisdom, he talks about people being the same as one another, and he also talks about science, politics, education. He talks about things that are both immediately obvious but more often that not, allude us in our everyday lives.
The 14th Dalai Lama is an awe-inspiring man in my eyes, an idol, and icon. However, he has recently reached the grand old age of 80, though he looks around the age of 60, and I wanted to attend at least one of his talks before he decides to stop traveling and touring, due to age or any other reason. I’ve never been to the O2 Arena and let me tell you, it’s huge. It is so massive, apparently if you were to turn the Eiffel tower, flat on it’s side, it would fit inside the O2 Arena. It has bars, restaurants, shops, It also had a tribute venue to Elvis, and I even think it has a cinema. I was blown away by the size of this venue, the only other venue I had ever been to like the O2, was the MEN in Manchester, and I had thought the MEN was big.
Once inside, there was a small crowd gathered around two monks. They were using metal instruments to direct coloured sand on to a smooth surface.
I picked up a leaflet as I was stood here and read a little about what they were doing. They were creating what is called a mandala. In ancient times the mandala would have been made out of semi-precious and precious stones, but nowadays the monks use powdered marble (sand). They make a very complex pattern that has many layers and designs, each meaning different things, but in short, the mandala is created to promote good karma, wealth, strength, long life and to dispel illness. A fire puja is then performed after the event to dispel any negative karma, I believe wood can be stacked around the mandala and set on fire, then the ashes and sand are swept away together, and sprinkled on farmlands or gardens. I’m not sure I believe in good or bad karma but I cannot deny the complexity of the mandala these two monks were creating, it was truly a mesmerizing piece of artwork in my eyes.
A short while later I was allowed into the actual venue itself. I was seated up high but I had a pretty good view of the stage.
You weren’t really supposed to take photos apparently, not that I realized this at the time. However, as you can see the venue was pretty much empty at this point, the Dalai Lama hadn’t arrived, and people were only just beginning to take their seats, so I think I can get away with putting this photo here.
It seemed like a long time later before the talk actually began. The Dalai Lama was markedly applauded as he made his way on to the stage with another monk, who helped him to translate. The talk opened with a group of young Tibetan’s singing traditional songs, which I can’t say they will make the charts, but it was very enlightening to hear and see regardless.
The Dalai Lama was a very humble man, as he stood on the stage he told everyone that we are all the same. On a biological and fundamental level, we are all the same. On a secondary level, he said, there are some differences, race, gender, religion, where we live, but on the fundamental level, we are all the same. He stood and spoke about a lot of things, but there were some main topics that he kept going back to, Compassion, Education, and the Mind.
Compassion, he told his audience, is something that is within us all from the very beginning. He mentioned that children are naturally compassionate. He said, when a group of young children are shown a video clip of children playing together, happy and smiling, then they too are happy and smiling. However, when the same group of children are shown a clip of children being bullied, or being left out, they become sad, and unhappy, they show compassion naturally towards these other children. He said, deep down, everyone wants to be happy and at peace, no one really wants to harm anyone else. He said, when people become violent it is usually because of the feeling of anger, but he said, anger is not just one emotion on its own, it’s also fear, anxiety, depression, and so on. He called compassion, love, emotions, – inner values. He said that inner values are more important than external values. Our inner values are what make us who we are, and guide how we treat other people. External values are just materialistic things, they don’t actually mean anything.
Education, he told his audience, is the key to teaching children to recognize these inner values. To teach children to recognize emotions, feelings, to be compassionate towards one another. He said it should be taught from nursery all the way through to university level. He said so many people who have lots of money, materialistic items, and only care about external values, are usually so unhappy with life, but he said, people who don’t have these things, are usually happy and have loving and caring families. So therefore, inner values triumphant over external values. However, when we live in a world that always promotes external values, inner values are often pushed aside and forgotten, this is why the Dalai Lama believes that inner values should be taught as part of a person’s education. He said, it should not be taught as religion, it is not religion. It shouldn’t be taught as psychology either, it is separate, and it should be taught as an independent subject. The 14th Dalai Lama believes that if we taught our children the importance of inner values, then the world could change, humans would finally, in time, be able to get along peacefully, no matter their race, gender or faith.
The Mind, he spoke about with regards to science. He said that monks meditate, and sometimes strange things happen that scientists can’t always explain, yet they cannot deny that something happened. He called this the ‘invisible science’. I was greatly intrigued by this, I have only heard of a couple of things like this, but they are always knocked aside as pseudoscience, or discredited in some way. The Dalai Lama and his monks personally study this phenomenon, the things that scientists can’t explain because there isn’t anything for them to directly see or measure. He said that you are not a true scientist, if you are conducting an experiment with an already preconceived expectation of what the results are going to be, because this already leads to bias. To be a true scientist you need to be open minded with no preconceived ideas, so that you can think and see with your own eyes, whilst you gather your results. He also mentioned that scientists know and understand so very little about the mind, and that he hopes in the future that these invisible phenomenon will become a little clearer.
I sat and listened to the 14th Dalai Lama as he spoke about these topics, sometimes he would revisit a topic several times as he explained his thoughts and ideas. I found myself nodding along and agreeing with his words, he didn’t force his opinions on anyone he just called on his audience to stop and think about things, to think about what he was saying, to go away and think about their own lives and to observe the people around them. I was amazed to find that two hours had passed and it had felt like only fifteen minutes, that to me, was the sign of a very good talk. As much as his accent was sometimes a little difficult to understand, and he repeated himself, he did talk a lot of sense, and I found myself wishing that more westerner’s spoke about the same things the Dalai Lama did, in perhaps a slightly different way, but still repeating his words of wisdom. I even thought, maybe I could try and talk about some of these topics, but I’m not entirely sure I’m the best person to do so.
In the end, I left the O2 with thousands of others, and I felt a little overwhelmed by the crowds, so I stepped to the side and let the crowds thin before I made my way back through the underground. I was deep in thought, but also extremely tired. I wish I could say that I came up with some profound realization at this point, but I didn’t. My main thoughts were which trains I needed to catch to get home, and trying to will my eyes to stay open. I made it back and my mother kindly picked me up from the station and we went and got a KFC. It wasn’t until a couple of days later when watching an archaeological dig in London on the television, that a keen archaeologist said something along the lines of, It’s very exciting finding all of these skeletons and mass graves, it’s something that we can all relate to, as we all have a human skeleton. It got me thinking, and I realized that I am not a perfect person, and I don’t know if anyone really can be perfect, you’re always going to upset someone along the way, even if your intentions are good, but, we are all skeletons, we are all fundamentally the same. The Dalai Lama’s words echoed through my head and I found myself looking at people differently, their looks, gender, material possessions, religion, they do not matter, cause fundamentally the archaeologist had got it right, we all have a human skeleton, -we are all the same.
As an individual we may often feel that there isn’t much we can do, but the Dalai Lama said that on an individual level we must change, because individuals make groups, and groups make crowds, and crowds make whole countries, countries make the world. We can change things, even if it is only ourselves that we change. We can teach ourselves to look and think more deeply about our inner values, and we can discard a lot of our external values in the process. Our inner values exist as part of our fundamental being, our external values are secondary, possibly tertiary in comparison. If we cherish our inner values and teach our children to be compassionate then perhaps the Dalai Lama is right, perhaps we can step that much closer to a peaceful world. I for one, would like to believe that this could happen, and I myself, am going to take some time to think about the things that are really important to me.
If you were there at the O2 I’d love to know how you felt and what your thoughts were too, also anyone who wasn’t there, I’d welcome all thoughts, discussions, questions. I truly believe we need to talk about these topics more in society today, so everyone is welcome to add their words. I only ask that you do this with respect for other people and yourselves. Thank you for reading my blog!