From "The Magicians"
Once upon a time, at a Zen center I attended, there was a lot of excitement. The Dalai Lama was coming for a visit.
There would be two talks – one in the morning to the Tibetan community from in an around New York City and one in the afternoon to the members of the zendo. I was fortunate enough to be assigned as a person who would help visiting guests – show them where to put their shoes, point out the coat closet, or direct them to the bathrooms.
The night before the visit, I fretted mightily: I loved taking pictures, but I was worried that bringing a camera to the event would not be respectful, that it would be somehow not spiritual enough, that I would be a bad Zen student if I did anything as mundane and un-holy-fied as point and shoot. When I walked up to the zendo before the impending visit, I was glad I had overcome my holy-roller compunctions: Everyone had a camera.
The Dalai Lama arrived in a long, black limousine that was buffed to a faretheewell. Exiting the car at the same time he did was an impeccably dressed Tibetan in what looked like a sharkskin suit that fit him like a glove. He was a big, barrel-chested and serious-looking man and the first thing I thought was, "Where does he keep the gun?"
It was early. The Tibetans didn’t start arriving for a while, but when they came, it was as if a tsunami of laughter came with them. Where the zendo and its format of Buddhist practice was simplified and monochromatic, they were a skittering tintinnabulation of colors and smiles. Some chewed gum. Some drank from Sprite cans. All of this bubbled into a zendo hall I was used to seeing in silence and carefulness and something like austerity.
The Dalai Lama sat a couple of feet in front of the altar that graced the far end of a room that was perhaps 20 feet wide and 60 feet long. His audience was attentive and glad to be there. If there was austerity in their hearts, it did not show on their faces. Not for the first time I thought that Tibetans are possibly the most beautiful people on earth.
When the talk concluded, it was time for a ritual ceremony I had not seen before. Members of the audience lined up with white scarves in their hands. One by one they approached the Dalai Lama, and, extending both hands before them, bowed as they extended their white-scarf gifts. The Dalai Lama took each scarf, put it around his neck, then removed it and placed it around the neck of the giver.
By this time, I had moved to within six or eight feet of the Dalai Lama so that I could see better. The ceremony went on and on. The Dalai Lama struck me as kind and patient and friendly through all of what must have been a well-worn ritual.
Finally, at the head of the line, an old woman appeared. She must have been in her 80’s. Two things seemed clear from her bearing: First, age was no joke for her; and second, she was in a state of awe that bordered on dread. Her head was down as she approached. She would not look up. She was, as I imagined it, in the presence of God. She extended her scarf with two wrinkled hands, and, after the Dalai Lama took it, she did what no one before her had done – she prostrated herself on the floor before him.
But where it had been a relatively easy matter for the woman to get down on the floor, it was another matter entirely to get up. She struggled with what age had done to her body. In the split seconds that made it apparent she was having difficulty, the Dalai Lama reached down and helped her to her feet. He placed the scarf around her neck. And then, because the woman still refused to look up, to look into the face of her God, he took her cheeks in both of his hands and raised her face and eyes to his.
It was, quite simply, the kindest act I had ever witnessed. It carried with it so much and yet was so little. It melted me. I do not remember a single word the Dalai Lama uttered that day, but I remember the incident with the old woman. It is enough.
The whole event came and went in under two minutes. Others were pressing for their turn. And when the last of the giving and taking and giving was complete, when the audience had filed out, it was time for the Dalai Lama to leave too.
As he came down the central aisle of the zendo, I shot off pictures ravenously. I backed up as he approached. Again and again I shot the pictures I had worried about shooting, the ones that would make me a bad Zen student. Six, seven, eight – as fast as the flash recharged, I would shoot another.
When he got to within eight or ten feet, I looked up briefly from the recharging flash and found myself looking into his eyes. He smiled a small, almost-wry smile ….
And he winked.
From "The Box, Inside And Out"
It's not whether you think inside our outside the box that matters so much. Think what you like. Believe what you like.