Although His Holiness the Dalai Lama does have a special connection with Wisconsin, unfortunately I don’t think we will be seeing him in Wausau any time soon, I just needed a grabber headline for today’s post. The only Wausau tie in I can come up with is that myself and several other Wauvillians did make the trip down to Madison to see His Holiness last week.
The Dalai Lama does truly have a special connection with Wisconsin. His very first visit to the West was to Madison and he has been here numerous times since then, and will return again in July 2008 (mark your Google calendars!) His Holiness returns to Madison for two reasons. One, his teacher and friend, Geshe Sopa is there, and secondly, extensive studies on the brain function of Buddhist monks were carried out at the UW with fascinating results.
His Holiness is very interesting leader of a world religion. If you believe his press kit (which he himself may not entirely) then he is the reincarnation of previous Dalai Lamas, complete with all their wisdom and so on. If you are more of a skeptic, like me perhaps, then they took a random kid off the street (he was three when he was “recognized”) and turned into the Dalai Lama. Either way, not exactly the way most people make it to the “top,” even in the world of religion. But his message is not all that different from other spiritual and religious leaders.
Well, maybe a little different from some. In his public address, the first thing His Holiness praised was secular government. His Holiness is a great admirer of the American system of government, and understands that when government pushes no religion, then all religions can flourish. Under such a system, a person’s beliefs become one of personal choice, which leads to a greater spirituality, rather than just religious observance. If I can put a few of my words into His Holiness’s mouth, but I think he would agree with the previous sentence. I do think this level of religious tolerance is a strong feature of Wausau (and much of Wisconsin) and is part of what makes our community work.
The main part of his address was compassion as the path to happiness. From the Buddhist prospective (just a quick aside back on religious tolerance. Nearly every broad statement I have ever heard a Buddhist make has been prefaced with the phrase, “from the Buddhist perspective.” It seems reflexive, and would be a wonderful habit for other groups to adopt, but I digress) compassion is the simple realization that we are basically similar in that we want happiness for ourselves (and families and such) and that everyone has a basic human right to pursue happiness (ummm, sound familiar?)
To me, pursuing happiness without unduly impinging on other people’s pursuit of happiness is truly the American, and human way. This is why I like ideas like Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy.” “Making a living, not a killing,” is the way I have often thought about it. Fair trade, and not so called “free” trade. More play time and less work time. And so on.
And this is one of the things I like about this area of the country, and Wausau in particular. It is not perfect, of course, but it seems there is a better balance than in most places. A good sense of community without being stifling. A fairly balanced economy without too huge a gap between the richest and poorest areas. Opportunities for both work and play, both indoors and out. A vibrant arts community to keep things humming.
Personally, I think His Holiness would like it up here. Perhaps we should invite him up next year. I would serve on that committee in a heartbeat.