Be The Change…

“Be the change you want to see happen, instead of trying to change everyone else.” – The Love Project

I saw a movie yesterday, “Dalai Lama Awakening.” It is about a group of mainly Americans who go to Dharamsala for a conference called “Synthesis” hosted by the Dalai Lama. It wasn’t at all what I expected.

I presumed that a film called “Dalai Lama Awakening” would have something to do with spiritual awakening. Instead it was about this conference. The attendees were from a broad cross-section of life, from an economist to a Jesuit to a couple of physicists. Their charter was to come up with solutions to the world’s problems.

Instead the conference became an example of why the world has such problems. It reminded me of the anti-Viet Nam War movement, where there was so much anger and hostility. It was hard to tell what was more violent, the war or the anti-war.

The conference attendees spent most of their time either complaining about the conference format, or arguing with each other. And the arguments were not about how to make the world a better place. They were about who was going to be allowed to speak and who was dominating conversation and – finally – who was going to be able to get up in front of the Dalai Lama on the final day of the conference and give a presentation. In other words, it was all about “me.” As far as I could tell, they didn’t spend any time talking about how to make the world a better place.

The closest they came was when one person wanted to talk about how to help Tibet, proposing a boycott of Chinese goods. After some discussion, the Dalai Lama reminded them that this conference was not about Tibet, it was about the whole of humanity.

So here was a group of supposedly intelligent, gifted people, who a) could not stay on target with their charter, b) could not co-operate with the poor folks trying to facilitate the conference, and c) could not even observe rules of common courtesy in how they communicated with each other.

I started life as a very politically active person. It was the time of the Viet Nam War and the Civil Rights Movement. But I came eventually to distrust my own judgment when it came to politics. So much of what I thought and did I decided at the end of the day was wrong.

And finally I came to Buddhism, and saw a radically different way to think about change. That is that change has to start at home with my own heart. How can you possibly promote change in the world if you yourself cannot be kind, patient, and compassionate? How can you expect other people to be something that you cannot?

I wish that I had a magic wand and could end all of the terrible suffering in the world. I don’t. And as much as I wish I was like Gandhi, I’m not. But I do know that I can be kind to people. I can help where I see a need and can do something about it. I can smile at the person who is bagging my groceries. I can adopt a cat and give it a home. And if I am ever invited to Dharamsala to discuss how to make the world a better place, I’m not going to waste everyone’s precious time.

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