The Price of the Dalai Lama’s Smile
Even great ones need to practise, more than you would think
The Dalai Lama, at home in his HQ in Dharamshala, was looking quizzical.
Jim, a spiritual teacher — in fact my spiritual teacher — had gained an audience with His Holiness, and the Tibetan master had asked him about his spiritual practise.
‘So, do you meditate? And what kind of meditation do you do?’
Jim told him that he is a teacher on the ancient path of sound and light and chanted the sacred names.
The older man said he knew of the path — in fact there were people teaching it just down the road.
He went on: ‘So how long do you meditate usually?’ he asked his American visitor.
Jim told him he sat for two to two and a half hours every day.
‘Are you saying the truth? Is that real?’ The high lama was shocked at this admission.
‘Yes. I have to do that to find my centre and really get into the flow of spirit and have the inner experiences I need in order to do my day and find my fulfilment,’ Jim told him, then turning the tables.
There was a slight pause.
‘May I ask you how long you meditate each day?’
The Dalai Lama came back quickly: ‘I had a hard time believing you but you are really going to have a hard time believing this.’
He went on to explain that to reach the place that Jim talked about — to find his centre — he needed to sit for five hours a day.
In order to deal with all the demands of his external world, he explained, and everything he had seen and experienced in a long life — all that was in his inner world — takes time.
‘If I don’t get there, I don’t smile and I don’t laugh,’ he said. ‘and the monks around me know and step back a little bit because I didn’t do my meditation right.’
He went on to say that his famous chuckle and joyful countenance he carries into the world to others was only possible because of his meditation practice.
‘That’s coming from my centre,’ and it takes him five hours to get there.
He went on to lament with Jim, wishing he could sit for two and a half hours instead of five, but to find his essence and come from that place he knew he needed more.
As I listened to Jim tell his story, I was struck by the seeming paradox of it all.
We imagine holy people do not have to practise as we mere mortals do — at anything in life — yet the opposite is true.
To a mind that works more easily with a linear progression this presents a conundrum, the same conundrum that has people confused as to why recovering people continue with 12-step meetings long after the war is over.
The answer is that it is the nature of the mind to wander, to forget and to lose its way and we need to continue to practise bringing it home.
‘Keep your mind where your body is,’ seems invaluable advice.
‘The price of sobriety is eternal vigilance’ another pointed truth that recognises the pitfalls of being human, and the need for discipline.
The language of the ego and the language of the soul are often in opposition.
One inflates a sense of ‘I’ and demands progress, proficiency and an end to training; the other knows the humility of beginner’s mind.
Perhaps it is time to start getting up a bit earlier.
© simon heathcote