Grief is a sacred journey

When the Dalai Lama Blessed the Children

Meeting the Dalai Lama at the Ithaca Airport, 1979

Meeting the Dalai Lama at the Ithaca Airport, 1979

When the Dalai Lama visited the United States for the first time in October 1979, he spent four days at Wisdom’s Goldenrod, a philosophy and meditation center near Seneca Lake in New York. Sidney Piburn, a friend and mutual student, had visited the Dalai Lama in India and arranged the visit.

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Dalai Lama outside the library, 1979

Dalai Lama and Anthony Damiani

Dalai Lama and Anthony Damiani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the last day of his stay, the Dalai Lama met with about twenty children and their parents in our newly built library which he’d dedicated a few days earlier. There was little security. No mobs waited for his blessings.

We didn’t know how lucky we were.

The Dalai Lama sat on meditation cushions next to our teacher Anthony Damiani. His Holiness beamed as the children sang an old Irish song to welcome him:

Dalai Lama 1979

May the long time sun shine on you,
all love surround you,
and the clear light within you
guide your way home.

His Holiness listened and sat in silence for a few minutes. Then he chanted Tibetan words coming from the depths. The kids stopped fidgeting. We were all quiet.

When the Dalai Lama looked up and smiled, the children lined up and chose a flower from a basket of blossoms provided by the moms. Each child, the oldest first, approached His Holiness and gave him a flower. Some were shy, but no one was afraid.

Anthony Mansfield and the Dalai Lama

Anthony Mansfield offering a flower to the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama received and carefully inspected each flower before handing it to an attendant. He looked deeply into each child’s eyes and bowed to them with his hands palm to palm. Sometimes he reached out to pat a chubby hand or chuck a chin. Each child bowed back or the parent holding them bowed. The room filled with the humming grace that comes in the presence of a great being.

Someone had agreed to photograph each child’s interaction with the Dalai Lama. Our son David who was nine was one of the oldest kids and was first or second in line, but the camera wasn’t ready. There was no photo of David and His Holiness, but David got something better. After that first meeting, we knew to follow David at any Dalai Lama event. He intuitively knew where the Dalai Lama would appear or where a line would form for blessings.

David Mansfield 1978

David Mansfield 1978

When our younger son Anthony went to India on a Tibet Study Program around 1996, he learned there would be an audience with the Dalai Lama. His dad and I convinced him to take copies of a photo of him with the Dalai Lama and a second photo of the Dalai Lama with our teacher Anthony. He reluctantly agreed.

After waiting in line in India, my son bowed and gave His Holiness the photos. The Dalai Lama inspected them carefully and reached out to grab Anthony’s goatee. Gently shaking Anthony’s chin from side to side, he said with his cosmic laugh, “Old friends. Old friends.”

How fortunate to be blessed by this man who sees all human beings as friends.

Saying goodbye at the airport

Saying goodbye at the airport

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This is an expanded version of a story from my book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief. The world feels brutal, so it’s good to remember the blessings. Have you met people who awakened your heart? I’d love to hear about your experiences. I hope you enjoy other pieces I’ve written about the Dalai Lama: Zapped by the Dalai Lama and Permeated by Peace: In the Dalai Lama’s Presence, 1989.

11 Comments
  1. Truly beautiful memories Elaine – the blessings will stay with you always. Yes, I have a few friends I regard as blessings. My dreams also which awaken my heart 🙂

    • It was a magical time, Susan, during a period of meeting powerful teachers of many traditions. I’m grateful for dreams and friends, too. I’ve had some memorable dreams about the Dalai Lama, especially one where he morphed into a woman who danced in an infinity pattern and then gave me meditation instructions. During the dream, dream Elaine said, “I’m so overwhelmed by her/his presence that I won’t remember what she told me. I’m grateful it’s being recorded.” And when I woke up, I couldn’t remember the instructions and, of course, there was no recording. I’ve had to figure it out the long way.

  2. How beautiful for the Dalai Lama to recognize ‘old friends’. Another beautiful story Elaine. 🙂

  3. I am so glad you featured this wonderful wise soul in your post. You are so gifted to have had his impression in your life. His concept on compassion in parenting mimics my own. I don’t believe in punitive acts toward our developing children but rather we need to be better teachers and guiders. My boys are some of the kindest brightest people. You are so right about the harshness of our world we need more impressions to awaken out hearts and souls. Thank you for this lovely post.

    • Thank you for your kind comment. I agree we need compassionate guides and teachers for our children. The Dalai Lama is a positive presence in this world. My sons last saw him in 2008. It’s time to see him again, but it’s a very different experience now with large mobs of people and strict security. As I said in the article, we didn’t know how lucky we were.

  4. Elaine: You never fail to pluck my heart strings!

    • Thank you, Skip. It was fun to hear from so many of the kids who were there that day. The Dalai Lama made a big impression on all of us.

  5. I’m always amazed to read of the beautiful rich childhood you gave your sons. What a gift. And the photos, so precious. I don’t know what it is like to be in awe before an important, world renowned person. To see the old photos of people celebrating the presence of the Dalai Lama is to see the hope and love and expectation of a community at its best. Thank you so much for these glimpses of your “family.”

    • Robin, we give our kids what we have and you had plenty to offer. Maybe different things, but then your kids needed different things than mine did. The Dalai Lama remains a strong glue in the community of people who saw him together. Some became Buddhists. Like many others, I did not. I understand we were unbelievably fortunate–especially compared to now with thousands trying to see him and security so tight.

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