Permeated by Peace: In the Dalai Lama’s Presence, 1989

Dalai Lama 1991

Dalai Lama 1991

A friend told us to gather near a small gray door in the back of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium before 7 a.m. After a guard turned the lock, we filed into an empty auditorium and sat in front row seats. On stage, the maroon and gold clad Dalai Lama sat with other monks, chanting and performing preparatory rituals for the afternoon Kalachakra teachings.

Each morning that week, Vic and I and about twenty friends waited for that door to open. The Dalai Lama had visited our meditation and study center in the New York Finger Lakes ten years earlier in 1979 and members of our group often traveled to see him when he visited the United States.

As we sat in silence, rhythmic scratching of metal against stone accompanied the persistent chanting. Scritch, scratch, scritch, scritch, scratch. A small group of monks knelt on a platform, bending over their work, grating colored sticks of sandstone into a sand mandala—scratch, scritch, aum, aum. The pulsing chants and scratches took me deep and deeper into a cave of inner peace.

At 9 a.m., the preparations and prayers ended and the guard ushered us out. We entered the bright California world of sun and traffic and made our dazed way on foot to La Boulangerie for chocolate croissants and cappuccino scented with cinnamon.

Vic and Elaine 1987

Vic and Elaine 1987

After coffee, I changed into a bathing suit and headed for the beach, walking alone on the damp strip near the waves, buzzing from the coffee and the reverberations of the chant. Om Mani Padme Hum, I repeated to the rhythm of my bare feet slapping the wet sand. Om Mani Padme Hum, I repeated, watching gulls and terns swoop above the sparkling ocean.

Vic and I returned to the auditorium after lunch and took our assigned seats high in the balcony, but the chanting and scratching continued in my heart, along with the waves, along with my breath, along with the Dalai Lama’s deep reassuring voice and cosmic laugh. I barely grasped the esoteric ideas, but instead of straining to understand, I basked in another kind of teaching.

After the afternoon session, I took a second walk while Vic napped. This time, I headed toward the Santa Monica Pier, watched naked children play tag with waves, and returned in time to join friends for dinner. Most of our friends stayed at a fancy hotel near the auditorium, but there was trouble in their paradise. Marriages on edge, arguments, hurt feelings, and aching backs. Vic and I were spared the turmoil because we’d taken a chance on a cheap adobe motel near the beach.

The week ended with an audience with His Holiness in a walled garden. Our small group stood in line, waiting our turn to come before him. Traffic roared on the other side of a garden wall, but inwardly there was silence.

Standing before him, I saw only the Dalai Lama’s face and didn’t notice the cameraman behind him. A year later, I watched this moment captured in a film called Heart of Tibet. I witnessed my friend’s blissful faces as they lifted their bowed heads to receive his gaze. Shy, weeping, exposing everything, I held my hands in a prayer position over my heart and looked up into his eyes when it was my turn. He placed his hands over mine. I received his blessing.


Have you ever seen the Dalai Lama or received a heart-opening blessing from another spiritual teacher? Did it change your life? For more stories about the Dalai Lama, see Zapped by the Dalai Lama or The Dalai Lama’s Templeton Prize.

  1. What an absolutely wonderful experience to have been in his presence, Elaine.

    • Yes, Anne, it was one of those peak moments in life that I’ll never forget. The ocean and cappuccino are an integral part of the image. Such good fortunate.

  2. What a magical time! I remember the auditorium, and the chanting, His Holiness propitiating the local dieties, requesting permission to do the ceremony, and the hairs on my arms and back of my neck rising to the occasion!. All of it of another lifetime. I have a wonderful picture of that line of lucky souls getting his blessing. Good times.

    • Thanks for all those sensory details of that time, Pat. You were there and also in that magic garden. If it isn’t too hard to find that photo, I’d love to have a copy of it. Interesting to think how we have many discrete lifetimes between our birth and death. Thanks for remembering with me.

  3. Dalai Lama memories…a rare gift.

    • Yes, Nanci. These memories are rare gifts and always come to mind when I’m met with challenges. Thanks for reading and responding.

  4. Yes. Shaking his hand was like a lightening bolt. In a good way.

    • Yes, a lightening bolt, a meltdown, a complete dissolving of the ego (if only for a few hours), and so much joy. Thanks, Barb. I appreciate your comments.

  5. Oh Elaine, what an incredible story and experience. You’ve lived such an interesting life, with much more to come, I’m sure. Thank you for sharing this memory – the images created by your words are absolutely beautiful. The photo of you and Vic is wonderful; the love and happiness is so obvious in your expressions.

    • It was a beautiful experience, Ann. One to be cherished and held close for the times when life gets rough. Thank you for all your kind words and encouragement and for all the good work you’re doing on behalf of Alzheimer’s.

  6. Thanks for evoking these memories!

    • I’m grateful for the photos that many people took of the Dalai Lama. They awaken memories and help me appreciate those high points or “peak experiences” in my life.

  7. Beautifully described – brought me right in. I bow to you dear Elaine and your inner Dalai Lama.

    • Thank you, Steve, for reading and encouraging me in so many ways. If I’ve brought you in, then I’m happy. And I bow to you and your inner Dalai Lama.

  8. A peak experience indeed Elaine one never to be forgotten That memory will stay forever. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Susan, I miss those years when the Dalai Lama traveled to the United States and Canada and we could see him in small and large groups. Those were the days before such tight security which kept him at a distance. He walked through lines of people and held hands and tweaked beards and blessed everyone with his magnificent laughs. That ended a few decades ago, but I’m so grateful for those years. The last time I saw the Dalai Lama was in 2008, six weeks before Vic’s death when His Holiness and Vic shared a Buddhism-Science colloquium at Colgate University where Vic taught. Because they were both speaking and also because of other shared gatherings during that visit, Vic had intimate contact which helped Vic relax into dying. My sons and I were kept at a distance like everyone else. I wasn’t one bit jealous. Sending you Solstice Blessings.

  9. Thanks for bringing this alive to us again, Elaine.

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