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The Open Hand

by Ronn Reinberg

A year ago I began this column inspired by an experience with a Tibetan Monk, Geshe Michael Roach.  I now revisit Tibetan Buddhism, using an experience with the Dalai Lama.  I saw the Dalai Lama speak more years ago than I can recall.  But, two points he made have remained with me throughout the ensuing decades.

The first thing he said was, "I am only an ordinary Buddhist Monk."  He then reiterated that point many times.  What I got was- don't worship me, but rather honor the practice of loving kindness that I teach.  We may honor him for his ability to live a life of compassion far greater than that which we currently live.  But, to deify him is to deny that each of us is capable of living at the same level.  The Dalai Lama is a messenger, he is not the message except by example.  To idolize him loses sight of the message.  He was trying to point us away from himself toward his message about how we live.  He is not more of a manifestation of God than I am.  Any of us can attain his level of giving love.  In Peter Townsend's homage to his Guru, Meher Baba, there is the lyric "I'll tell you what it takes to reach the highest've been told many times before, messiahs pointed to the door, but no one had the guts to leave the temple."

I believe that the true honoring of the Dalai Lama comes not in bowing to him as if he is more than an ordinary man, but in leaving his presence to live the life he himself lives.  Not as a Buddhist Monk, but as whatever ordinary person we happen to be, living a life of loving compassion.

The second point he made which stayed with me, is that the most important way for us to communicate is by touching each other.  He told a story of a girl who came to him in tears after her family had died.  He was unable to say any words to her that could calm her.  So, he reached out and started caressing her cheek.  She soon became calm.  I was struck by the fact that the leader of a major world religion was proposing that we all run around hugging, kissing and caressing each other.  It seemed more like a 60's Love-In.  The analogy is not so ludicrous.  Here it is decades later and the preparations for the appearance of the Dalai Lama remind me of what surrounded Woodstock, both the loving energy and the hype.

Can touching one another be a Buddhist practice?  If the essence of the practice is to live a life of loving kindness, then is there any more simple and direct method of saying I love You then to caress someone?  Of course the practice of loving should not stop at the caress.  We should feed people, shelter and cloth them, make beauty for them and speak kindly to them.  I've always marveled at how dogs, on meeting each other, can put there noses into each others' essence.  We shake hands, which is a hold over of the ancient gesture of opening the hand on meeting to show that one bears no weapons against the other person.  So, why not extend the gesture beyond the meaning of "I will not harm you," to one that says "I mean you affirmative good and care for you?"


Ronn can be reached for comment or feedback at