It had been a long day for the Dalai Lama. Even by the time he had eaten his meager breakfast of tsampa and tea at 7:30 a.m., he had already been up for four hours, completing his rigorous daily regimen of prayer, study, and meditation. After breakfast he began his usual workday, and that day there was a full line-up: meeting with one person after another, he saw an Indian government liaison officer, the head lama of one of the ancient lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, the president of a member republic of the Russian Federation, a high official in the Tibetan government-in-exile, and various members of his private office staff. And scheduled among these private meetings, I watched with admiration as he met with a group of newly arrived Tibetan refugees. They had made the arduous journey across the Himalayas by any means of conveyance they could find, lucky if they could afford a ride on an antediluvian bus, but more likely to have caught a lift, riding in the open bed of a shuddering pickup truck. Some had crossed the rugged border on foot, climbing high-altitude passes with grim determination. Here and there one could see a child missing a finger or a toe--casualties of frostbite. Many arrived penniless, destitute, their traditional chubas (native Tibetan costumes) tattered and dusty from the long journey. In some of the older faces, ruddy faces, weathered and creased by winds and harsh climate, one could detect traces of untold suffering, spirits hardened by years of mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese Communists. For many of these people, however, a mere glimpse of the Dalai Lama, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, was enough to revive their withered spirits and infuse them with renewed hope and joy. He offered them all, young and old, words of hope and encouragement, as well as hardheaded practical advice, ranging from "Education is critical to success" to "Now you men should be careful of going with prostitutes--you could catch a disease."
Finally, it was 2 p.m., his last scheduled appointment for the day. And here was I. I had been allotted several hours each afternoon to collaborate on our book, and I was here to collect. Our meetings were far from chatty téte-â-tétes, however. In fact, I often gave him no end of difficulty as we struggled to reconcile East and West, pestering him with endless questions, a fair proportion of which he labeled so silly or impossible to answer that it had become a running joke between us, trying even his legendary patience.
Standing outside on his bougainvillea-draped porch, with the majestic snowcapped Dhauladhar Mountains of northern India as a backdrop, the Dalai Lama greeted me warmly as he led me inside his home. Little had changed in this room since our first meeting twenty years before. The same traditional Tibetan thanka paintings lined the pale yellow walls, the same Buddhist shrine covered with ornate Buddhist icons at one end of the room, and the same floor-to-ceiling relief map of Tibet dominating the opposite wall. Even the modest furniture appeared to be the same, although it's possible the sofa may have been reupholstered.
As I unpacked my notebooks and fumbled with my tape recorder, we spoke casually about some of his activities and meetings earlier that day. The Dalai Lama generally scheduled our meetings for his last appointment of the day, so as I loitered in the attached reception room waiting for our meeting to begin, I often had the opportunity to observe the collection of individuals who came to meet with him. On that day in particular I was struck by the diversity of individuals seeking his time and counsel, people coming to visit him from all corners of the earth.
Thinking about this as I began our session, I said, "You know, I couldn't help but notice how many different kinds of people come to see you, people with various professions, all sorts of jobs. And I was thinking about how you also are involved in so many different kinds of activities. Now, this week I want to focus on the topic of work . . ."
From The Art of Happiness at Work. Copyright The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Riverhead Books.
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