The Compassion of a Cat’s Nipple: The Dalai Lama at San Diego State University

by on April 21, 2012 · 14 comments

in Culture, Popular, San Diego

Sometimes in life we get very cool and much unexpected surprises.  Yesterday was one such.  I am working with a fledgling group of folk who are starting a local chapter of Mediators Beyond Borders International (the story behind this group I will save for another post).  Our fearless leader is an energetic woman, Yvette Durazo, whom I met through a training session in Restorative Justice.   When you are with Yvette, just buy the ticket and go along for the ride, she is one of those folk who simply inspire.

A few weeks ago, she sent me an e-mail and asked if I would like to attend the Dalai Lama event with her at San Diego State University.  I had already decided I would not spend the $30 – $70 to see a spiritual leader (it simply does not sit right with me… sort of a Jimmy Swaggart thing), but I have yet to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, and so I accepted her invitation.

It is beginning to seem, when an event in my life is to be positive, it by necessity needs to be an early rise.  I have also noted I have been using some form of the word “groggy” a little too often in my writings.  To avoid that particular description, yesterday, I had two full cups of coffee in me before I met Yvette at the Old Town Trolley Station for our trip to SDSU… at 7:30 a.m.   Seems we were not the only folk to have the idea to take the trolley, and with each stop closer to the campus, we got fuller and fuller.

I had not taken the trolley to SDSU before and the campus has changed so much in the 35 years since I graduated from there (yup, 35 years ago next month…I believe I am officially old).  Signs directed us to the Viejas Arena, but we generally followed the crowd lemming-like.  At one point two large group lines converged and there was an apparent controversy regarding the fusion of the two groups.  I overheard one young lady opine loudly, “Hey you’re cutting in…isn’t this supposed to be about peace and love today.”  I smiled.

The irony of being searched for contraband and weapons before entering the arena was not lost on me, particularly in light of the person we were to see and the subject matter of which he would speak.  Surprisingly, though, cameras were allowed.  Enjoy the photos.

It was still a good 45 minutes before we had to be inside (the doors closed at 9:00 a.m.) but there really was no reason to wait in the patio area, and to our sits we went.  And I am glad we did.  As soon as we entered the arena, I could hear the beat of Native American drums and the subtle chant of the drummers’ voices.  Below, on either side of the dais, were two large groups of Native American dancers, the Soaring Eagles, in full ceremonial dress.  The energy generated by these shiny faced children, gently moving elders and dervishly dancing youth could not have been a better preface of what was to come…and it kept me from having to use the word groggy.

Following 30 minutes of dancing, like a large family the Soaring Eagles moved in slow line off the floor, only to be replaced on the dais by a young man with a classical guitar. I wish I could have understood the announcer when he said the young man’s name, but as with all PA systems, I can rarely make out what is being said.  For the next 20 minutes he played beautiful classical guitar with such a soulful and peaceful look, I was inspired to add classical guitar to my iPod when I returned home.

As the arena slowly filled, I was surprised how the noise level of 12 thousand people could stay so low.  There was, however, anticipation in the air, I believe because no one really knew what to expect from the man who would speak to us.  Of note, Bob Filner was cruising the crowd, doing that campaign thing.

I was more than a little surprised to find Sheriff Bill Gore and his wife sitting directly across the aisle form me.  I introduced myself (why do they always laugh when I tell them I write for the Rag? Rhetorical), and asked him what had brought him to the event.  It was his wife apparently.  I asked what he expected to hear, and he told me, “I expect it will be something about patience and tolerance.  But I hope it is not just a Rodney King thing, “why can’t we all just get along.”  I am interested in what he has to say.”  At least it is far cry from the Sheriff for whom I worked in the 70’s.

Then it was time….

Amid a standing ovation His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet made his way to dais followed by SDSU President Elliot Hirshman, Mayor Jerry Sanders and Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs.  His Holiness acknowledged us by bowing, hands together in front of his forehead, to all corners of the arena.  And then with a smile and an “oh stop it” gesture, he silenced us and motioned for us to sit down.

After an introduction by Hirchman, presentation of the key to the City by Sanders and remarks by Jobs, donning a red SDSU visor (which he wore the entire time), His Holiness tapped the microphone and  asked, “My turn?” before he addressed the arena.

The theme of the event was, Compassion Without Borders: Science, Peace, and Ethics and for the following hour, he addressed the subject of compassion from a simple but extremely integrated perspective.  With an emphasis on individual, community and universal wellness he focused on the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental aspects.  He brought home the idea of compassion as the basis for a healthy world.

With the potential for good and the potential for destruction, we need to focus on constructive emotions.  Those emotions based in fear, anger, and frustration will bring about destruction.  Those emotions based in love and compassion work for the good.  To gently drive the point home, His Holiness used the example of an infant with its mother, regardless of species.  If the newborn does not experience love and compassion from the mother, it will not survive.  Even kittens with their eyes tightly shut seek out the “nipples” of the mother cat.  The mother cat must wait compassionately for the kitten to find the nipples and when the kitten finds the nipples, “he looks so very happy.” (here, he gestured with his hands in circular motions to his chest, the translator chuckled and told him “nipples”).  He went on to say, it is the same with dogs, birds, “some turtles,” and even alligators.  “Some very small turtles, he told us, “are left behind by their mother and so many of the small turtles will not survive; what a pity.”

So too, at the end of life, we need affection and compassion.  Regardless of money, fame, physical strength or education, we all need affection at the end of our days.

He has traveled to many countries from his home in exile, India.  And what appears to be paradise on the outside has an underside which is full of worry, fear, anxiety and those sorts of things which add to those emotions such as drugs and alcohol.  Do not blame others (Mexico) for our problems.  Our problems are in our head.  Physical comfort cannot subdue mental pain.

His Holiness warned against material development only for physical good, the loneliness of the wealthy, the widening gap between rich and poor.  Not only is it morally wrong, but is practically wrong.  “It is very sad. One human has surplus, while another human on this planet with the same basic human rights must be dominated and suffer at the hands of another.”

He has a concern of new disease, the disease of corruption and “bullying.”  Citing a lack of self-discipline through moral principle, he called for the development of new moral ethics.  And not moral ethics based strictly on religion, “because it can be so very narrow…and because some who have religious faith are not really serious [about it].”  He called for a new approach to ethics not based on religion, but secularly inclusive, including non-believers.  True secularism does not disrespect religious tradition, but incorporates it.

I found his discussion of competition interesting, and something I picked up from the Maori in New Zealand.  Competition is very good, if it is based upon respect and the result is to have another reach their full potential.  Extreme competition is destructive, however, and it would be best to focus on infinite altruism as a basis for competition.  As for anger it is good when it is out of concern of others. When it is fostered by the ill-feelings toward others, it is then destructive.  And fear based upon legitimate cause (preparation for an earthquake) is healthy, not when it is based, however, in loneliness, distrust and ignorance.

His Holiness closed his remarks by telling us, the world now has 7 billion “we’s.”  This should not be the basis for fighting and bullying.  It should be a time to develop individual potential for inner peace and universal peace.

For the next half an hour, he took prepared questions from the gathering;

On forgiveness, he made a point of separating the act from the actor.  We should have concern for the actor, while condemning the act.  But as to forgiving and forgetting, why bother to forgive, if you have forgot?

Regarding technology, he made it clear no one tells us to spend seven hours watching television, it is, “our own mistake.”  While enjoys the Discovery Channel, watch the news in the morning over breakfast, it will make a “job for your eyes, ears and mouth.”  But above all, parents must spend more time with their children.

He has hope for the new generation.  The 20th Century was a time for discovery and bloodshed.  The 21st Century must be a time of peace. We can change.  When asked the “best” way to achieve this, His Holiness told us he does not like the word “best.”  Too often it means the quickest and cheapest.  It takes time and patience to provide maximum affection and introduce a holistic view of the world.

His inspirations?  “Buddha, of course.”  But he is also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Vaclav Havel as people who have been dedicated to the wellbeing of others without violence.

He closed his comments on finding one’s true path and how to let go of pain.  The future has no guarantees, but it is open with opportunity.  What the future will hold is dependent on one’s self confidence and do not think with blinders on. Wisdom is a holistic view. And one should be reminded we all feel pain, and we should be reminded of our pain from time to time.  It is these memories which give us determination and drive us forward.  Do not let pain become lost hope.

Remember always, Truth and Honesty is the source of respect.  While the power of force is short term, it is the power of truth and honesty which prevail in the long term.

Did I leave the event enlightened?  Not really.  Many of the concepts and ideas of which His Holiness spoke were ideals of which I work toward and focus on contemplatively each day.   Was I optimistic?  Indeed I was.  When I can sit an arena of 12 thousand people and observe the absorption of ideas which have either lain dormant or unheard of to so many, I do believe His Holiness was correct.  It is the new generation which will be able to build on what he had to say, and it is up to our generation to help guide.  Compassion need not be a concept, but a way of life and should truly be borderless.

Peace, and Namaste, Jack

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna Daniels April 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

Jack, I finished your article and then sat here listening to Concierto Aranjuez by Rodrigo. It was the perfect pairing.
Namaste, Anna


Jack April 21, 2012 at 10:30 am

Anna…you make me happy.


doug porter April 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm

this may come as a shock (b/c he’s not known for being particularly spiritual), but the article also went well with Tito Puente….something about the optimism…


Jack April 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Good choice too Doug…but I recommend against Rage Against the Machine or Huskerdu.

What I failed to mention, is if you were neither able to attend nor watch the streaming video, you can watch the USD and UCSD events on May 21 (8:00 p.m.) and May 28 (8:00 & 9:00 p.m.), respectively, on UCSD-TV. The SDSU event will be aired on May 3 (8:00 p.m.) on KPBS-TV.

And one final note…

I did mention how I dislike paying to see a spiritual leader. At the end of the talk, the controller for SDSU addressed the arena indicating no public funds were used, the admission fees and sponsorships paid for the events and the approximately $50K left over was to be donated to local charities. Now that’s the way to run a “church.”


Yvette April 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Jack, I was laughing about how you started the article, the most important thing to write about was Dalai Lama, not how we got there?. Nevertheless, with your introduction, it shows that it is on each and every single of us to make a difference. But is another story, when we join forces to make things happen, it just HAPPEN, and that is why we met to help the community restore peace, justice and empowerment.

I liked the fact, that our ticket cost is going to charity.


Tom April 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Jack. . . great article, and storytelling. As to your question “Did I leave enlightened”? This reader disagrees. . . Your early rise, lines at the trolley, lines at the arena, being searched for weapons, witnessing campaigning politicians who can’t help themselves – to experience the contrast of His Holiness and his simple truths and wisdom. Sounds to me like Mission Accomplished!



Jack April 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Good catch Tom, even the Dalai Lama admits to being open each day to learn something new is the path to wisdom…I spoke unwisely. I had narrowed my focus and was looking with blinders. Looking back, it was a much more enlightening experience than I had intially pondered. I had not begun to incorporate all the levels and layers of the event. Rather than redaction though, I believe I will refer to it as a change of perspective.



Christine Schanes April 21, 2012 at 5:34 pm


I read your article with great interest. 12 thousand people quiet at SDSU – amazing. At USD the day before, I was struck by the fact that the many fewer thousands of people in the audience were not quiet outside the pavilion as we waited to enter the facility.

I didn’t understand the noise. But, as I spoke with different members of the audience, I was delighted to learn that they were excited to see the Dalai Lama and their excitement expressed itself to me as noise.

I found the Dalai Lama to be happy, genuine, and compassionate. He delivered a simple important message with great sincerity. Certainly, seeing him is a highlight in my life.



Jack April 21, 2012 at 8:52 pm

As I posted above, I really was in awe of the attention paid to His Holiness. At one point a chair fell over somewhere up above in the stands. It was deafening, and not because it was on audio. It was simply that quiet in the arena. And not one, really not one, cell phone went off that I could hear.



OB Mercy April 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Loved reading all this and thank you for letting us know it will be aired on those channels. I’m a life long Buddhist and was not able to get even one ticket to this. I have been SO sad about it, so again, thanks for letting us know.


Elena April 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm

The guitarist’s name is Bill Jones. He has performed at a number of San Diego State University events and is wonderful! Here is a link to his bio –


Jack April 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Thank you Elena


Marian Liebowitz April 27, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Dear Jack,
Thank you for acknowledging the amazing performance of the guitarist who “opened” for the Dalai Lama. His name is Bill Jones, and he is one of the many amazing student and alumni performers available to the community via the SDSU Adams’ Project Performers Network. Glad too you got such a great photo of Bill!


Jack April 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Thank you Marian

Am glad to find out who he was. I tried to conduct a web search, but did not have much luck…as in none.

As I commented previously, the arena was strangely quiet. You could easilty carry on a conversation, but many people were simply comtemplating what was too come, and whether they knew it or not, they were meditating. It was Bill’s music and his persona which added to the calming of the situation. I will never forget how very joyously content he appeared as he played flawlessly.

If you read this Bill…thank you.


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