What does exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama have to say to the Gucci, Pucci and Fiorucci crowd? Plenty.
On the first day of a three-day talk in Milan, His Holiness dropped timely knowledge on how religions can work together. After stating that he’s not in Europe looking for converts, (“Everyone should stay with their own traditions”) he touched on keystones of all major religions (love, compassion and forgiveness) and said these should be starting points for working together.
For a first-timer brought up in the solemn Catholic tradition, the biggest surprise was the Dalai Lama’s personality.
He is happy and you know it. He laughs a lot — if you’ve never heard him speak, his online archives are worth a listen just for that — well, because while he is serious, the religious leader is not above a chuckle.
One example: an audience member wanted to know why Tibetans consider being reincarnated as a woman as the highest honor.
The answer: “more attractive” and a throaty laugh.
The Dalai Lama spoke in Tibetan (much to the delight of a small enclave of fellow nationals who got the jokes firsthand, many in traditional striped aprons and long skirts), and brought an interesting look to Italy’s most fashionable city with a maroon-colored visor (“this hat, it doesn’t mean anything religious, it was a gift”) to keep the glare out of his eyes as he read and commented verses from a loose rectangular sheath of papers.
Alas, it wasn’t all smiles. The text chosen for the teachings — Nagarjuna’s “Bohidchitta Vivarana” — wasn’t exactly for those who don’t chew concepts like sunyata over breakfast, but over 8,000 people gave up a holiday weekend (feting the Immaculate Conception and Milan patron St. Ambrose) to spend it in a drafty concert hall in one of the ugliest parts of the city.
Unfortunately, neither Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi nor Pope Benedict were willing to make any effort to meet with him during his 10-day Bel Paese sojourn. While avoiding criticism, the Dalai Lama expressed disappointment — especially about the Pope — and fondly remembered conversations with John Paul II.
Despite the diplomatic snubs, His Holiness did not escape the razzle-dazzle media treatment Italians usually reserve for famous runway models: much ink was spent on his “rider” (fresh flowers and fruit, all mirrors and leather removed from his room) at the mastodonic Hotel Principe di Savoia. He also made the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, nudging Charlize Theron into small type.
He probably got a laugh out of it.