After much ado, I made it to Seattle’s Qwest field to see the Dalai Lama on Saturday. His visit to Seattle over the past five days has been a part of the Seeds of Compassion, a gathering to “celebrate and explore the relationships, programs and tools that nurture and empower children, families and communities to be compassionate members of society.” It wasn’t solely a Buddhist program, but who better to bring knowledge of the spiritual importance of compassion than the Dalai Lama. You can’t get that shit from the Pope, no matter how hard my mom tries to convince you.
After I returned home, I had a message from my mother wanting to know if I’d shaved my head and joined a monastery. Sometimes I wonder if the entirety of our relationship is going to be filled with her misunderstanding my connection to someone like the Dalai Lama or a religion other than Catholicism.
When I told my mother I was going to see the Dalai Lama, she was concerned. She expressed her misgiving that I was starting to hang out with a bad crowd. While most parents spend time worrying that their children will become involved in a gang or start drinking and doing drugs or get pregnant, my mother worries that I’ll find enlightenment. Good Catholics aren’t meant to be enlightened, they are meant to live in the dark, free from consideration that maybe the Bible is a beautiful work of fiction and Jesus was just a regular-ass guy.
He wears rags! That’s not normal!
What should he wear?
A suit, just like everyone else! Like the Pope.
The Pope wears a robe and a huge pointy hat and carries a sceptor. That’s not normal.
He wears a suit under that and he doesn’t wear rags!
It’s safe to say that my fallout with Christianity is a sore point with my mother. She’s under the impression that most of the choices I make are based on rejection of whatever she’s taught me; a rejection of her. In fact, I am embracing what she taught me from a very young age, which is the ability to be an independent thinker and not follow others despite my heart and mind. Unfortunately for her, this newfound freedom to follow my own path has meant that it has, often, diverged from her own.
I am sure that my interest and beliefs related to Buddhism or any religion that isn’t Catholicism is bound to be a tough topic with her. I’m not a parent, but I can imagine it may be difficult for one to face the reality that a child grows up and becomes someone very different than you had hoped, like if my child grew up to be Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity. For my mother, it is a more difficult challenge than she’d ever anticipated. It’s not just that I don’t enjoy the Baby Jesus, it’s all the other ways we diverge in ideals, beliefs and opinions. I’m more liberal, I love the ladies, I have cats, I don’t like fruity filling in a cakes. This is not to say that the effort on her part is not there, because I can tell that she tries very hard to understand what happened to make me who I am, this person so very different than she had expected me to be. Recently she told me that she’d worried I was gay because she cut my hair short when I was in preschool. I can see that she’s beginning to wonder if my being led astray has something to do with how she mothered me growing up: maybe she wasn’t around enough, maybe she didn’t show me enough love, maybe she got a little crazy with the scissors, maybe she didn’t enroll me in a tap dancing class. The truth is, I am who I am because she was a great mother who taught me very early on that I could trust myself to make good decisions about how to live life, and those decisions have led me to believe in a religion not her own. This is an incredibly difficult issue for her to grasp from time to time.
So when I told her I was going to see the Dalai Lama she reacted. She wanted to know if I was going to go see the Pope during his US visit, too, and when I told her I wasn’t because he didn’t represent my beliefs, it resulted in the above conversation about “normal” and not. To her, this peace-loving man who has taken a vow of poverty and wears the traditional robes of his faith is weird. To me, the weird one is that Prada-wearing exclusionist who carries a fancy golden stick. At the end of the day, though our religious beliefs are so very far apart, I know that my mother and I share some common spiritual ideals: we are all human beings, we are connected, the world can use more kindness and compassion and we are all just trying to find our way and live life the best we know how. The only real difference is that some of us listen to and learn from a simple Buddhist monk who wears rags and some of us listen to and learn from a pointy-hat wearing, scrunch-faced bigot.
I found the Seeds of Compassion events to be pretty secular, so my mother can feel some relief knowing that I didn’t tie on my bedsheet and run off to Tibet to fight the Chinese. There wasn’t any talk of Buddhist philosophy or beliefs beyond what it means and can mean on a grand scale to be kind and compassionate. The interfaith panel held on Tuesday was probably the closest any event of the gathering had come to sharing beliefs of an organized religion and, even then, it was on how we are the same on the most fundamental of levels, though we may believe different stories. Our common connection is that we are human and that we experience suffering and our common goal is to eliminate that suffering. We can help eliminate suffering through compassion, and we can learn about compassion from the day we are born. To put it simply, the Dalai Lama said it can be summed up as a sort of wise selfishness: There are six billion people on this blue planet and in order for those six billion people to take care of me, I have to take care of them.