The Dalai Lama Center will be hosting Sharon Salzberg this week for The Power of Meditation and Lovingkindess (tickets). We had the chance to ask Sharon if she wanted to tell us about an experience with his Holiness that embodied true compassion and lovingkindness. This is what she shared with us:
I have a story that I've been telling for a long time, and I wrote about it in my first book, Lovingkindness, because I think it was a moment that redefined compassion for me in a way that has never changed. It was back in 1979, and as you know I'm one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society which is in Barre, Massachusetts. At the time, Bob Thurman was a professor at Amherst College, which is about forty five minutes away [from IMS], and he invited the Dalai Lama to come visit [the school]. So when we heard that the Dalai Lama was coming to the area, we sent off a letter to his private office and said, we're a meditation centre and many of us study Buddhism in India or Asia, and maybe his Holiness would like to come visit IMS as well.
To our amazement we got a letter back from him saying he would come. It was totally crazy for us. Even though security was nothing like it is now, it was very stringent compared to our daily life. We had blockades, state troopers patrolling the roofs with guns… It was this insane scene. But just before [his Holiness] came, I'd been in a car accident and had broken a bone in my foot, so I was using crutches. On the day the Dalai Lama was coming, I was standing in the very back behind about one hundred people who were outside waiting to greet him. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, thinking, 'Here I am, one of the people who started this place, and I'm stuck in the back. I should really be in the front, but I'm such a klutz on these crutches…. I'd probably fall on my face right in front of him, and that'd be really bad, so I should probably stay in the back, but, oh, this is terrible.
Then suddenly his Holiness' car pulled up in the middle of this zoo-like scene, and he got out of the car and he did something that I'd never seen before, but I've seen many times since. He seems to have this instinct for who in the crowd may be suffering the most -- and that was me. He got out of the car, he cut through a hundred people, he came up to me, he took my hand, he looked me in the eye, and he asked, "What happened?
And that was the moment I realized: he couldn't make the car accident not happen, and he couldn't make me any more skillful in my use of the crutches, but that horrible feeling of being so unseen, so unacknowledged, and stuck in the back -- it was gone. And I thought, that's what compassion means. Sometimes you can't fix it. Sometimes you can't make the pain go away. All you can do is be there in that full presence, in that acknowledgement of what is… and one of the most corrosive, painful aspects, which is feeling so isolated and alone, that can go away.