An Afternoon with the Dalai Lama

It was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to write an entry for the USD MBA blog about my reflections on the visit His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama recently made to the University of San Diego. It was such an amazing experience to spend an afternoon with such a wise Teacher – in person, no less!

However, a severe case of writer’s block ensued – days turned in to weeks. Why? It didn’t make much sense, I love to write, and what better way to procrastinate during end of semester/beginning of finals than by creating some time to sit down and to do some “fun work that could technically be classified as homework”?

The problem was that I couldn’t decide what voice to use when writing this blog entry; which Marta did I want to be? There is the business school ex-fixed-income trader & portfolio manager Marta.  And then there is the yoga-therapist/yoga-teacher, philosopher, public speaker, lover of all things Spiritual Marta.

Could I be both; was this a “both/and” or an “either/or” situation?

The Dalai Lama spoke about “Compassion without Borders”.  I finally wiggled out of the vice-grip of the writer’s block when I realized, oftentimes, the deepest and highest border is the wall that blocks the compassion we can show our Selves!  And if we don’t get that sorted, how are we supposed to show compassion to others?

Case of writer’s block cured; I CAN be both Marta’s (to be read: “I told myself to get over myself”).

On a parallel note, is there REALLY room for compassion in a capitalist model? I will come back to this a little later.

Now, I must disclose the fact that I would have never made it to the event if it wasn’t for my dear, amazing friend, and business school colleague, Claire Brown.  She gave me her ticket because she found herself on a sudden trip to Ireland (thank you, Universe, for that!).  So I felt extremely fortunate that I could attend this event in person.  Honestly, I also felt a little guilty, because Claire has devoted so much of her life to service in under-developed areas of the world – well, I just felt like she deserved to go more than I did.

But, again, as the cards played out in the Universal scheme of things, I got the seat.

The thing I will remember most about this afternoon – amongst many noteworthy moments – is when the Dalai Lama walked on stage and took his seat.  His hands were on his knees, his thick socks pulled high, his sandals strapped over his socks.  He looked out over the audience – I am not certain if anyone was breathing, we were all rife with eager anticipation – what would he SAY?

Then he laughed; his laughter melted my heart.  His laugh came from a pure place of joy.  Although reincarnation is not an “accepted philosophy” in my religious background, if EVER there was a time I believed in reincarnation, it was in that moment.  His laughter vibrated with a wisdom that could only be accumulated through 14 lifetimes… and he chose to gift us with it!

I will never forget that laugh and smile.  This man has witnessed some of the most hostile and hate-filled traumas, the violence, the heartbreak, yet because he very specifically chooses his attitude, he still smiles and laughs.

Apart from the laugh, there were two questions, posed by the audience, which I also consider to be highlights of the afternoon.

The first question, paraphrased, was: How can you choose and feel compassion for people who show no remorse?

His Holiness responded – without flinching – that these people (aka. the super mean, violent, tyrannical people) are the ones that deserve the MOST compassion.  He advised us to feel pity and compassion for these people, because their actions are born out of ignorance and a “not knowing better”.

Wow.  This advice sounds great – but, man, my own ignorance was bubbling up because the courage to execute that in the face of real life and death injustice, well I just don’t know if I have that in me.

He then went on to relay a story about one of his dear friends and fellow activists that was imprisoned. He received a letter this man wrote to him whilst in prison; in the letter, the man mentioned he was in real danger, which the Dalai Lama initially thought meant his life was in danger.  After the man’s release, when they were reunited, the Dalai Lama asked him what he meant?  The man responded: I was in danger of losing compassion for my enemies.

When I heard that story, I was humbled.  Because if that guy can sit in a prison, potentially experience physical trauma, receive gross injustice, AND still be concerned about compassion, certainly there are some small tweaks I can make in my own life to show a little more compassion to my fellow human beings.

And if I don’t know how to yet, well, don’t I at least owe it to the World – out of respect for people who are so much more enlightened to me – to practice and get better at it?

The second question, paraphrased, was: How do you remain optimistic, in spite of what you have seen?

Again, the audience received that gorgeous smile of the Dalai Lama, as he said: Because being optimistic is easier than the alternative.

Again, I was humbled. But it is totally true!  Here is a little self-test.  Think about a situation in your life where the outcome, at the present, is unknown.  Close your eyes and imagine the best possible outcome; note how your body feels.  Now, close your eyes and imagine the worst possible outcomes; note how your body feels.  Optimism is truly easier, and we know this to be true at a very basic level of human connectedness because optimism FEELS better.  It is, simply, easier to be optimistic. 

Now, back to my earlier question: is their room for compassion in the capitalist model?

I believe wholeheartedly that there is more than just space for compassion, but compassion is what is required for sustainable economic expansion.

Now, you may think, “That sounds great Marta, but is it realistic to think that is executable?”

My response: Yes, and I choose to remain optimistic.

Next, you may question my sanity. “Well, optimism sounds nice. But how?”

My response: Well, I am not certain about that one. But I do know that practice makes perfect, and small attempts will eventually accumulate into real positive, impactful change.

Final question you may have: “Well, that’s great for you. But you are just one person.  What about all those greedy leaders in Corporate America who just don’t get it?”

My response: They deserve even MORE compassion and pity.  Their position is born out of extreme ignorance.  Let’s educate them together. The mission statement of USD’s business school is: We develop socially responsible leaders with a global mindset through academically rigorous, relevant, and values-based education and research.

And, Dear Readers, it is TRULY up to us.  There is room for “both/and”; it is not an “either/or” situation.  I believe that even the smallest changes we implement contribute to the greater whole of social change.  None of us have all the answers individually, so let’s figure it out together.

“You were born with Potential

You were born with goodness & trust

You were born with ideals & dreams

You were born with greatness

You were born with wings

You were not meant for crawling, so don’t

You have wings

Learn to use them & fly!”

~~ Rumi, was a 13th Century Sufi Mystic

-Marta Wenker

Marta is a first year International MBA student. Marta has extensive experience in fixed-income portfolio management and consulting. Marta also practices and teaches yoga.

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