The fundamental problem with writing about an experience as profound as seeing and hearing the Dalai Lama speak is that the feeling it gives you is very hard to verbalise. Thankfully, the man himself has no such problem verbalising complicated concepts, and I came to realise that how he says what he says is as important as what he says. His is a wisdom that is more powerful stated than assumed, and it was wonderful to hear.
The reasons for the Dalai Lama being in Ireland and my being there to see him go back several months. The Possibilities Civic Forum was dreamed up a couple of months ago by three great Irish NGO’s: Children in Crossfire, Afri and SpunOut.ie, groups that do a host of inspiring work on social justice and well-being both at home and abroad. As a long-time member of the SpunOut family, there was no way I wasn’t attending. Their combined resolution to organise an event that could bring individuals and local groups together and energise them in their pursuit to change the way we do things in Ireland was, in every sense, a long time coming.
You could feel the 2,000 strong audience felt the same, as speaker after inspirational speaker was awarded rapturous standing ovations that came from their socks. Richard Moore, the founder of Children In Crossfire and the Dalai Lama’s hero, was a special highlight of the day. Blinded at the age of ten by a rubber bullet in his native Derry, Richard is a truly extraordinary example of forgiveness and compassion. Not only has he let blindness or bitterness consume him, but he’s dedicated his life to helping other children in conflict zones. He even sought out the soldier that shot him, and the two are now friends. It was hard not to well up listening to him speak.
Former President Mary Robinson’s reception was uproarious as she quoted, from a battered copy she carries round with her, article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his or her personality is possible.” Mary emphasised the wording and the truth it outlaid, that getting involved in one’s community is a vital part of a person’s sense of themselves.
The day wasn’t just about big-ticket speakers though. Theatre groups, gospel choirs, poets, traditional musicians and advocates for everything from mental health provision to combating racism through sport showed us in no uncertain terms just how much potential the country has and what, as the title of the forum encouraged us to consider, is possible if we resolve to do it.
One of the things the Dalai Lama focused on in his address was “inner qualities”, the instinct within us that encourages us to be subject to one another, to embrace compassion and reject animus. As he left the audience in Dublin, he showed his own inner quality. Going down the wrong steps off the stage accidentally on purpose, much to the dismay of his handlers, he went over to the row of people in wheelchairs at the edge of the central section of the room, and administered to every one of them, before doing similar on the other side of the room. It was a simple act, but to witness it was truly special. If seeing it encourages everyone in that room to engage in similarly simple but meaningful gestures, then we’ll see that what’s possible is anything we like.