June 16th 2012
Most of the time we get pop stars claiming to be godhead.
Tonight we get a godhead bang smack in the middle of the pop star’s arena with the Dalai Lama playing the biggest venue in Manchester.
The arena is packed, whilst onstage, in the middle of a world tour a gentle man holds them in their hands. Dressed in his stage gear of an orange monk get up he strikes a charismatic shape- an Elvis godhead, a spiritual entertainer who actually is genuinely spiritual.
The merch stalls are busy but instead of T shirts it’s religious texts, mystic DVDs and Tibetan flag T shirts which even have skulls on them, proper skulls, mystic skulls that make the rock n roll skulls look a tad cartoonish in comparison…the Dalai Lama is in town and he wants to make you feel good.
Not rock ”Ën’ roll good but spiritually good.
This UK tour is the latest leg on a jaunt that sees him filling stadiums as he approaches 80. His last big hit may have been decades ago but he still commands the stage with his guru like presence and his funky monk act that has enthralled audiences the world over, apart from China- which is a bit awkward and we will come to later.
The Dalai Lama is in town and every neo- hippie and nice person in the north of England is here, clutching his merch and opening their hearts to his plain and simple message that a bit of love can go a long way.
The message of compassion is good but can’t be that easy to spread when you are an exile from your own country.
The fact is that it’s not easy being a Dalai Lama in the 21st century.
Born Lhamo Dondrub in 1935, to a farmer and horse trader called Choekyong Tsering in the Chinese village of Taktser, he was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. An unlikely curveball arrived when he was two, he was discovered, by a method that may not impress the skeptical, to be the incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama.
In a pretty random process, a search party was sent out, headed by a Tibetan “regent” or senior holy man. All they had to go on was the fact that the head of the recently-embalmed Dalai had mysteriously turned north-east, so that’s where they went. At a sacred lake, Lhamo La-tso, the regent had a vision of a one-storey house with distinctive tiling and guttering in the district of Amdo.
They found the mud-and-stone house, and the child inside it. To settle any doubt about his identity, they’d brought some of the 13th Dalai Lama’s old toys, and some toys that had no connection with him. Young Lhamo confidently picked out all the Lama’s belongings, shouting: “That’s mine!”
Fortunately they somehow stumbled up the right man. I don’t know whether you can learn to be a Dalai Lama but he really has this guru thing down perfectly and is utterly believable in his teachings- a mesmerizing and humorous speaker.
This incarnation of the Buddha is living a very different time from when the Buddha himself contemplated the meaning of everything underneath a tree in North India.
These days it’s about being on tour and wearing Gucci shoes, but then the original Buddha was a young prince so are things really that different?
The Dalia lama describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk and deals with all the contradictions that come his way like ”Ëbeing the only incarnation of the Buddha who has ever guest-edited Vogue Paris. He’s the only spiritual leader of millions who has ever flogged a 1966 Land Rover on eBay and appeared in an advertisement for Apple. He is probably the only Nobel Prize winner on the planet who has Sharon Stone and Richard Gere on speed-dial.’
He drinks tea with world leaders and celebrities and spreads his simple wisdom. It’s remarkable that this kind of stuff still makes people feel good in these dark and cynical times. The Dalia Lama is having none of this cynicism though and talks gently of looking after the planet, loving eachother and how there is hope for the future with the young people.
It’s not often that anyone ever says anything nice about young people and they look quite flushed with this rare piece of praise and also for the fact that anyone under 25 could get in for free to hear it.
For 50 minutes he stands there talking, telling simple stories, explaining who and why he is and how he became a Dalai Lama and how his country was invaded by the Chinese in the late fifties. He tells us how he doesn’t demand independence, just a degree of self determination to look after the Buddhist scriptures that not only mean so much to his people but the 300 million Chinese who follow the teachings of the Buddha.
In a career that spans more than half a century the Dalai Lama has been thrilling audiences with his simple homilies and his story telling were he makes the complex simple and the difficult funny. He chuckles and the whole room chuckles with him, his eyes twinkle and they fill the room with gooey love stuff.
He has a genuine charm and straight down the line honesty and the second half of the show sees him do a Q and A with his assistant.
Of course he has his critics, some say he heads the world’s biggest feudal system and that he is a privileged leader of a nation of poor but you don’t get to be this big on showbiz without the doubters and the critics and the internet trolls. On pure charisma and message terms the Dalai Lama is still number one and if all the stuff he says is true then it’s worth listening to.
These are dark and difficult times and sometimes you need to hear the words of an elder who has the wisdom to help you get through.
The monks at all around me are beaming and the neo hippies are glowing, the Dalai Lama has rocked the house and given good value for the money. The feel good message has massaged many furrowed brows and the five doses of mediation a day heavyweight wisdom champion of the world leaves the stage and there is not a dry soul in the house.