Experience of Meeting with His Holiness
TibetNet, November 11, 2004
Guy Lieberman is one of the oldest supporters of the Tibetan cause. He has been actively involved in many of the Tibet related campaigns in South Africa and other parts of the world. He was one of those who worked relentlessly in facilitating His Holiness? recently concluded visit to South Africa. Through TibetNet, he shares his experiences of meeting with the 89? Nobel laureate and being blessed by the epitome of peace, champion of non- violence and heart of the Tibetan spirit.
Report Courtesy ? Oot, South Africa
In April of 2000 I travelled with Qhuzulini John Sithole, the chairman of the African Cultural Heritage Trust (the Trust) to Bangalore, southern India. We went on the invitation of Tibet House, as Cape Town had just celebrated the African event of the World Festival of Sacred Music in December of ?99, His Holiness the Dalai Lama?s millennium initiative of which I was the director. Bangalore hosted the global event of the same festival, so Sithole, his Zulu band and some committee members went as performers to represent South Africa. The event itself was successful, but the pinnacle moment was when we met with His Holiness to request, on behalf of the Trust, a visit to South Africa to meet with Amasikho ? those who continue to live and promote a traditional lifestyle. His Holiness accepted our invitation, and this, the third visit of His Holiness to South Africa, took four years to manifest. Below I will highlight some of the events I was blessed to witness.
He landed in Johannesburg on Wednesday morning, 3rd November. We turned up at the airport well in time for His Holiness? arrival, only to discover that his plane was 30 minutes early. This information sent a buzz of activity through the VIP lounge amongst the protocol personnel, the Office of Tibet representatives, the few hosts who had arrived to meet him and state security. One could taste the tension, until His Holiness entered the lounge walking very slowly, taking in the scene, greeting everyone he passed and smiling... and a collective sigh of relief was felt by all who had been preparing for the visit.
Accommodated at the beautiful Westcliff hotel on a rocky outcrop overlooking Jo?burg, the delegation settled in and the following day the visit began in earnest. As liaison for the visit, I shared the responsibility of ensuring that the Jo?burg leg of the visit ran smoothly, and together with the small dedicated team we created a most colourful itinerary. On Thursday morning we launched with a media conference to a packed ballroom at the hotel, where the first question (and the second, and the third) revolved around the newly elected President Bush, his foreign policy and the war in Iraq. His Holiness fielded these questions skilfully and with his unique brand of humour, commenting at first that this was American business. He did, however, mention that both President Bush and Senator Kerry were friends of his, and he did not feel there was too much difference between the two, which seemed to satisfy the members of the media. Sithole, the official host for the visit, sat to the Dalai Lama?s right in traditional skins. The contrast of the elegant colonial ballroom, the Zulu regalia and the Dalai Lama?s robes created a sense of both cultural depth and universality. His Holiness then travelled to the magnificent Lamrim Buddhist Centre to bless the temple, plant a tree and meet with local Buddhists for a question and answer session in the hall.
The following three events were held at the Nedcor Foundation offices, a funding agency connected to a large banking group. It was here that His Holiness lunched with business leaders and dignitaries, to discuss business ethics, wealth and poverty, charity and kindness. Among the twenty guests were the chairman of the Nedcor board, Mrs Thambo (the late Oliver Thambo?s wife), Tim Modise, who is a leading journalist and chairman of the Proudly South African campaign, and Mike Boon of the Vulindlela Network and author of The African Way, a book on conducting business based on African ethics, who mediated the meeting. The guests received the Dalai Lama very well, and a solid discussion took place which seemed to benefit everyone. It seemed to me that the sense of contraction in the air as His Holiness entered relaxed over the time everyone was together, until by the end of the meeting these ?power people? were responding very warmly to the experience.
The Dalai Lama was then taken to a small room across the hall where he met Sannusi Dr Credo Mutwa, considered the highest [sub-Saharan] African shaman alive today. Being a great mystic, Dr Mutwa, who is over 80 years of age, focused primarily on the energetic element of His Holiness and his spiritual role in the world. His insistence that His Holiness central purpose on Earth was to bring peace to the planet did not seem particularly unique (we all sense this), until he threw the bones for the Dalai Lama. The throwing of the bones is an ancient African technique of divination, and only the most highly skilled adepts can accurately read the messages therein. But when Dr Mutwa gasped and pointed at the pile of items spread on the floor, nobody missed the synchronicity: for there, right in front of His Holiness, was a carved hand, and upon it lay a small sword, and right next to the hand was a gun fashioned from wood. ?Your hand, Your Holy One, stops the sword,? stated the Sannusi. The Dalai Lama scanned the rest of the pile, and pointed out a small upturned carved wooden car resting on it?s roof. ?I like technology, so what can that mean?? he asked half-jokingly, to which Dr Mutwa responded, ?Oh, that?s nothing to worry about... that car is simply making love to the sky,? to which His Holiness and the others witnessing the divination burst into laughter.
The final meeting at Nedcor took place with a delegation of Paramount Chiefs who make up the House of Traditional Leaders, as well as leaders of African religion, to discuss the role of culture and heritage in a modern world. The traditional leaders, I found, seemed very much more at initial ease with His Holiness than the business leaders. His Holiness gave some clear definitions regarding his feelings concerning what should be preserved in an ancient culture, and what will inevitably change. It was of little use, he felt, to promote dress and ceremony if the spirit of the people was suffering. He referred to an example whereby a young Tibetan man who had been living in Europe came to visit him in Dharamsala. The youth, as he described it, had ?big yellow hair, not very Tibetan? and modern clothing, but when he spoke about Tibet to the Dalai Lama, this young man cried with a deep yearning. His Holiness felt that the Tibetan spirit was alive and well in the lad, regardless of his dress and appearance. In general, much of what he discussed with these leaders was taken closely to heart, and I discovered from Sithole after the event, that many felt they had found an ally in the Dalai Lama.
On Friday morning His Holiness visited the CIDA City Campus, an inner-city university in Jo?burg for under-privileged African youth. CIDA is almost totally subsidised by donors, and they offer one central accredited degree: business. While they have many extra curricula activities, including TM meditation (which most of them practice every morning), African dance, sports, martial arts, gardening and an assortment of other such programmes, the vision behind the university was to apply one major and practical degree which could be used anywhere, and encourage a sense of entrepreneurship. His Holiness was totally impressed with the campus and the students, and spoke for longer than we had planned, responding to the well thought out questions, ranging from issues of race, the gap between rich and poor, meditation techniques and the value of education. It was here that he met briefly with Sir Richard Branson, who is one of CIDA?s supporters.
That day he also spoke at Wits University to a packed house at the Great Hall, and then met with thirty members of YPO (Young Presidents Organisation) at the hotel where the general topic focused on how industry presidents and CEO?s can maintain a sense of humanity coupled with the high pressures of leadership and success. The following Saturday morning, His Holiness gave a public talk at Vista University in Soweto on the Role of Arts and Heritage in a Modern Society, and then launched the Zindala Zombili Traditional Dance and Music competition, the flagship project of the Trust, and was witness to some magnificent ancient Khoisan dancing.
Thereafter he left for Durban, and met with King Goodwill Zwelithini and Chief Buthelezi, both Zulu leaders from Kwazulu Natal. As I was not in Durban for that leg of the visit, I can only report that besides these two meetings, also met with the Divine Life Society. The Tibet Society of South Africa hosted His Holiness in Durban and held a successful day and a half of teachings the Six Perfections and Mind Transformation, which according to His Holiness went very well. It is likely you will hear from them in more detail on the days the Dalai Lama spent in Durban.
I will close with an aspect of the visit that I left out of the above chronology, and that was the very last event on the Friday, in Jo?burg. Nelson Mandela had requested an audience with His Holiness the Thursday prior, and we set the time for after our last event that Friday. We met at the offices of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the Dalai Lama and Madiba (his clan name by which Nelson Mandela is affectionately known) met privately for half an hour. When they came out we gathered briefly together, took some photographs, and then departed. There was a very sweet moment where I approached Madiba, shook his had and thanked him, and then left with His Holiness and the delegation. I turned back to look at both the great men, and wondered to myself that this might well be the last time these two meet one another in this life... and then the Dalai Lama turned around, held up his hand in a gesture of farewell to Madiba and said ?See you again! See you again!?
Saying farewell at the airport yesterday morning and receiving some moments of reflection on the visit from His Holiness, everyone there sensed that it had been, for him, a most successful and eventful experience here in South Africa. We were once more blessed to have him on our soil. I should mention here that this was also the first time that the current Representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Africa, Jampal Chosang and Tashi Wangdu, held the responsibility of such a visit. They dealt with the myriad details brilliantly, and much of the success of the visit rests on their shoulders.
May the merit of His Holiness? presence here spread goodness across this amazing country, and through the hearts of her people.