During my term as Mayor I met a man who was fun to be around.  He was a foreigner and somewhat older.  I felt attracted to him and he seemed interested in hanging out with me.

Soon we started holding hands.  It progressed to the point where he gave me a present of a beautiful silk scarf.  Then we started goofing around together in public.  Before the cat was out of the bag I decided I needed to tell the Big Boss, Mrs. Carlisle, what I’d been up to.  My wife, always happy to have me out of her hair, told me I should spend as much time as possible with my new pal if he was willing to suffer putting up with me.

So began the short period of time I had the pleasure of spending time with and learning from Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.  His Holiness is the recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dalai Lama with keiki horizontal

The Dalai Lama hangs with local keiki during his visit to Honolulu in 2012.

Brian Tseng/Civil Beat

Born in 1935 His Holiness lives as a stateless refugee in India.  At the age of 24 he walked out of the Norbu Lingka palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, with a gun slung over his shoulder, disguised as a bodyguard and without his familiar glasses on.  Thus began his journey to freedom and perpetual exile.

Looking at today’s world he finds many reasons to rejoice. Advances in medical science allow eradication of deadly diseases. Millions have been lifted from poverty with access to education and health care. The ideals of freedom and democracy have spread around the world. Awareness and recognition of human rights has traveled similarly. There is increasing global recognition of the oneness of humanity.

He recognizes we still have miles and miles to go before we sleep. There are millions whose most basic needs are not met. Many endure the suffering and tragedy of armed conflict. Many struggle to get by in the face of inequality, corruption and injustice. We need global recognition that human activity is damaging our planet beyond the point of no return. Pressures of modern life bring stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

After the Dalai Llama left Honolulu he gave me a couple of his books to read.  I learned he believes that something is seriously lacking in the way we humans are going about things.  We are giving too much attention to the external, material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values. He defines inner values as compassion. He defines compassion as a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.

Peter Carlisle Dalai Lama scarf

Peter Carlisle sports a khata, the traditional Tibetan scarf, given to him by the Dalai Lama.

Michael Levine/Civil Beat

Following this path we recognize our core disposition for compassion and learn to combat our more destructive propensities.  We need to display inner qualities of kindness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness and generosity while being averse to displays of greed, malice, hatred and bigotry.

Little of this was what we talked about when we were facing the cameras at a press conference together.  I knew I was speaking to one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders.  I am not by any stretch of the imagination one of the world’s most spiritual people.  I believe the polite term is non-observant.  I anticipated his remarks would be some lively form of sermon.  They were not.

His Holiness knew he was talking to lawyer and politician who spent a large part of his life prosecuting criminals.  As we were having this discussion in front of an audience that included the media he asked me questions about hostility I might have toward the worst of the criminals I had prosecuted.  I let him know that upon conviction I made sure they were cramped in prison for as long as possible and that I harbored no moderate level of anger and hostility towards some of those I prosecuted.  My anger has been overwhelming.

The Dalai Llama said that then I was doing what the criminals wanted me to do.  They wanted to control me and did so by consuming me with anger.  While I was angry I was being chained by the criminal.  The way to cut the chain was to forgive them. Note he said forgive them not release them.

He indicated forgiveness is entirely compatible with subsequent punishment.  A criminal must be held accountable for what they did.  This was music to my prosecutorial ears.  I decided this meant that one of the world’s foremost religious leaders and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize had given me the green light to walk an appropriate monster politely to their prison cell, give them my sincere forgiveness, calmly close and lock the door and then throw the key into a deep dark blue spot in the center of the Pacific Ocean.

Perhaps now is appropriate for a moment of atonement.  I agree I should forgive to purge my anger.  The problem for me is doing it sincerely and completely.  I lack the ability control this emotion.  So for me following this sound advice is more or less an aspirational goal.

I am also fairly certain that His Holiness would also take issue with my suggestion that accountability lasts in perpetuity as suggested by the throwing away of the prison cell key.  My guess is that his faith, spirituality, and hope would allow at some point for redemption.

After the Thanksgiving break, I would like to leave you with my favorite Dalai Lama quote:

Choose to be optimistic.

It feels better.

Disclosure: The Dalai Lama’s 2012 visit to Hawaii was sponsored by Pillars of Peace. The Pillars of Peace program is funded through the Hawaii Community Foundation via the Omidyar Ohana Fund. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.

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