Monday, December 8, 2008

Ocean of Wisdom

“Ocean of Wisdom”
The Dalai Lama comes to town

I have always looked forward to Thanksgiving. It is a holiday of great significance to Americans in part because it re-enacts and symbolizes the storied history of the early pilgrims and their soon to be vanquished hosts, the Native Americans. I always enjoyed the lavish spread the warmth of family and friends and the pervasive feeling of loving-kindness and compassion displayed to all except of course the thanksgiving turkey. In a perverted sort of way, I confess to especially enjoying the tryptophan induced stupor of eating too much turkey and drinking too much Port.
But this time, I missed this year’s celebration for good reasons. First of all I was in Lagos a place where truly religious ceremonies like Sallah for the Moslems and Christmas for the Christians hold sway, none of this secular religious stuff, and even more important, I was for several hours awash in the “Ocean of Wisdom.”
For many hours beginning at noon, we were all cramped into a crowded hall to listen to His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, speak at the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the eponymous Emanuel Anyiam-Osigwe Anyiam Foundation. The man in question is now being rightly recognized as an important philosopher-sage and as the mission statement of the foundation established in his name states: “While on this plane Chief Anyiam-Osigwe adopted and propagated an approach to existence which is premised on the universality of Truth, and emphasized the harmony that exists in the teachings of such great masters as Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius. His practical application of these universal teachings and principles convey an insight into the feasibility of their application in the context of everyday life towards an improvement of the composite welfare of the individual.” ( http://www.anyiam )
Having been fortunate to have known him, “Papa” as we all fondly called him must have been pleased to have a fellow sage acknowledge and validate his deeply profound teaching, now being published for posterity by the Philosophy department of the University of Ibadan. For a man who could effortless weigh in on “The Cosmic mind, divine Intelligence reveals itself to its chosen individuals of different races and peoples, at different times and at different places, adapting the enlightenment experience to the relevant spiritual, socio-political and economic milieu,” the Dalai Lama was the perfect speaker for the event.
Not surprisingly, the theme of the lecture was “The Unity of The Absolute, the Oneness of All Religions: Value Guided Conduct as a Universal Tenet and Propriety as a Way of Life for Mankind” and his Holiness’ keynote address was on the topic “The Universality of the God Principle, the Sense of Unity in the Teachings of the Great Masters.” Both pretty heavy going for an audience used to more down to earth castigations of bad African leadership that previous speakers in different ways have alluded to.
Seating in that crowed auditorium, the pageantry of contrasts was plain to see. The stiff-limbed pomp and circumstance of the Nigerian elite, channeled through the haughty Nigerian introductions of “My Lords spiritual and temporal…” and the always favorite “all protocol observed.” The latter an abbreviated salutation designed to assuage the fragile egos of Nigerian dignitaries who expect to be “formally mentioned” in every event. Now contrast all that with the Dalai Lama. A small man swaddled in saffron robes, wearing flip-flops, with bright eyes piercing through large owlish glasses. His presence was everything that his Nigerian audience was not.
And instead of a cosmic revelation about, perhaps, Nirvana, His holiness chose to talk about something he has observed in Nigeria, something earthy, something we are all familiar with, poverty in the midst of plenty. His lucid and down to earth exposition on caring, compassion, loving-kindness and our collective responsibility to each other, spoken in his “bad English,” as he put it, went down well with the audience, as did his sly humor and sweeping anecdotes of his life’s journey through many place meeting with many people. It was a truly enlightening encounter.
In the various formal responses by other speakers, the innocent mutilation of his name was in a sense, good comic relief. My favorite was the gentleman who kept referring to “his Holiness the dilemma” as in “I would like to thank the dilemma for making this auspicious trip to Nigeria…” “It is important that the dilemma…”
The significance of this trip to Nigeria will remain subject to debate, but for me it was one more paddle stroke toward “enlightenment.” Me, paddling furiously in my leaky life raft in the sea of Samsara, heading out into the ocean of wisdom.

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