Lehigh University
Lehigh University


“Simple monk” ends historic Lehigh visit

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama arrives at Stabler Arena.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama concluded his historic six-day visit to Lehigh University Tuesday afternoon, telling the thousands who listened to his daily teachings on one of the most important ancient Tibetan Buddhist texts that their journey has just begun.

“I, as a simple Buddhist monk, am extremely happy to have lectured on this book, on this text,” the Dalai Lama said at the end of Tuesday afternoon’s final session inside Stabler Arena. “Of course, my own knowledge is still very limited.”

Since Thursday afternoon, the spiritual and state leader of Tibet taught from Tsong-kha-pa’s The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment: The Lamrim Chenmo, for two hours each morning and two hours each afternoon except Sunday, when he gave a sold-out public lecture titled, “Generating a Good Heart.”

The Dalai Lama said he first developed “a genuine interest” in the book when he was just 16 years old.

“So now, look at teacher,” he said. “Since 16 years old, now 73. Still working on it.”

As he walked off the stage for the last time, the Dalai Lama greeted the gathering of monks, nuns and special guests who sat on mats all day throughout his teachings. As he left through a back exit, he briefly stopped to pose for photographs with seven groups of staff, contractors and volunteers who worked behind the scenes to make the event such a success.

Then, at 4:17 p.m., with one final wave and bow, he climbed into his waiting black Cadillac and was whisked off.

The Dalai Lama’s visit attracted worldwide media attention to Lehigh’s Goodman Campus, representing news organizations from as far away as Japan, Korea, and China, as well as Tibetan radio. People came from every continent except Antarctica to attend the teachings, and they came for many different reasons. The teachings drew Buddhists who wanted to learn from their most revered spiritual leader, as well as non-Buddhists who were attracted by the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s universal message of love and compassion.

“I can’t get over the smiles on people’s faces and all of the hugs,” said Lloyd Steffen, the professor of religion studies and university chaplain who organized a year of academic events on Lehigh’s campus leading up to the Dalai Lama’s appearance. “This was a different kind of event for Lehigh.”

And when the teachings came to an end Tuesday afternoon, the crowd sent the Dalai Lama on the rest of his extraordinary journey by chanting three times in unison a prayer for long life that began:

In that Pure Land surrounded by snowy mountains,
You are the source of all benefit and happiness ...

Exceeding expectations

Diana and Joshua W.C. Cutler, on stage during the public lecture Sunday afternoon.

For the past six days, Joshua W.C. Cutler and his wife, Diana, have sat on stage near the base of the throne from which His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama taught from the text that was translated into English under Cutler’s supervision.

The translation of The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment:The Lamrim Chenmo took 14 years, and involved a team of a dozen scholars. The teachings, Cutler told the audience on the first day, is “the culmination” of those efforts.

“The book hasn’t been translated in 600 years,” Cutler said in an interview Monday afternoon. The Dalai Lama agreed to come for the six days of teaching—the most extensive he has ever done in North America on the text—“as a way of honoring that and the importance the book has for the Tibetan people.”

The Cutlers are co-directors of the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center of New Jersey, and were instrumental in bringing the Dalai Lama to Lehigh.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Cutler said. “I’ve never been involved on stage, right nearby His Holiness.”

Even after spending 14 years overseeing the translation, Cutler said the Dalai Lama’s teachings “open up new aspects of the book I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.”

The book, Cutler said, is “something very dear to him and to the Tibetan people. It’s one of their treasures. In Tibetan culture, it’s a highly regarded jewel.”

In her introduction of the Dalai Lama during Sunday’s public event, Lehigh President Alice P. Gast thanked the Cutlers and the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center “for making this day possible. Our relationship with the Cutlers and the Learning Center is something that we value greatly.”

The feeling is obviously mutual.

“It’s exceeded my expectations,” Cutler said of the event. “It’s been such a tremendous pleasure to work with Lehigh, from the president on down. Their enthusiasm is infectious.”

Mary-Beth Harhen viewed the six-day event at Lehigh through two prisms: as a Buddhist for the past eight years, and as director of the academic Senate at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

She flew across country for the opportunity to spend six days learning from the Dalai Lama. “When does he teach for six days in America?” she asked in amazement.

The Great Treatise is “one of the most fundamental texts,” she said. “This is a very important teaching.”

Like many others attending the teachings, Harhen was unable to get a ticket for the public lecture on Sunday afternoon (it sold out in 15 minutes). Still, she said, the public event was especially important because it brought the Dalai Lama’s message to an entirely different audience.

As someone who works in higher education governance, Harhen understands what a massive undertaking it was for Lehigh to put on the event.

“I’ve been very impressed with how smoothly it’s running,” she said. “You’ve created a fabulous thing.”

Looking around Stabler Arena, Harhen added: “The other thing it means is that this hall is blessed. That’s my Buddhist take on it.”

Steffen said he hopes the Dalai Lama’s visit has a lasting effect on the Lehigh community.

“If there were some way to take his message, and make it part of our lives, this would be an even greater event than we’re thinking now,” Steffen said.

His hopes echoed Gast’s closing remarks from Sunday afternoon’s public lecture.

“I hope that this event has brought us all to a deeper appreciation of the spiritual values central to all Buddhist teaching that all people of good will can, and should, honor,” Gast said. “I’m equally hopeful that we can, in turn, give His Holiness a gift by translating his words today into action, buoyed by the sense of peace, compassion and commitment that he conveys in all that he does.”

--Jack Croft

Photos by Douglas Benedict and Theo Anderson

Posted on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

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