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Cummings: Seeing The Dalai Lama

(Host) When the 14th Dalai Lama spoke at Middlebury College recently, writer, book designer and commentator Dede Cummings was among those in attendance.

(Cummings) Most people know that the 14th Dalai Lama fled the takeover of Tibet by the Communist Chinese in 1959. He went into exile in India, where he has remained ever since.

Born in 1935 in a Tibetan village close to the Chinese border, he was one of seven siblings. Plucked from the family farm at just two years old, he became the Tibetan religious and temporal leader at 15 .

Tibetan photographer, Sonam Zoksang, of Kingston, NY , was one month old when his parents carried him on their backs to escape the Chinese invasion, leaving everything behind, on the run from guns - and almost certain death. He says, All the people followed the Dalai Lama. Then he adds,the Dalai Lama is precious to me, precious.

Now the Dalai Lama is visiting Middlebury and I want to hear him speak. I spend the night at a friend's farmhouse in Weybridge. I leave for Nelson Arena in the early morning darkness. Barn lights are on, a hard frost has made the leaves brittle, and Orion is still bright in the sky.

We arrive at the College and await the charismatic leader. At last, Middlebury College president Ron Liebowitz introduces Senator Patrick Leahy. Then, two men approach the podium, holding hands. One is the white-haired senator. The other is the saffron-clad monk - the Dalai Lama. He bows over and over to the crowd - now on its feet - and I'm struck by his humility.

Then the Dalai Lama tells a story. He visits the perfect house, in America - a mansion, he says - and while there peeks into a medicine cabinet where he finds a bottle of tranquilizers. So, you see, he says, their life was not perfect, they needed tranquilizers. And he roars with laughter at his own joke!

He calls upon us to work together, forget our political parties, and train our minds with discipline to achieve our utmost.

I am just like you, he says and the audience collectively sighs.

A healthy mind is the most important element for a healthy body, he adds, If you help others, and serve others as much as you can, that's the proper way to lead a meaningful life.

He agrees that modern life has become materialistic, but still he insists that Everything is connected, the whole world, and we must all, collectively, take action to work for peace.

My devoutly Catholic mother once asked, What is mindfulness? And I tried to explain. Start where you are. I said. Be in the present. Now I think that wasn't a bad answer, and as I leave the sports arena, I feel connected, and try to hold onto the moment.

The day is clear. We leave our cars and as we walk into town, I shout to no one in particular, The Dalai Lama is just like us!

Nearby, young people on skateboards and bicycles laugh and turn their heads towards us, as if they already know the meaning of those words.

Dede Cummings, a writer who attended Middlebury College, lives in Brattleboro where she makes books and represents other authors.
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