[deck]The Dalai Lama visited Eugene, Oregon in May on behalf of a special family hoping to promote compassion, love, and kindness by opening a center for peace.[/deck]
According to the Buddhist calendar, May 10 is the day the first Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born and, after one of the most significant lifetimes in history, the day he died. On May 10 of this year, thousands of people packed Matthew Knight Arena to its capacity to see the man whom many Buddhists believe to be the reincarnation of the original Buddha, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
Before the Dalai Lama came on stage, the crowd was buzzing. Voices young and old sounded in anticipation. Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike counted down the minutes before they would see and hear the most respected contemporary spiritual leader of Buddhism. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.
However, among the thousands there was one woman who had been waiting for this moment for more than a decade, and she was the reason the Dalai Lama was in Eugene for the first time.
Lady Jangchup Palmo is a Buddhist spiritual leader who was born in Tibet. For more than ten years, she wrote a monthly letter to the Dalai Lama. She also met with him on multiple occasions, and through their correspondence, she repeatedly requested he visit Eugene.
Two of Lady Palmo’s sons are also spiritual leaders, and when the Dalai Lama answered Lady Palmo’s request, they helped organize the event with their mother. Jigme Rinpoche was honored to speak on stage to help introduce the Dalai Lama before his talk. Ngaglo Rinpoche, who was also present at the talk and who met with the Dalai Lama afterward along with his mother and brother, is believed to be the reincarnation of the teacher of the man who taught the Dalai Lama.
Both sons have followed in their mother’s footsteps on the path to compassion, despite the crimes against their family and tens of thousands of other Tibetans.
“Her life mission is very much furthering His Holiness’s vision,” says Jigme Rinpoche. “I think she rejoices in the fact that many of the students got to feel his presence. The fact that all of us came together, it’s indeed from a Buddhist point of view, good karma—to be in the presence of one of the most revered men to come to Eugene.”
Lady Palmo and the Dalai Lama both suffered greatly at young ages during China’s invasion of Tibet, but that suffering is likely the reason they became influential leaders of peace and happiness.
Lady Palmo was fifteen years old when the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959, massacring close to 90,000 Tibetans and displacing an entire culture. The survivors crossed the Himalayas and entered a village in Dharamsala, India, where the exiled Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama reside today. During the invasion, Lady Palmo’s parents were murdered and she was shot six times. She survived, only to become a prisoner for two years.
“She lost everything. She lost her home, her loving parents, peaceful country,” says Rinpoche, who translates for Lady Palmo as she prefers to speak in her native Tibetan during interviews. “Initially, a lot of anger, almost hatred toward the Chinese. Even to hear the name China or Chinese, her eyes would go red … extremely angry just to hear that name.”
Sitting with mother and son in the lobby of the Marriott Residence Inn in Eugene, it is difficult to imagine that such a welcoming woman could ever express hatred in any form. Her positive outlook on life, however, required years of training to overcome the crimes that were committed against her and her culture, crimes that left her scarred both physically and mentally.
At one point during the interview, she lifts a pant leg to reveal scars where bullets punctured her skin. Two are near her ankle, indents in her foot where the bullets entered and exited.
Two years after she was shot and taken, her strength returned and she fled captivity. She traveled to Mount Kailash where she met her spiritual teacher. It was under his guidance that she learned to meditate and train her mind. She learned that there was no way to erase the suffering she’d experienced, and the only way to cope was to accept it and forgive those who had harmed her.
“Those who made that decision to kill, attack, persecute … the means they employed was to bring suffering on themselves,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “Understanding the karma, that gave rise to her compassion. She was feeling their misery, so much so that later, when she heard Chinese, she felt so much compassion, so much love.”
Lady Palmo interrupts Rinpoche, ensuring that her son translated her next words correctly: “There came a point of complete equanimity. There was no difference between Chinese and Tibetans—they’re all the same, all looking for happiness.”
She says her attackers were the best teachers, as they were the source of her knowledge of compassion and oneness of humanity.
Lady Palmo’s positive attitude was echoed in the actions of the Dalai Lama at the Mathew Knight Arena. During the event, the Dalai Lama spoke conversationally, engaging with the audience as much from his words as from his own outbursts of laughter that the audience mirrored, even during serious moments.
“We are same human beings. We are human brothers and sisters,” he began. “We are just one small planet; one world. We must make clear concept of oneness of humanity.”
The Dalai Lama discussed the importance of future mothers and their role in teaching compassion to their children through affection.
“We get our affection through our mothers,” he says. “It is in their skin, in their blood.”
Rinpoche and Lady Palmo emphasize separating the impulsive emotions of the brain from our minds in order to rid suffering and practice compassion.
“If you look at your mind, it is distracted. We need to find ways to bring mind home,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “Meditation is a way for you to know yourself, to understand your mind, how it works. Right now you’re at the mercy of situation and circumstances. With meditation, no matter the outer circumstances, you have enormous amount of comfort and ease.”
According to Rinpoche, the U.S. education system often does not look at emotions as a cause of suffering. Educators simply punish students for negative behaviors rather than considering what caused them to act that way. To that end, Lady Palmo and her sons have plans for a Palmo Peace Center as a place to study, contemplate, and reflect on what it means to realize peace. Rinpoche and Lady Palmo say that there are currently no such centers that welcome people from all walks of life and faiths. Their mission is to change that.
“There are many Buddhist teachers, but very few that are actually trying to implement the heart of Buddhist teaching, and I think of all religions, which is promoting these basic human feelings: compassion, love, and kindness,” says Rinpoche. “I’ve said this many times, and [Lady Palmo] feels the same way, that religion alone will not save this planet. We need secular education that addresses these challenges. This is what we’re trying to do, and His Holiness is very much supporting this effort.”
On the Dalai Lama’s last night in Oregon, Lady Palmo and her sons were in Portland with him, speaking about their efforts to build a peace center to promote the values that pervade his talks.
“This kind of education needs to be provided,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “The highlight of his talk was on how important education is. Our policymakers seem to lack this effort to emphasize a need for the emotional intelligence.”
Rinpoche says they intend to open the peace center within two years. And after spending eight months of intensive planning for the Dalai Lama’s arrival, they will begin again. When the peace center is complete, the Dalai Lama told them he would return to Eugene for another visit.
Lady Palmo hopes the center will bring to fruition the Dalai Lama’s wish that humans recognize the humanity in all people.
“First and foremost, we are human beings,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “The path to peace and compassion is the most practical way of sustaining human relationships and mental happiness.”