personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

The Dalai Lama is right on: altruism rocks

I should try to sleep but I can’t. It’s 4 AM Vancouver time (where I am now), 6 PM Jakarta time (where I was), and 7 AM Montreal time (where I will be). The plane leaving Hong Kong was delayed an hour on the runway so that shortened my connection time here in Vancouver, already tight at two hours. Waiting for my bag at the luggage belt, a creeping sensation that I was about to miss my connecting flight began to sink in. It took one hour for me to retrieve my bag, and I was one of the first.

I ran and ran. Through the doors, handing my declaration card to the customs officer, running down an almost-empty corridor, yelling at the two people walking ahead of me, imploring them to move because there was no stopping me. They said the flight would be not leave until 4:50, and it was 4:48. Times like this reminded me that work trips whack the energy out of me and I was breathless by the time I reached the gate. The plane was just backing up and leaving. I just wanted to be home.

I took the shuttle bus to the hotel with three women about my age complaining about the challenges of travelling through Europe with their children, but how delightful Switzerland was at this time of year. Somehow I just can’t relate. Nor do I ever want to.

Reinvigorated by one of the few hot showers I’ve had in the past week, I ventured outside and simply walked until fatigue set in. During trips like this, it’s so easy to feel grateful for the life I have when I return home. We really do have it easy in Canada. As I walked down the boulevard I got to thinking about the book I’m reading, “Becoming Enlightened” by the Dalai Lama (as I wrote previously, not the usual stuff of my bookshelf). He says that the true path to enlightenment resides in altruism. As he writes, you should “engage in altruistic practices so you can achieve an all-knowing state that will enable you to help others on a vast scale.” Maybe it’s easy for the DL, but for the average person the “vast scale” is not so obvious, at least not to me. But maybe the “vast scale” is not meant to imply that we try to affect as many people as we can, but rather that we make sure our actions are altruistic towards those whose lives we touch, however few people this may be.

I have to admit the Dalai Lama’s got more than a few good points to make. But I have to hold off on believing I will be reincarnated. He’s also managed to surprise me with this little gem on page 79. It’s about practicing meditation effectively and not simply giving the outward appearance of doing it: “In Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, a person who was walking along came upon a fellow who was sitting in meditation. He asked the fellow, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I am meditating patience,’ was the response. So the man said, ‘Then eat shit!’ the meditator lashed back, ‘You eat shit!’ The meditator could not even withstand a little teasing.”

As I end this trip and so dearly look forward to coming home, I am left with countless acts of kindness from people I’ve met, and I think I will most fondly remember Pak Luswi, whose limited English and my even poorer bahasa Indonesia made our conversations sparingly minimal. Pak Luswi greeted Steve and I at the airport in Yogyakarta and made sure that my colleagues and I were well taken care of. From driving us around the city, to providing me with coffee, Lux soap, water and a dental kit on the first day, to having my jeans washed and ironed (pleat down the middle, something I haven’t had done in about 15 years), Pak Luswi’s kindness left me feeling safe and welcome in an unknown city. Terima kasih, thank you, Pak Luswi, hopefully I can become more like you.



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