Straight Outta Dharamsala

Behind James A. Beverley's report on the Dalai Lama
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In 1993, Tyndale Seminary professor James A. Beverley traveled from Toronto to Chicago to attend the Parliament of the World's Religions. It was natural for him, as a scholar of world and new religions, to attend this spiritual swap meet. That gathering marked the centenary of a watershed event at which Eastern religions first captured the Western imagination and Swami Vivekenanda went from being, in the words of one unsigned Web article, "a sort of holy vagrant. … to an esteemed holy man who established. … Vedanta centers in a number of American cities."

In 1893, the Parliament's star personality was an apostle of Hinduism; in 1993, the Parliament's most mediagenic figure was a Buddhist who oozed charm and charisma: the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhists, and spiritual leader for many Western seekers.

In a recent telephone conversation, Jim recalled noticing the Dalai Lama's "incredible drawing power" and his "magnetic personality." "The press conference was an amazing thing to behold," Jim told me, "because he held the media spellbound."

Jim was hooked as an observer and followed the Dalai Lama to New York in 1999. There, in Central Park, he heard the Dalai Lama address 40,000 of the curious and the devoted. "I was fascinated by the way his American teaching was diverse," Jim says, noting that there were technical lectures for devotees, while the public lectures toned down the specific Buddhist content.

"He was basically conveying ethics and his belief in fundamental human goodness," Jim says. "He recognized that explicit religious teaching wouldn't have as much appeal, and his listeners were not ready for it. In the Tibetan Buddhist world, the Dalai Lama speaks with much more focus because he speaks to his own followers." ...

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