[Washington Window] Carrying deck chairs and prayer beads, blankets and banners, more than 3,000 people of all faiths came to hear the Dalai Lama‘s Sept. 11 teaching on peace at Washington National Cathedral.
The day dawned fine, but before the sun came up, the earliest arrivals were lining up “just to be in his presence,” said Amy Mokvicky, a self-proclaimed pagan from Pittsburgh.
Mokvicky and her friend Sally Crompton, a Presbyterian, arrived at the cathedral at 3:30 a.m., wrapped themselves in blankets to ward off the cold and staked out a place at the front of the line.
“There’s many paths to the summit,” Mokvicky said of the Dalai Lama’s appeal to people of all religions – and none. “He just addresses every single one of those paths.
“Getting ready to come here, I felt like I was going to see the Beatles for the first time,” she said. “We wanted to put forth a decent effort.”
Both brought wooden mala prayer beads – 108 beads that, to Hindus, represent the 108 names of God – and Crompton carried a string of Tibetan prayer flags to be blessed by the Dalai Lama.
“As wind blows across the prayers, it carries them up to heaven,” she said, unfurling the colored flags so they fluttered in the September breeze.
Just behind the pair stood Aaron Stewart, a jeweler from Austin, Minn., who had driven for 19 hours to hear the Dalai Lama speak. Stewart, who described himself as a Christian with ties to several different denominations, said he took a broad view of religion.
“I feel comfortable anywhere that’s welcoming,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter. I like the idea of inclusive worship.”
While many, like Stewart, had traveled from afar see Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, even the locals had to wait in line. American University graduate students Robert Jaspersen and Isau Hoshi joined the line at 12:15 p.m. and passed the time until the 4 p.m. service by playing backgammon, seated on the wall of St. Alban’s Church.
“All of a sudden he calls me and says, ‘Dude, there’s a line!'” Jaspersen said. “So we grabbed a board and hurried out.”
Hoshi, a Buddhist, wanted to see the spiritual leader, and Jaspersen joined him, “because I wanted something that helped me express 9/11 better,” he said.
Inside the cathedral, scarlet and saffron flowers echoed the colors worn by Buddhist monks, whose chanting began the hour-long service. Psalms of peace and prosperity followed, sung by the cathedral choirs.
Bishop John B. Chane offered an opening prayer, and he and the Dalai Lama exchanged khata – white scarves that symbolize purity – as a gesture of blessing and respect.
A selection of Buddhist and Christian prayers were offered, and Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon read The Beatitudes. Then, half an hour into the service, the Dalai Lama spoke for the first time.
He looked out benignly over the sea of silent faces before speaking first in his native tongue, through a translator, then in English.
His message was simple: “In order to move in a positive direction, we have to make an effort for positive emotion,” he said. “I believe the promotion of compassion, forgiveness, contentment, self-discipline – these things I believe are most important.”
These positive principles can be found in many religions, the Dalai Lama said, but discipline and practice is needed in order to treat all people as children of God.
“Once you have accepted the vision, then you should practice seriously,” he said. “So that’s all. Thank you.”
“You have given us a great gift,” Bishop Chane said. “Thank you from the center of our beings and the core of our hearts.”
Special guests at the service included Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and musicians David Crosby and Graham Nash. Crosby and Nash stopped by Episcopal Church House after the service to meet Bishop Chane.