Sister Helen Prejean and His Holiness the Dalai Lama meet

Sister Helen Prejean and His Holiness the Dalai Lama meet. Photo: Tina Ingram

I sat right next to him.  I was vaguely aware of the vast audience shrouded in darkness, but mostly I was just listening and talking with him. On the panel we were invited to share what had led us onto the path of non-violence, and when I shared the experience of my awakening to the power of Jesus’ love for outcasts and how that led me to the condemned on death row, I could tell he was listening intently, and there was this resonance between us, this current that caught us up and we were riding the same great wave.

Afterwards I realized how calm and spontaneous I felt as I spoke, knowing I could simply say whatever occurred to me without anxiously straining to produce highly spiritual, exalted insights to try to match his, and I knew that it was his peaceful, welcoming presence that had made this possible.

This is what I shared with a group of students the next day as we stood in the driveway after the Dalai Lama’s departure and they asked what it was like to be so close to such a holy man. And as we talked they asked about the books I was carrying, and I showed them my small meditation book of the daily scriptural readings and my journal, and they wanted to know what I do when I meditate. So I took them inside my soul a bit and told them how I sit in silence or read the scriptures and wait to see what thoughts and feelings arise and, with grace, sometimes, insights. And, naturally, with the experience of the Dalai Lama so fresh, this morning when I meditated, I was trying to be present to what had happened yesterday to sound out what its meaning might be for my life.

I thanked the students for bringing the Dalai Lama to us. They’ve been visiting Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan people have been in exile since 1959 when the Chinese invaded and interviewing the elders to preserve memories of Tibet for future generations.  What else might have drawn the Dalai Lama to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, of all places, if they had not created such a strong bond with the Tibetan people? And I told them about lightning, that when it comes down to Earth, it doesn’t strike just anywhere, that special photography reveals that there are tiny electrical currents that rise from rocks or trees or other things and it is these currents that draw the lightning down.

Yesterday, I told them, the lightning came down in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Dalai Lama came, and they were the ones who drew him there, they made it happen.


An exchange between Sister Helen and the Dalai Lama

Photo ©2011 University Relations, photographer Russell A. Cothren