At 2am in Williamsburg, the motorcade is already warming up. It’s not an atypical start for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. His schedule usually has him up at 3am for prayers and meditation. But today’s schedule is a bustling one, and His Holiness, his accompanying aides and representatives, and their police escort are racing down I-64 pushing 85mph.
Their destination is the Paramount Theater, where staff has been meticulously cultivating every detail of the world-renowned religious leader’s visit, down to the thangkas, orchids, couch covers, and subdued lighting, making sure the momentous day gets started on the right foot.
Upon arrival, the khatas, or traditional Tibetan scarves, are offered in greeting and communion, and formal introductions are made. The day is scheduled full of these sorts of interactions, as is every day of the Dalai Lama’s tour, but his presence and the awareness of each individual he encounters is almost overwhelming to behold.
Bobbi Grant Llewellyn of The Foundation for American Heritage Voices described him this way: “He’s just so aware and so attentive to everyone around him.” Coming off a day of meeting VIPs, the casual observer would see no formal difference in the attention, interest, and regard of His Holiness as he greets organizers, service workers, and bystanders of all kinds.
“He’s very loose. Very relaxed,” said the Paramount’s house manager Jason King. “I mean, he’s funny!”
His unassuming nature leads him into a nearby utility room to brush his teeth in the sink after his lunch, much to the honor and somewhat bewilderment of the staff member who had just been washing dishes there. Despite a strict dietary regimen, the Dalai Lama was easy to please and even dined locally.
“He’s very easy going with food. Whatever we give him, he takes it,” said a spokesperson. “He had some Indian food, too, from the Milan restaurant.”
It is this combination of keen awareness and sincere humility that overrides the ethereal quality of the Dalai Lama’s presence. Throughout two speaking engagements and hours spent with admirers and well-wishers, he seemed a man in his element, doing precisely what he was born to do.
At the end of what seemed like a whirlwind day, His Holiness moved on to his next engagement at the University of Vermont to do it all over again.
There’s a feeling people get sometimes when they meet admired celebrities and public figures, one that drives home the point that, while the meeting may be significant to you, it’s just another day in their life. The feeling left in the wake of the Dalai Lama’s visit is one of transcendent mutual significance, and to distill it even further, authenticity.