On the morning of Monday 14th September 2015, one hundred and eighty schoolchildren along with some thirty schoolteachers from around Oxford, were invited by the DLCC to meet and interact with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Rhodes House, in what turned out to be a heart-warming and joyous occasion for all.
The children, aged between 8 and 15, came from three schools across the City. Sixty came by coach from the three (now amalgamated) Primary Schools of Blackbird Leys; sixty walked the two miles from the Cheney School, a mixed Secondary Comprehensive in Headington; and sixty came from the Dragon School in North Oxford, one of the country’s leading independent Prep Schools.
Before His Holiness arrived, an introductory address by Dr George FitzHerbert, Lecturer in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at the University of Oxford, outlined for the schoolchildren the Dalai Lama’s global significance: his role as a leader of the Tibetan people during a particularly turbulent period in their long history; his role as one of the world’s top authorities on the history, practice and interpretation of Buddhism, who has worked tirelessly to build bridges of understanding and friendship between the various world religions; and thirdly, the Dalai Lama’s promotion of what he calls “secular ethics”, a message of ‘wellbeing through compassion’ which is relevant not just for people of faith, but also for those with no religious conviction at all. Dr FitzHerbert outlined what he said was the essence of this approach: that irrespective of race, religion, class or nationality, it is ultimately through warm-heartedness and humility – through thinking of the welfare of others – that we, as individuals, will find the peace of mind and confidence we need. That it is only by recognizing our debt to others – not just those close to us but also even those we consider enemies or rivals – that we will start to heal our societies’ – and the world’s – many problems.
The children then waited – in near silence – for the arrival of His Holiness, who had been slightly delayed by his press conference at Magdalen College. As soon as the Dalai Lama arrived at the back of the hall, the atmosphere of tense anticipation was immediately punctured by His Holiness’ down-to earth joviality. Immediately upon entering the hall, he skipped purposefully towards two young children in the back row, asking them affectionately “how old are you?” and waiting patiently for their answers before moving on, and stopping several times to greet and joke with students of all ages as he went.
His Holiness addressed the children as “my young brothers and sisters”, and told them how important they were, as the holders of the future.
A small delegation of children from each of the schools then came up to the stage to present His Holiness with gifts and put a question to him. The group of teenagers from Cheney School started by presenting him with a traditional Tibetan white scarf, or khata, which symbolizes purity of intention, and asked him a how he felt about the recent migrant crisis facing Europe. His Holiness’ answer was considered and balanced. He said he could understand people’s fears about unregulated migration, and said that migration must of course be managed to ensure that host countries could offer the services that were needed. But he also pointed how important it was to treat migrants with respect. These issues, he said, must be explained clearly to them, so that whatever is decided about where they can or cannot live, they should be treated with dignity, and not as common criminals. That way, there will be no resentment.
The delegation from the Dragon school then presented His Holiness with honey from their school hives, told His Holiness about their school motto which, they said, is “Be Kind, Be Kind, Be Kind”. His Holiness was delighted by his gift, saying that he is so fond of honey that he suspects he may have been a bee in a past life.
The delegation from Blackbird Leys then came forward with a little basket of eggs from their school farm. One of them, a young girl, then introduced her schoolmates “Some people think Blackbird Leys is a bad part of town” she said, “but it is not”. “It’s a good place, and we are very happy living there”, she said. Her short speech was met with a resounding round of applause from the entire hall.
It was a tremendously heart-warming event for all present, and will not be easily forgotten.