Or would he have remained the relatively obscure leader of a relatively obscure brand of Buddhism in a relatively obscure country?
It is good to remember that the DL was not always as well known as he is today.
In the second, 1980 edition of his memoir 'The Ochre Robe' Agehananda Bharati, an Austrian born scholar of Sanskrit and Indian religion who became a renunciate monastic in the Bharati Sankara order, wrote this about Syracuse, the university and town where he became a member of the faculty.
Speaking of Syracuse New York as it was back in the late Seventies and up to 1980, Bharati tells us that it was a somewhat incurious and isolated place.
But what is interesting is that there was a time when, outside of major cities, many persons did not know or care who the DL was.
'When HH the Dalai Lama visited this campus two months before the writing of this epilog, I overheard a male student ask a coed whether she planned to listen to the Dalai Lama. After a cautious glance in her interlocutor's direction, she asked, "Is he a rock group?"
(Bharati continues)'The next evening, when I addressed a group of 50 freshmen and sophomores in their dorm about the event, I asked how many had ever heard of the Dalai Lama. Some forty raised their hands and they were the honest ones.
(Bharati makes clear that at this time Syracuse was a small town campus for he stated,
'I must say that this would not have happened on any other campus in the sixties and early seventies when the campuses in the land were, for once, alive with inquiry, with excitement with the quest for distant alternatives and other options.')
A cult of celebrity had not yet attached to his name and image. This was decades before Apple, in its Think Different advertising campaign combined bad grammar with faces of various renowed persons in its adverts--and as part of this campaign selected the portrait of the DL, uising his face to help instill cravings and sell a product.
It violates the Mahayana buddhist precepts (which are part of the tradition upheld by the DL) to 'darken the mind of self and other with intoxicants'
My very strict layman's interpretation demands that we consider advertising to be an intoxicant for it stirs up craving and greed, rather than inviting us to apply insight to understand how cravings arise and how to free ourselves from cravings that do not support waking up, and to identify and become free from cravings that urge us to purchase items we might not actually need.
I want to make clear that HH DL probably did not consent to have his picture used in this manner, but the whole cult of celebrity and eagerness to gain access to a famous person is another sort of intoxicant.
And the burden and care of being a head of state in exile means being involved in Public Relations and politics. A simple monk does not have to deal with this.
Finally, full disclosure. I attended a lecture given on a valuable and difficult topic by the DL and learned a lot. It was as good and tough as anything taught at university level.
However, the process of questions from the audience was not one of free exchange. People wrote out questions on paper and handed them to an attendant. There were many more questions than could be answered.
So only a few were answered, giving the DL and his advisors the luxury of being able to pick and choose which to answer and which no to answer.
Another interesting feature was that the emigre Tibetans in the audience were glad to be there but felt quite able to walk into and out of the auditorium whenever they felt a need to stretch their legs and many availed themselves of the opportunity.
By contrast, I observed a doting glazed eyed awe amongst the Western members of the audience as though they were thrilling to the presence of a rock star.
One lady sat next to me, blonde hair, in Tibean brocaded clothing. At intervals, she hummed.
I thought she was fluent in Tibetan and was murmuring an affirmative to certain points made by the DL during his lecture.
I asked if she knew Tibetan.
'Oh no,' she said sweetly. 'Im taking in his vibrations.'
As one who practices in one of the Mahayana traditions (but not any of the Himalayan ones), I can tell you that one cannot learn the Buddhadharma by absorbing vibrations from someone who is famous and has permitted himself to become the focus of
Met another person there, a professor of theology at a Catholic institution of higher learning. He was beaming and happy as a clam at high tide.
The lecture we had just heard from the DL was radical stuff, it undercut the assumptions behind the core of Catholic doctrine.
I wondered how the professor of theology was doing. I was once a Roman Catholic, had left, and though committed to Buddhadarma and already familiar with the outlines of Nagarjuna, this had been my first exposure to a really systematic discourse on Nagarjuna's middle way and his use of logic.
I asked the professor what his take was.
'Oh, Im just here soaking up the atmosphere' he said, cheerily, as though totally unconcerned at hearing a 2 hour exposition of a belief system that brushed aside 2,000 years of Western theology as irrelevant.
What I found amazing was that people focused on the personality of the DL, something that in Mahayana Buddhism is considered a mere, temporary assembly of components, and one that is temporary.
Even the 'atmosphere' of that event is something meant to be appreciated but then, something to be explored with insight until understood as itself as atmosphere, transient, temporary.
To just 'get off' on the DL is to use him as an intoxicant.
If you want atmosphere without applying party pooper insight to that atmosphere, leave the DL alone.
Instead, get together, go to a jazz club, go to Burning Man or find a place where cannabis is legal and pass a bong around.
The hammer that sounds time for meditation at Soto Zen places has this inscription
Great is the matter of life and death
Time is fleeting,
Wake up, wake up each one
Do not waste this life!
That is the mood to be in if one is going to listen to any Buddhist teacher, whether it is the DL or someone quietly teaching the same tradition and perhaps teaching it
better, because free from the burdens of fame, celebrity and political leadership.