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Vessels of Divine Love and Compassion: Adventism & the Dalai Lama

By Raymond Roccograndi, a student at Southern Adventist University & a Spectrum collegiate correspondent
“Let us cultivate love and compassion, both of which give true meaning to life. This is the religion I preach, more so than Buddhism itself. It is simple. Its temple is the heart. Its teaching is love and compassion. Its moral values are loving and respecting others, whoever they may be. Whether one is a layperson or a monastic, we have no other option if we wish to survive in this world” – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

On Monday, October 22, 2007 along with ten-thousand plus other people twenty students from Southern Adventist University (SAU) attended the “public talk” of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. These twenty students were members of SAU Amnesty International and College Democrats of Southern. I am their leader. It was my idea to attend the Emory University hosted event. I thought that Southern’s students might gain some insight from this humble Buddhist monk that has advocated so vehemently the causes of world peace and nonviolent resistance to the oppression of Communist China on the people of Tibet.
After all, the Dalai Lama is a Nobel Peace Laureate, recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, and a Distinguished Presidential Professor at Emory University. I naïvely thought that no one could possibly be against a message of tolerance, understanding, compassion, and peace. I knew from history that Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth all had their “protesters,” but this was the twenty-first century, an age that claims to understand the harvest of hate. Harvests chillingly exemplified in the horrors of the Holocaust, tragedy of the Armenian Genocide, terrors of Rwanda, tragic aftermath of the War in Iraq, and the current Genocide in Darfur.
It had been my belief that this generation was going to hold themselves to the exclamation of the previous generation of “never again.” Never again will genocide go unchallenged – as can be seen in the support around the globe for the immediate deployment of U.N. and African Union peace-keepers into Darfur, Sudan and northern Chad due to the efforts of student-led movements and organizations; never again will war be a solution to our diplomatic problems – as can be seen in the unprecedented world-wide protests to the war in Iraq; never again will our society be complacent in the affairs of the world but become involved and concerned about the interconnectedness of the world around us. This is the zeitgeist of my generation and I believed of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Imagine then how surprised I was when members of my generation as well as professors told me that the Dalai Lama was an agent of the devil. I was completely shocked and almost baffled – I write “almost,” because after all this is a church that has yet to accept scientific research in the area of human sexuality or which openly refuses to fully value women by barring them from ordained ministry, but I digress. Still I had hoped that in the matter of world peace and nonviolence resistance that the Adventist Church might find a fellow-traveler in the Dalai Lama. That our church, having advocated for healthy living practices of wholeness, having open conscientious objection to war, having had prominent Adventists involved in the American antislavery movement, would suggest that the ethos of Adventism was more in tune with my generation than other denominations. Instead I found that there was a majority at Southern who viewed the Dalai Lama as an agent of evil.
It has been my experience that when such convoluted statements as “he is an agent of the devil” or “one driven by evil forces” are the product of ignorance or intolerance. When pressed on their knowledge of Buddhism most of those who had stated the Dalai Lama’s allegiances to Satan were, indeed, ignorant of what Buddhism was and what it is not. This is not atypical of mainstream Adventists.
There is this fear in the Adventist Church that some of my friends’ expressed. They said that it is best typified as a strong caution and willful ignorance of other faith traditions other than our own. This worries me greatly as we are a growing church. The notion that at an institution of “higher learning” one would be dissuaded from attending a lecture on peace by someone no affiliated with the Adventist Church is astounding. It is my sincere belief that this incident is indicative of a greater insecurity that these Adventists have with respect to other faiths.
I cannot help but imagine: would that our church be those “peculiar people” written about in the Spirit of Prophecy; would that our membership was so filled with the love of God for man that we had such a Godly-driven desire for the nourishment of mankind through interpersonal relationships.    
As for me, I can read the words of the Dalai Lama, “let us cultivate love and compassion,” – what I believe is the very essence of God – and connect instantly on a spiritual level. Those who attended the public talk expressed that, “It is such an awesome feeling to be able to put aside religious differences – labels, whether they be Christian, Buddhist – I like to put it this way when discussing my faith, “I’m a believer in a Higher Power – greater than my existence, yet interconnected with my being – and a follower of ‘The Way,’ manifested in many faith traditions.”
I fully understand that this comes off as “New Age” to some and I’m, quite frankly, openly and unabashedly alright with that. I believe that our understanding of God must grow and constantly evolve. Living life with a stagnant view of God only produces, at best, bitter Christians or, at worst, broken atheists. God inspired the biblical author to write, “My ways are not your ways.” It is interesting to recall that Christ continually challenged the contemporary view of God and the “religious community” in his day.
With respect to the Adventist Church and the greater Christian Community, I have observed that, too often, it is unfortunately the so-called “religious” that typifies a faith tradition; this is an unfortunate axiom because it limits the expression of a particular faith to its most conservative and fundamentalist elements – our religious communities are much more diverse than that, Adventism emphatically included. I asked members of our Southern Democrats and Amnesty group attending the Dalai Lama’s lecture to ask themselves, “what does it mean to be an Adventist?” It is important to have these questions in the back of our mind and to have an answer should a question arise within ourselves or be provoked by others. 
Yet the answer to that quest must be different for everyone. For me, it means “cultivating love and compassion.” I let my temple be my heart – welcoming the Spirit of the Lord to dwell within me and God to work through me, i.e. having and upholding “moral values [of] loving and respecting others, whoever they may be.” This includes the “outcasts” of society – homosexuals, women, nonbelievers, believers of other faiths, AIDS victims, the poor, those who have a different “non-orthodox theology” than ours, etc. When Jesus ministered to the people, he widened the inclusion of his ministry and outreach.
Christ included the outcasts of society – his moral values were centered on loving and respecting others. His life dramatically portrayed the Divine Love and Compassion that God has for humanity. May we as a church community learn to respect and love the “outcasts of Adventism.” May we cherish the spiritual wisdom of other faith traditions and may we strive to be vessels that express the Divine Love and Compassion that our Lord has for all of humanity.

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