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The On Being Project

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Wisdom and a Sense of Humor

Wisdom and a Sense of Humor

I love this poem “If a Prayer Would Do It” by Stephen Levine:

If prayer would do it
I’d pray.

If reading esteemed thinkers would do it
I’d be halfway through the Patriarchs.

If discourse would do it
I’d be sitting with His Holiness
every moment he was free.

If contemplation would do it
I’d have translated the Periodic Table
to hermit poems, converting
matter to spirit.

If even fighting would do it
I’d already be a blackbelt.

If anything other than love could do it
I’ve done it already
and left the hardest for last.

And I love this picture of the Dalai Lama, which somehow captures both his wisdom and his sense of humor.

In his wisdom, the Dalai Lama knows the truth of the poem, and he lives what he knows: The hardest thing — and the most important thing — is love.

As for his sense of humor, here’s my favorite Dalai Lama story: A few years ago, I heard him speak to a big crowd at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In the Q & A session, the first question came from a very eager young man seated front and center.

He clearly wanted to take full advantage of this rare chance to address His Holiness, so he went on and on and on, giving a speech as much as asking a question. Finally, his question came clear: He and his wife had three children. Would the Dalai Lama please tell him exactly what they should do to raise their children in Buddhism’s Five Precepts?

People who ask long, rambling “questions” don’t really stop. They sort of subside, as the surf does now and then. This young man finally subsided, saying, “So, how should we raise our children?”

After a moment, the Dalai Lama spoke: “Tee-hee-hee!”, he giggled. “How should I know? I MONK!” End of answer!

The man has a great sense of humor, and a fabulous giggle to boot. I could never trust the wisdom of anyone who’s devoid of that quality!

His Holiness the Dalai Lama laughs during a press conference in the Divinity School of St. John’s College, part of the University of Cambridge, on April 19, 2013 in Cambridge, England. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images.)

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