#50over50: His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama
The Person Behind Personality in my #50over50 list, taught me that one need not appear serious in order to be taken seriously! And that efficiency does not have to come at the cost of simplicity and humanity. I had the great honour to work with the office of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama and here are the lessons I learnt from that experience!
After a two-decade career spanning a university research assistant to corporate executive to philanthropist, I decided to pursue an entrepreneurial journey. When I started my company, I made a list of people I wanted to meet and at the top of the list was His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL). I do not know where this thought came from and I had no connection with anyone who knew him. It was a thought that I parked and did not think much about. Two weeks after starting the company, I got a call from a friend in Seattle who asked me if I could help them with live-streaming talks by HHDL from his home base in McLeod Ganj.
Truth be told, I had no idea how to live-stream nor did we have the funds. Within a week, I made enough calls to my ecosystem in India to have a crew in place to do the streaming. I withdrew money from my personal account hoping that we could raise enough money to cover our costs. Two weeks later, I was at the Private Office of HHDL to plan the process in order to be ready in time for his teachings that were about to start in March.
For three weeks, I got to observe HHDL walk to the dais and talk for 7-9 hours in Tibetan with live translations in multiple languages for the 10,000 plus audience who gathered there from across the globe and we got to stream it so that millions could watch it from their own devices.
Here are the things that I learnt from this experience:
1. Efficient support system
HHDL's support system functions like clockwork. At the appointed time each day, he would walk from his residence to the designated location where he would meet 100 or so people chosen from the thousands who were visiting, to give a private audience. Then he would walk to the dais to be seated to begin his lecture. The days were marked with short breaks, and a longer lunch break. At each break, he would give a private audience. Every activity including his rest time, meditation time and me-time were all managed with precision. He had three personal advisors who managed different aspects of his schedule – One, a very senior person who used to be a monk, who was close in age to HHDL; second, a monk who was in his 50s; and third, a young professional who was not a monk. They worked together and planned every aspect of his life. There was a balance of experience as well as thought. I was truly impressed by the professionalism of the trio and how well they worked together. There was a plan of succession so that whoever is the primary advisor had the history of working with seniors before they attain that position.
All the meetings were on time but no one was hurried unceremoniously. All interactions were done with a lot of respect. HHDL's day was filled with interacting with people and his office was efficient with moving him through meetings without making anything abrupt. This made me realise that compassion was not just preached but practised every step of the way. And it was the difficult combination of compassion with firm adherence to rules like punctuality that was executed with so much ease.
3. Clarity of thought and expression
When HHDL met people, he was playful and fun; never giving the air of a wise person giving advice. One day, a man brought his child in a wheelchair. As HHDL was going around the circle, he walked over to the little child and spoke to the father who told him that his child was suffering from an illness. The father added that he had traveled a long distance to get the blessing of HHDL as he believed that his (HHDL's) touch could heal his child. HHDL looked straight in the father’s eye and said something to the effect of the following: “Please do not be a fool. You should have spent the money and taken her to a proper doctor. My touch or anyone else’s touch is not going to heal her. Only proper medical attention can heal her.” And this was said with a smile and total care for the father's feelings without making him feel like he had made a mistake by coming here. HHDL hugged the child and asked the father to take her to a proper treatment facility. It is this clarity of expression that endears HHDL to a lot of people.
4. Total ownership
When we went there, we took all the equipment with us – cameras, mics, mixing equipment, computers for digitizing etc. We had to work with local BSNL folks to have the last mile connectivity to stream the content. Our goal was to make HHDL's office self-sufficient so that we did not have to do this each year (Even though I would have loved it, I strongly felt that we needed to make ourselves redundant). There were great team members who worked alongside us and were complete experts by the time we left a month later. We raised enough money to not only cover the costs of what we were doing, but we could also buy a lot of the needed equipment and leave it there. Next year, only I went to check on the progress and was proud that they did not need us.
5. Knowing what others want
When we all met HHDL, it was the time before cell-phone cameras and selfies. We wanted to take a photo with him but felt too awkward to ask for it. He met us to thank us for all the work that we were doing and we were happy to receive the shawls he gave each of us. As we finished our meeting, he asked us: “Can we all take a picture together?” as though it was his idea. He must be knowing fully well perhaps that we were dying to do so. He was fun, playful and asked very simple questions to really understand what we were doing and made us all feel at home. I was really touched by this gesture and was happy to carry with me a photo with him. I went back the next year with my son and ensured that he got a photo with him as well!
There were a few valuable lessons that I learnt from this experience – One is, no matter how impossible it may seem, always dream and put it out in the universe. You never know what might happen. Second is – One’s greatness is truly defined by the quality of the people who surround him/her. Finally, I learnt that the best way to be is to be yourself. HHDL is one of the most child-like and fun persons I have ever met and he is direct in every possible way. Whether it is in his admonishment of the parent for his blind faith or to ask us if we wanted a photo together; a mischievous grin was ever-present on his face!
Whenever I visit dalailama.com and see the little 'Live Webcast' button on the screen and look at the video archives, I feel proud that we had a TINY part to play to begin that journey:)