This week I had the rare opportunity to see the Dalai Lama speak at the University of Utah campus. Like the thousands of others who had tickets to see the event, I showed up early to ensure I could get through security in time to see the Dalai Lama speak.
The Security staff had other plans.
I showed up a little on the extremely early side, but after an hour of waiting in the hot Utah sun, the line had barely moved, and it continued to grow behind me. While I waited I contemplated the irony of the situation. I understand the world we live in, how His Holiness is something of a political target, and the need for security measures, but here were thousands of people waiting to hear a man speak about compassion, loving kindness, and how to basically be a better person, but we were being denied access because of the fear of violence.
When 1:30 (the time the event was supposed to begin) rolled around, I still wasn’t that much closer to being inside the venue. I was one of the lucky ones because the security checkpoint was only about fifty feet ahead of me, but what about the others towards the back of the line? If the check in process continued at its current rate, the event would be over before they even got inside the door. The people in line knew this, and were naturally upset by this.
I started to become angry and impatient.
I tell people I call myself The Worst Buddhist because when people take up a meditation practice, it can be a bit overwhelming and people often feel like they are doing it wrong. I tell people I call myself The Worst Buddhist so they won’t feel alone when those doubts arise. The truth of the matter is that I’m The Worst Buddhist, simply because I really suck at the love and patience thing.
Standing in the hot sun, hearing through the open venue doors that the event was starting and I was missing it even though I had a ticket and showed up so early to border on the ridiculous, the calm Buddhist like Banner inside of me, started to turn green and began to Hulk out.
When I finally made it to the security checkpoint, I was so frazzled and trying to expedite the process as much as possible that I forgot to take off my metal belt buckle, and the metal money clip on my wallet causing me to have to go through the metal detectors three times. The guard, who was equally as frustrated began to yell at me to remove all metal before going through the detectors. When I finally walk through the detectors without setting off the alarms, I gather up my possessions and try to get inside the auditorium. This was when the security guard said I had to leave my water bottle behind. I like my water bottle and saw no reason why I had to throw it away so I said I would dump out its contents before going inside. This wasn’t good enough for security and a shouting match ensued. Within seconds I was calling the guard ‘a fucking dick’, other security guards were starting to surround me, and my daughter began running through a mental checklist of the people she would need to call in order to post bail for me.
I finally realized a twelve dollar water bottle wasn’t worth missing seeing the Dalai Lama over, so I let it go and went into the venue. Sure enough the Dalai Lama was already speaking, but he rearranged his speech so the question and answer segment would be at the beginning so that those still waiting to get through security could have more time.
I thought about this for the next few days that followed. Buddhism is about liberation, about freeing ourselves from suffering. When people in the line started to complain about how they might miss part of the event, a man behind me asked ‘would you like to see the Dalai Lama or would you rather be blown up?’ While I understand the point the man was trying to make, I wondered if these were truly our only two options. How many of our freedoms are we going to give up in the name of security? Where is the tipping point? Since 9/11, I have had more guns pointed at me, more personal possessions taken from me, been unreasonably searched, and had more small freedoms taken away from me than ever before, and yet I feel absolutely no safer. A very large part of me is more afraid of my protectors than my ‘enemy’.
I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to be able to pick up my loved ones from the terminal instead of baggage claim, I want to go to the midnight premier of the latest blockbuster without fear of being shot, I want to go to a concert without feeling like I’m being processed into Shawshank.
Benjamin Franklin once said that is we give up our liberties for security, soon we will have neither. Or as the Dalai Lama said during his talk, the ego is like a spider that gets caught in its own web. I couldn’t help but feel like our fear of others is much the same.