Roger Marolt: Roger this
August 22, 2008
There is an autographed picture of the Dalai Lama for sale. I saw an advertisement for it in a local magazine. It was right there, sandwiched between pages, one showing the best side of a $25 million mountain retreat in interesting light and the other a bona fide Realtor smiling on a beach-cruising bicycle, coasting past the mall fountain on a sunny day in pressed slacks, a neatly tailored oxford, and loafers, sans socks.
Shouldn’t the man with the red cape be above stuff like this?
I would be almost as relieved to find out that this autographed picture is a forgery as I would to learn that there isn’t a person so lacking soul in this world that they would actually slap plastic on the sales counter speculating that this signed memento might someday fetch a price higher than John Elway’s cleats.
But, succor is hard to find in this day of instant information and you don’t spell relief G-O-O-G-L-E. As it turns out, the Dalai Lama has a website, too. Here, the boss of the Buddhists receives fan mail and sends out autographs upon request. For those who prefer contacting His Holiness in the more traditional way, he has a P.O. box in Dharamsala.
The thing is, I think it takes more than a little ego for someone to press Sharpie to glossy to satisfy the cravings of gimcrack collectors. For a few seconds while the ink is flowing it’s all about fame. It’s not indicative of the humility I envision from a man of inner strength. It seems to me that to play along with such triviality is to promote some derivative of hierarchical hero-worship which only leads to disappointment in this life.
Please don’t tell me this is a story of another celebrity ruined by too much fame too soon, the likes of Michael Jackson or Britney Spears. Naw, if there is only this occasional indulgence in autographs, the Tibetan boy, who was discovered at 2 and enthroned at the age of 4, emerged from adolescence in fine shape.
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The funny thing is, I would not think twice if almost any other person signed an autograph for an admirer. There are certainly celebrities far less worthy that we hound for penmanship samples. (I thought I knew John Edwards and, let me tell you, the Dalai Lama is no John Edwards.) But, shouldn’t the authentically inspirational amongst us point out the inanity of collecting proofs of our proximity to celebrity by gently distancing themselves from such tomfoolery?
I want autographs from rock stars, athletes, and movie stars, people who have little else to offer me. If I wait in line and fight the crowds to get next to the Dalai Lama, I don’t want his signature on the back of a torn ticket stub. I want him to give me the answer to why I am there.
I obviously don’t understand this holy signature significance, and maybe that makes me nervous about missing some point that is vital to a fortuitous afterlife. What force drives this holy man to scribble his name so that someone can hang it on the wall in their den? Is there inspiration in the message: “To Billy, Keep the flags downwind and your prayer wheels turning clockwise! All the best, D.L.”?
To his credit, the Dalai Lama has not taken the approach of other celebrities who find themselves above providing their signature to strangers by simply telling fans to go to Hell. Surely that’s not becoming of a spiritual leader and is not what I’m looking for.
The Dalai Lama is recognized worldwide. His mission is significant and historical. If there is anyone worth asking to sign your belly button, it’s him! Yet, I can’t shake the idyllic vision of an incredibly humble man smiling kindly and looking confused as to why someone would value his signature on an 8×10 color portrait. I see the Dalai Lama placing his hands on the seeker’s head, taking the pen from her hand and crushing it into the ground with his sandaled foot, offering in its place invaluable words of wisdom to sustain the seeker for the rest of this life.
Instead, he signs the picture that will eventually end up in an Aspen memorabilia shop, advertised in a fluff publication. And, it’s not even personalized; hopefully an oversight and not acquiescence to the modern economic reality that customized messages sap the resale value from a souvenir the way acing someone out of a parking spot at City Market does karma.
I could tie this piece to life in Aspen by saying that here you can buy anything or, worse yet, you can sell it. I could make the observation that we don’t really know much about the true personalities of our heroes, and that we should, accordingly, be cautious. But, that would be trite.
I’m sure that I have missed something. Someone will point out to me that these signings are about a program sponsored by the Dalai Lama’s foundation to support the 120,000 Tibetan refugees exiled in India, funded with autograph sales. But, even that won’t cut it.
That would have been like Mother Theresa marketing her own salad dressing with the profits going to charity, Gandhi selling fluorescent orange rubber reminder bracelets, or the pope advertising how stress-free his life has become since he started riding the bus. It’s all good, it just doesn’t fit, to the point of pain in my being.
As the world turns trifling, I want someone on a higher plane to tell me that none of this stuff matters. I want a smiling face on a gently shaking head, lovingly lamenting, “You poor, innocent creature of God. It’s all so much simpler than you think. Love your neighbor. Feed the poor. Devote your life to the health of your soul and not a garage full of junk.”
I don’t think an autograph from the Dalai Lama is going to get me there. Maybe I’ll give Dashboard Buddha a try.