Immaculate reception

By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 13, 2009

At a U2 or Springsteen concert, merch tables are arrayed to purvey overpriced and oversize T-shirts. Here, people pawed through racks of pashminas and Tibetan prayer shawls. Or flipped through "sustainably harvested lokta paper journals." Or considered the heft of roly-poly Buddha statues. One could learn about the Chinese occupation of Tibet, or peer into a tiny mock-up of a traditional Tibetan home, or dress up in traditional Tibetan clothing, or have one's name written in Tibetan.

But if a visitor half expected the air to be sweet with wafting scents of sandalwood or jasmine, one reminder that this was a sports arena remained: the pungent artery-clogging aroma of Big Macs and hot dogs.

Certainly, for all the Dalai Lama's exhortations — "We must promote vegetarianism," he's said — it was surprising to see how many enlightenment seekers were stuffing their faces with fast food at lunch.

Mike, from Weymouth, a chubby twentysomething with a patchy beard, was munching McDonald's fries as a member of the Tibetan Association of Boston suffused the air with solemn flute music before the afternoon talk.

"Uh, my friend asked me if I wanted to go yesterday," said Mike matter of factly, "and I was just, like, 'Why not?' It's a chance to see the Dalai Lama.

"Usually, I come here to see the Patriots," he added. "This is actually nice. You don't have to deal with all the drunk people. Plus, you don't have to pay $40 for parking."

Zen and the art of Belichick
"I'm sorry, I don't make the rules," said a man-mountain security guard standing sentry by a fence at the back of the first-floor concourse. "Mr. Belichick says we can't have anybody watching the Pats."

Yes, as the Dalai Lama spoke about compassion, materialism, the importance of motherhood, and his half-century exile from his homeland, the coach of the Patriots was overseeing a rookie mini-camp practice on a field just outside the stadium, so close the players could probably hear the Lama's dulcet urgings for peace — when they were not being violently brought to the ground.

"Maybe we'll get some words of wisdom from Dalai Lama," Bill Belichick — whose usual gray hoodie and dour mien are in marked contrast with the Dalai Lama's bright robes and impish smile — had joked that morning with reporters. "That would be a motivational speech like one we've never heard."

It was a day of contrasts. During the Dalai Lama's talk, two young boys in Tibetan dress repeatedly crashed toy cars into one another. Another kid mimed the frantic grabbing of invisible cash from a Bank of America ATM. I saw a smiling Buddhist monk speaking into a Bluetooth headset.

The Dalai Lama embraces modernity. After all, he flies on a private jet and has a Twitter page. Nonetheless, it's "important to have balance within oneself, especially when it comes to our Earthly possessions," he's said. "If an individual has a sufficient spiritual base, he won't let himself be overwhelmed by the lure of technology. . . . We need to step back and not let money govern our inner peace."

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