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Best of Boston 2009

Immaculate reception

The New England Patriots played host to a very different out-of-towner last week, as the Dalai Lama made a most incongruous visit to Gillette Stadium
By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 13, 2009

TIBET OFFENSIVE The Dalai Lama, appearing in Foxboro as part of his multi-city North American speaking tour, was not whistled for a chop block.

They are not following dharma who resort to violence to achieve their purpose.
— Siddhartha Gautama

Pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors.
Frank Gifford

This past month, former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison — a player who's not especially known for on-field compassion, or karuna, as it's known in Mahayana Buddhist teachings — griped about new NFL rule changes designed to protect quarterbacks. "Football is a violent sport, played at 100 miles an hour with reckless abandon," Harrison reasoned. "Guys are going to get hurt."

Harrison's erstwhile home turf, Gillette Stadium, is a place where guys do get hurt all the time, of course, in plays so violent that, if the perpetrators weren't wearing uniforms, the assaults would be illegal.

It's a place that's usually charged with aggressive energy — from the fake Minutemen firing muskets on the sidelines pre-game, to the quiet post-game seething of 68,756 beer-bloated fans inching their way back onto Route 1.

But two Saturdays ago, as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama sat cross-legged on the 50-yard line and gently intoned that "the path to happiness in the individual and with society is through inner peace," that all changed.

Gone were the percussive sounds of the gridiron — "the block, the clip, the kick, the blitz, the bomb," as George Carlin put it — when the Dalai Lama stopped in Foxboro as part of his multi-city North American speaking tour. Instead, the stadium was a sun-dappled sea of serenity, blanketed in hushed quiet. Prayer flags fluttered and Tibetan singing bowls chimed.

Pats owner Robert Kraft's self-financed $325 million state-of-the-art edifice took on the restorative calm of a Himalayan monastery. One, albeit, that sells Papa Gino's pizza and fried dough.

The path to peace . . . and fries
"Green tea?" asked one concession employee of his colleague as the latter kid trundled a cart loaded with a dozen thermos dispensers through the arena. "Oh yeah," his buddy replied with a knowing glance.

As one might expect, the Samuel Adams Brewhouse was draped in a tarp this day, and Gillette's other beer stands stood dry in a darkened corner. ("I undertake the training rule to abstain from intoxicating drinks and drugs causing heedlessness," holds Buddhism's fifth precept.)

Indeed, if it's common at sporting events to find oneself buffeted in cramped concourses by tipsy fans, bobbing boozily through the crowds, here it was a little different. Between the Dalai Lama's morning primer on Buddhism's "Four Noble Truths" and his afternoon sermon on the "Path to Peace & Happiness," attendees walked slowly and aimlessly between the concession stands, heads seemingly in clouds, occasionally blissedly bumping into each other.

I ran into one co-worker who's seen the Dalai Lama speak five times. Each time, he said, he comes away with a "peaceful feeling for a month or so afterward." Looking around at the happy crowd of 16,000 or so, it wasn't hard to believe.

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.

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Related: Cheating rules!, China, Tibet, and the Olympics, Game on, More more >
  Topics: News Features , AFC East Division, American Football Conference, Bill Belichick,  More more >
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  •   IMMACULATE RECEPTION  |  May 13, 2009
    The New England Patriots played host to a very different out-of-towner last week, as the Dalai Lama made a most incongruous visit to Gillette Stadium
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 See all articles by: MIKE MILIARD

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