The link above is to a good blog post by Brad Warner Soto Zen Priest and punk rocker.
I guess you should read his blog post before mine for all the context.
It is interesting to think about the way we perceive the Dalai Lama. A key distinguishing feature of Mahayana Buddhism is the concept of non-duality and Buddha Nature. I think there can sometimes be a contradiction between the way we think about important Buddhist figures like the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the belief in non-duality and Buddha Nature. To think of the Dalai Lama as a separate “self” is a delusion. He too is like a drop of water in the ocean, no duality. In Vajrayana when we do deity yoga, or visualization meditation, (for example the Chenrezig meditation (Chenrezig is who the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of)) first one would visualize Chenrezig in front of you, but then you visualize yourself as Chenrezig, and you visualize others as Chenrezig, Bodhisatvas, Buddhas, Dakinis. Those who practice this view their world as like a mandala. There are multiple reasons for doing this, to tap into the Buddha Mind (this is why Vajrayana means the lightning bolt path), and to emphasize the idea of Buddha Nature and non-duality. You want enlightenment? Bam it is within yourself. You already have it, you just have to realize it (this is an oversimplification there is a difference between understanding and experience when it comes to realizing Buddha Nature). In Tibetan Buddhism there is a heavy emphasis on the guru. One cannot become enlightened on their own it takes the help of a Guru. So the Dalai Lama is very important. He is extremely wise and the living breathing Chenrezig, an infinitely compassionate being. We must learn from the Dalai Lama, but we must not cling to him. We must not be confused by the illusion of the self. We must remember that he too is part of the ultimate reality, the expansive pure sky behind the floating impermanent clouds. We must remember that the Buddha is within us and everyone around us. Even the Dalai Lama, Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara, are within us and can invoked by tantric practices found in Vajrayana. I think it is important to also remember that the great Zen master say that we must slay the Buddha before reaching ultimate reality. What they mean is we must slay even our attachment to the idea of Shakyamuni Buddha.
I’m in a Kirtan group called the Kirtan Bandits. We have a show coming up this weekend. If you’re in the north west georgia area it’s in Rome at 2:30. Here’s a great quote from Krishna Das about Kirtan and chanting:
“The words of these chants are called the divine names and they come from a place that’s deeper than our hearts and our thoughts, deeper than the mind. And so as we sing them they turn us towards ourselves, into ourselves. They bring us in, and as we offer ourselves into the experience, the experience changes us. These chants have no meaning other than the experience that we have by doing them. They come from the Hindu tradition, but it’s not about being a Hindu, or believing anything in advance. It’s just about doing it, and experiencing. Nothing to join, you just sit down and sing.”