Following his headlining appearance at the Glastonbury Festival - tickets £250 - the Dalai Lama returns to the UK in September to appear at the London home of stadium rock, the O2 arena. For this London appearance ticket prices range from £24.75 to £90.25, while packages giving access to exclusive lounge, catering and bathroom facilities are available for an undisclosed sum. Presumably to avoid criticism of high ticket prices the Dalai Lama makes the following disclaimer on his official website:
For your information, as a long-standing policy His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not accept any fees for his talks. Where tickets need to be purchased, organizers are requested by our office to charge the minimum entrance fee in order to cover their costs only.But that disclaimer, which is repeated on the websites of organisations hosting appearances by the Tibetan spiritual leader, deserves closer examination. Top tickets for Neil Diamond's concerts at the O2 this month cost £97; which is just £6.75 more than for the Dalai Lama, and we can safely assume that Neil Diamond takes a hefty fee. Yes, accommodation, travel, and security costs for His Holiness must be paid for, but so do those for Neil Diamond.
During his visit to the UK last month His Holiness also spoke at an event organised by the Buddhist Community Centre UK in Aldershot. The venue for this low profile appearance was the modest stadium of Aldershot Football Club. But, despite the much lower cost of hiring a fifth division football ground compared with the 20,000 seat state of the art O2 arena, ticket prices ranged from £20 to £75. By comparison the highest ticket price for a football match at Aldershot FC's ground is £19.
These rock star ticket prices are not confined to the UK. In June the Dalai Lama led a five day retreat at the exclusive Fairmont Resort - "the pinnacle of upscale accommodation" - in the Blue Mountains, Australia. Tickets for attendance at this event without food or accomodation were AUD $1500 (£720), while a single room with breakfast and lunch but dinner for six nights during the retreat cost AUD $2,609.24 (£1252). That is the Fairmont Resort in the photo below.
On the same Australian tour the Dalai Lama's appearance at another exclusive venue, Ayers Rock Resort at Uluru, attracted media attention because of the pricing of a "Three-night Inspiration Package" at AUD $1,100 (£530) per couple. Responding to adverse reaction, the Dalai Lama's office said it was unaware of the resort's accommodation package campaign. In mitigation it should be pointed out that the Dalai Lama's teachings in India are free; an example is the five day Kalachakra tantric empowerment that I attended last year, an event with very high infrastructure costs due to its remote location in the alpine desert of Ladakh. There are also considerable costs in running the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala; although no mention is made of income from any of the events featured above being used for these purposes. But, wherever the money goes, premium pricing mean the Dalai Lama is talking exclusively to a very upscale Western audience, which is at variance with the Buddha's message of inclusiveness.
I am only too aware that challenging Joyce DiDonato and the Dalai Lama in quick succession is the ultimate form of self-harm for a blogger. But readers will know I have spent much time exploring the Buddhist path, and, as a result, I fully recognise the Dalai Lama's priceless work on behalf of Tibetan's exiled by the cultural genocide of the Chinese. However, my post The Paradox of the Dalai Lama reflected on how His Holiness maintains a consistently high profile in the Western media that cannot be explained simply by the need to ensure that the Chinese occupation of Tibet is not forgotten, and I went on to describe the official promotional material for the Kalachakra teachings as resembling a poster for the latest album from an ageing rock star.
Too often the explanation is offered that the Tibetan spiritual leader's long-running dalliance with the Western celebrity lifestyle - see photo below of him with the notorious Russel Brand - is the work not of the Dalai Lama, but of his trusted advisers. If his advisers are indeed responsible for the mixed messages currently emerging from Dharmsala, which include disturbing allegations of serious financial irregularities by a senior monk in his inner circle, His Holiness should take note of a teaching from another great tradition: "The righteous should choose his friends carefully" (Proverbs 12:26). Nikos Kazantzakis expressed it perfectly in his autobiographical novel Report to Greco when he wrote: "Of all the people the earth has begotten, Buddha stands resplendently at the summit, an absolute pure spirit'. However, Buddhism comes in many forms, and for one seeker at least the blurring of the line between spiritual role model and rock star both devalues the venerable and vital Vajrayāna school and emphasises the wisdom of the less self-centred - in the true meaning of the word - Theravada school.
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