You’ve seen the speech, heard the laugh, and wondered what that Princeton hat was doing on his head for the whole two hours. But unless you were one of the 4200 students, faculty, or visitors that came to Jadwin Gym last Tuesday for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s speech, titled “Develop the Heart,” there’s one key part of the experience you missed out on: the craziness that preceded the actual event.
I headed over to the gym at around 6 AM, an hour before Thomas G. Dunne, of ODUS fame, suggested we arrive. (“We anticipate an unprecedented wait,” he wrote in an email.) A couple dozen students were already sitting in circles on the ground, as if ready to sing kum-ba-yah. More clusters of friends lazily approached the gym with Wawa bags and half-closed eyes.
We soon settled down and formed somewhat of a line, although friends of those near the front periodically arrived and just sat down with them. No one seemed to mind the cutting; it’d be ironic, starting a fight over who gets to sit closer to the Dalai Lama. But most people played by the rules, and the line quickly lengthened; by 6:50, still earlier than we were told to arrive, the end of the line was out of sight. Some people said it already reached that other Jadwin (the Hall), and others had heard people were standing in line all the way back on Streicker Bridge.
As the event got closer and people were feeling more awake, conversation near the front of the line turned to arguably more relevant topics like Buddhism and meditation. Nathan Leach ’18 talked about how he’d recently started meditating, and the effect it had had on his physical and mental health. He was particularly excited to see the Dalai Lama speak, and not just because he was reading up on Buddhist practices.
“I’m excited because this talk has nothing to do with my classes,” Leach said. “Normally Princeton gets some famous political scientist, or foreign minister, and people go because it’s related to a class they’re taking. But this talk is for right here, not for class.”
Tlaloc Ayala, also a freshman, agreed. “This event reminds me of the Pre-Read,” he said, referring to a tradition started by President Eisgruber in 2013, where incoming freshmen read a book over the summer and discuss it in mock precepts during Orientation Week. “Just like with the Pre-Read, I didn’t feel like people could, or wanted to have a scholarly discussion.” Instead, he felt students shared superficial interpretations of the book’s arguments, explicating the text without getting at its deeper message. “This gets to the core of it,” Ayala added. “This isn’t just about some book you read. You’re not just dissecting a scholarly argument.”
Ayala hoped the talk would inspire students at Princeton, with its mantra about living a life of service, to actually engage in service projects they care about, and take responsibility for helping others. Leach agreed, but for the moment, had a shorter-term hope. “[The Dalai Lama] carries a certain aura that will reach people,” he said. “Maybe he can teach the selfie-takers there’s more to this event than getting a picture with him.”
By 7:15, after passing a TSA-esque security checkpoint, we were already headed inside Jadwin. Seated in the cavernous gym, the next round of waiting began; the Dalai Lama was set to begin speaking at 9:30. The AC was turned up high, and sleepless students joked that the talk should’ve been called “Develop the Heat.” Others obsessively checked Yik Yak, where Buddhism-related jokes abounded. And still others got artistic relief, whether through artful Snapchats or, in freshman Evan Gedrich’s case, an impressive portrait of His Holiness himself.
As the time passed, students slowly got more impatient. One freshman asked, “When is the Buddha going to speak already?” and was immediately reprimanded by surrounding students who weren’t tired enough to make a mistake that ignorant. But eventually the AC shut off and the crowd’s attention turned to the front of the room, where the awaited speaker had finally walked onstage, accompanied by his interpreter and Dean Alison Boden. Everyone stood and there was a roar of applause. The Dalai Lama waved to some audience members, then put both his hands up and nodded vigorously. Dean Boden approached the microphone and said softly, “I believe His Holiness would like you to sit.”
With a few chuckles, the audience settled down in their chairs. Then, suddenly, a profound silence fell across the room. The fun of the waiting game was over. Lecture was starting.