Audience members and media at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's September 11 address in Hailey were treated to a number of freebies upon entering the Wood River High School football stadium. They were handed a complimentary bottle of Trinity wate... er, natural mineral supplement from one of several stocked tables. Event volunteers draped each attendee in a subtly embroidered, feather-light white scarf, which most fastened into ad hoc turbans to protect against the late-summer sun. And then, for no extra charge, those same attendees were given a red rubber bracelet, and with it a lesson in enlightenment, American-style.
Visually, the bracelets were similar to the yellow "Live Strong" bracelets championed by Lance Armstrong to support cancer research. But these ornaments carried a message far more ironic than Armstrong's. On the front, in embossed letters: "COMPASSION." Then, on the inside-back, in tiny, raised print hardly visible without squinting: "MADE IN CHINA." (Hear that? It's the sound of a palm smacking the forehead of someone on the His Holiness the Dalai Lama Visits Sun Valley committee. Hear that second, softer noise? It's the bracelet slapping them between the eyes.)
Americans farming out their emotions to foreign manufacturers is nothing new. You'll find the same "MADE IN CHINA" on the inside of Armstrong's bracelets, and on most of the copycats that have since flooded the faux-jewelry market, from the "ONE" bands circulated by World Vision to combat global poverty to the "BELIEVE" bands worn by World Series-deprived Chicago Cubs fans. The difference in this case: When the Cubs play on the road, it isn't because they were exiled from Wrigley Field by the country making the bracelets.
It's safe to assume that nearly everyone present at the address--that is, everyone determined enough to stand in line for four hours or con their friends into doing it for them to get one of the free tickets to the event--knew of the Dalai Lama's tumultuous relationship with the People's Republic of China. But for those unfamiliar, he peppered his address, which was ostensibly a healing address in commemoration of September 11, with reminders. The Tibetan leader was exiled from his country in 1959 following a Chinese occupation and has since made little headway against the further exploitation, or as he termed it, "loss," of his homeland. In his Sunday address, the Dalai Lama decried the Chinese government for its suppression of individual rights and opinions, as well as the "maximum exploitation" stance it has long held toward the environment. In the press conference following the speech, he added that the Chinese version of socialism has "failed," and he even cited a rail line being constructed between Tibet and several Chinese cities as tantamount to the "cultural genocide" of his homeland. Of all the exports for which China is known, he was clear, compassion is not one.
Is it appropriate to be angry at such a tasteless oversight as the bracelets, given the tenor of the event? Judging by the address the Dalai Lama gave on Sunday, his answer would probably be no. Though he expounded upon his own penchant for losing his temper and using "harsh language," ("I feel really shy to be that person," he laughed), the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner also spoke extensively about the harm and ultimate pointlessness of being angry at a world with "limitless" instigators. Indeed, he showed an inclination to instead laugh at the darkest subjects, from the materialism of the Western hemisphere, to war, to environmental destruction, to the fall of Communism.
However, the exiled leader also became very serious when talking about poverty. In particular, he shook his head at the gap between rich and poor citizens worldwide, saying "the gap is morally wrong and a source of trouble." His answer: a turn toward "analytical meditation" and thoughtfulness on the part of individuals, and the development of a balance between Socialistic equality and the market economy freedom on the part of governments. He cited neither in China; for that one-billion-strong nation, his message was only to "keep hoping and look forward."
That the Dalai Lama spent Monday meeting with millionaire business leaders at event sponsor Kiril Sokoloff's posh Ketchum estate only heightened the irony stamped onto the defining souvenir from his visit. Sokoloff, a self-avowed Buddhist who reportedly spent $1 million to procure the Dalai Lama's presence in Hailey, even ordered Sunday's audience to hold the bracelets above their heads during his introduction in commemoration of "all the people who are condemned to misery in all parts of the world."
"You were here," Sokoloff told the audience, "at the tipping point of compassion!" But to those who took the time to inspect their gifted jewelry before sliding it on, the lesson was clear: We may look on the outside like thoughtful beings who promote equality and denounce exploitative regimes, but flip over what we wear on our sleeves and you'll find a different label.
To see more pictures from the Dalai Lama's visit to Idaho, or to spy the offending bracelet, visit www.boiseweekly.com.