Is there any more telling evidence that we live in a violent world than the layer upon layer of security that surrounded the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to nearby Louisville?
As someone serving on one of the planning meetings for the visit of this great messenger of peace and compassion, I was aware that security would be tight. But nothing could have prepared me for what we encountered on May 19, when the Dalai Lama gave a public lecture to thousands at the YUM Center.
We first passed through security supplied by the center itself, then through additional security provided by local police, K-9 dogs, and U.S. Homeland Security as we inched through the gauntlet of metal detectors. And we were those who had already received security clearance weeks in advance.
The watchword among all of us waiting was “Boston,” meaning that the normally heavy security for any appearance by the Dalai Lama had been intensified because of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Even as I was waiting in line, I could feel eyes full of suspicion scanning me. I was bringing in an innocent box, piled with books about peace and understanding, but, to those who did not know me, the box was a potential weapon.
The irony of the experience hit me full force. To sit with thousands of others committed to peace and understanding for the sole purpose of listing to a model of compassion, we had to pass through a reminder that our world can be held hostage by only one person with a plan and a heart filled with hate.
None of this security was present to protect a treasure of gold bars or governmental secrets, but rather something more fragile and more valuable — a message of compassion.
I recalled a similar experience only four months before, when my wife and I had again passed through metal detectors accompanied by armed guards, this time as we entered St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Someone might make the argument that the metal detectors, the Italian police, the Swiss guards, and the other security features are positioned in and around the Vatican to protect the irreplaceable art inside St. Peter’s, but I believe that that the security is so prominent there because the church represents a message of global peace and understanding.
In the Christian scriptures, the darkness of the world is described as hating the light and as wanting nothing more than to extinguish that light. I am sure that there is a similar belief in Buddhism.
Whether in Rome or Louisville, we face the same ironic scene. In order to safeguard the fragile flower of compassion, we must create barriers of security that are heavily-armed and always ready to confront violence with violence.
And yet, something positive happens in our world when 15,000 people wait in line for hours to hear the Dalai Lama offer a message of understanding and forgiveness. There is an increase of light, a light that religions teach us will one day overcome the darkness.
We will know when that day comes, for instead of being met at the door by guards with weapons, we will be met by children with open arms.
David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World” available in bookstores or on Amazon.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.