A Poem for Anthony Damiani

The Dalai Lama at Stanford

      “A truly great man... I consider him
       one of my closest spiritual brothers.”

      — The Dalai Lama,
           on Anthony Damiani (1922-1984)
           in Larson Publications 1994 Catalog


I show Mom the quote in the book
catalog that arrives in the mail
the day before Dalai Lama's lecture,
because she had disparaged my first
spiritual teacher back in Ithaca '68,
since he didn't graduate from college
and worked as a toll-collector
at the Seneca Falls Thruway.
But I had never met anyone so
passionate about philosophy
than Anthony, and a group
of Cornell students met at his
bookstore weekly as he shared
freely the wisdom of the sages.


Mom has dislocated her shoulder.
For the last month, I'm home
instead of the computer lab,
feel like Cinderella, cooking
and cleaning, mopping floors,
watering chives in the garden.
Still she chides me that my work
no matter how spiritual my intent,
will not get me a ticket to see
the Dalai Lama. Dad gives me
his Hoover Library card, tells me
to get to Stanford by dawn for
unclaimed tickets that students
and faculty won in the lottery.


I'm up all night clipping & throwing
away newspapers for the morning's
trash collection. After four hours
sleep, I arrive to overflowing crowds
at Tressider Union just before noon,
many here since 7 am. I sign on
a yellow pad behind some hundred
students and wait an hour to receive
my ticket for Dalai Lama's 5:30 lecture
at Memorial Church. At Type & Design,
I assemble fourteen of my poems and
hand them to some official as gift
for His Holiness since the audience
was requested to remain seated.


The Dalai Lama speaks in his self-described
“broken English,” hands folded to his chest,
but more often he chops & gestures for
emphasis, movements learned in debates
when young. Sunlight from a stained glass
showing Christ's Ascension pours in
when he points to his heart
and then to the audience:

“Don't say this is my country,
but think in a global sense.
Have genuine affection. We need
more love, compassion & kindness.
The mind is always taking sides.
Let's not focus on a mud puddle,
but work together for a sense of community.
Religion is like a supermarket or restaurant—
if you offer more variety, more people come.
We need more ideas & religious tolerance.”


After his lecture, the Dalai Lama heads for
the center aisle instead of the back door.
I'm three rows back holding his book
The Nobel Peace Prize & the Dalai Lama
and hear someone say “No autographs!”
so I call out the magic word—
not Om Mani Padme Hum
the sacred Tibetan mantra
of Jewel in the Lotus,
nor Milarepa or Nagarjuna,
those great Buddhist sages,
but say simply “Anthony Damiani”

His Holiness turns my way
and I hand him my pen & book
saying— “Anthony was my teacher.”
I touch his hand for blessings
and marvel at those swirling
seven strokes of his name—

a raked rock garden,
a flint of fire,
a soaring crane,
a waterfall pouring gently
into the great wisdom ocean
without beginning nor end

Peter Y. Chou
Palo Alto * 4-19-1994

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