Yesterday I heard the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi speaking – first on television, in a transmission of her speech in the Oslo City Hall, then live, to 10,000 people gathered outside the city hall.
What is it that makes her so impressive? I am sure it helps that she looks beautiful. The image of one lady standing up against military oppressors cuts an almost equally powerful figure as that of one person with plastic bags standing in front of a row of tanks near Tiananmen Square in China in 1989. In Burma, I am also sure it helps that she is the daughter of the country father Aung San, who was killed when she was only two years old, and whose legacy she sees herself as carrying on. Her enormous sacrifices, refusing to leave house arrest to visit her sons and her then dying husband in England, create an ambiguous, but also awe-inspiring impression. And the fact that she speaks so well certainly helps.
But there are also, of course, inner qualities. Her iron will and her lack of fear, and her extreme clarity in thought and action. No doubt she has a clear sense of mission. This, combined with her emphasis on kindness and human dignity – including her will to make compromises when possible and helpful – is part of what impresses us.
At yesterday’s event, her speech was not the only one. Among the other speakers, few failed to compare her to other Peace Prize laureates, in particular Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. All three laureates seem to have some of the same qualities, and all have acquired icon status. And, I would like to add, all of them emphasise meditation as an important part of their spiritual life. In the words of Aung San Suu Kyi:
It has helped to strengthen me spiritually. What you do when you meditate is you learn to control your mind through developing awareness. … [Meditation has] saved me from depression in the worst moments of my life … It’s what enabled me always to hold my head high. (Quoted from New Statesman June 2010)
Their meditations are certainly different, from Nelson Mandela‘s simple reflections on the weaknesses of his own character to the Dalai Lama’s elaborate Tibetan Buddhist practices and Aung San Suu Kyi’s vipassana meditation. But for all of them, meditation stimulates an inner process that they see as a basis for their political commitment. Meditation may not be the reason why they come forth as so impressive figures, but at the very least it nurtures their inner process in a way that they themselves consider important for their political orientation.