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Tibet House US Benefit Auction @ Christie's Rockefeller Plaza, November 18, 2009

The annual Tibet House US auction was held on Wednesday, November 18, 2009. It hosted 450 generous souls and successfully raised more than 300 thousand dollars. These will go to benefit ongoing programs at the House as well as educational efforts to preserve the Tibetan language and the cultural heritage of song, dance, painting and Buddhist philosophy, both in the Dharamsala exile and also in the local New York - New Jersey Tibetan community.

The event has been a cherished spot on my social calendar for many years, and not just for its intrinsic glamour (where Uma Thurman and Donna Karan go, so shall I wish to go), nor for the gathering of so much wonderful art and fashion under one roof, so many goods and services donated to a most worthy cause. Not just for the opportunity to sample the rarefied air of Christie's Rockefeller Plaza once again. Not even for the many friends and acquaintances I invariably meet, which lends the event a homecoming feeling for the intersecting worlds of music and art and fashion that comprise the downtown demimonde.

Of course I vastly enjoy all of the above. I was able to spend quality time this year with work generously contributed by Joseph Kosuth, Louise Bourgeois, Ed Ruscha, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Milton Glaser, Pat Steir, James Nares, Doug and Mike Starn, Adam Fuss, William Coupon, Bob Gruen, Georgia Marsh, Angelina Nasso and many others. I witnessed spirited bidding at the live auction for luxury vacations in Thailand, Bhutan, the Bahamas, Bali, St. Moritz, an African safari, even a backstage pass with Sting. I marveled at the musical dance performances of the Tibetan schoolchildren. I also ate, joked, flirted, and undoubtedly drank at least one too many Cosmos.

But near the end of the evening, as the dessert trays were being passed, I pulled Ganden Thurman aside to ask for his take on a very inspiring event, hoping he would characterize what we had just witnessed from a traditional Buddhist perspective. After a short conference with one of the Lamas, he came back with the phrase "enlightened self interest". My first reaction was "Huh?", followed by a prodigious effort to salvage some memory of my freshman philosophy class. But the longer I contemplated its significance from various angles, the more perfect his answer became. The idea that the best way to help yourself is by helping others, that "doing well by doing good" is not just a viable but an essential moral stance, and especially that doing all this resounds most significantly in a public arena, surrounded by a community of like minded individuals with whom you can share the exaltation of giving: this seems, in a nutshell, what the evening was all about.

In his pre-live auction remarks, Robert Thurman cited a Teaching of Great Compassion: That of all previous beings, there is not one who has not been reborn as your mother countless times, and who will not become your mother many times again. That even the roughest, toughest individuals can be imagined with that "mother look", that attitude of selflessness.

Considering the many people who made the auction possible, from the volunteers to the organizers to the committee members to the donating artists and artisans to the bidders, we can imagine the "mother look" multiplied hundreds of times. And while every item on auction certainly had its price, the sum total of the evening was finally beyond price, beyond words.

(This text was written for the Tibet House Drum, and appears in issue 19.1, page 3.)