When Cynthia Exner heard the Dalai Lama was coming to speak at Western Connecticut State University, she realized her law firm could benefit from his teachings. Exner, who practices immigration law with her daugher, Kristan K. Exner, asked Kristan to watch a streaming video of the event.

“I thought that any person who has devoted his life to living in peace and harmony may have some suggestions from which we can draw some insight for our clients. Most of our clients are devoutly Catholic, but our firm respects the freedom of all peoples, including freedom of speech, religion, ideas,” Cynthia Exner said.

A surprising number of Connecticut lawyers were among the thousands in the audience — either live or virtual — when the 77-year-old Buddhist leader made appearances at the Danbury campus on Oct. 18 and Oct. 19. Several attorneys interviewed said that the spiritual leader’s message of peaceful conflict resolution gave them another way to think about their conflict-ridden law practices.

The happy, often giggly, and down-to-earth spiritual leader spoke about the importance of patience and of education, often interspersing funny stories into his message. The Dalai Lama said that his experience “clearly shows that material things fail to bring inner peace.”

He also spoke about the importance of forgiveness. “Don’t consider forgiveness a sign of weakness,” he said. “Anger is a sign of weakness.”

Kristan Exner, who also handles Juvenile Court cases, said the Dalai Lama “referred to our inner compassion, sensing what another person needs and seeing what you can do to make a difference, and start helping from there. In the practice of law, this is exactly what we are taught to do for our clients, and it is always good to remember that the person sitting across from you is not just a client, but as the Dalai Lama put it, see them as a human first.

She continued: “What can we as attorneys do for our human brothers and sisters who come to us for help and then zealously represent them? Personally, my favorite quote was to, ‘Increase the practice of patience.’”

Kristan Exner also said she appreciated “his strong suggestion to students to learn about other nations … and to then appreciate our own country’s condition and increase our desire to help other countries.”

“In immigration law, this is one of the most difficult aspects and one of the most heated debates going on in Congress today. It is one that immigration attorneys are always trying to relay to get more changes in the law to help the immigrant community. I believe this knowledge can be applicable to our court system as well, to take the time to learn about the different cultures which the courts serve. As he puts it, ‘Use our intelligence in a maximum way.’ “

Meditate With Monks

Richard Hastings, a Ridgefield lawyer, said this was the second time he’s heard the Dalai Lama speak.

“The first time was many years ago when they dedicated the Buddhist Temple in Carmel, N.Y.,” Hastings said. “I might be a bit of an aberration in that I meditate with Buddhist monks on a regular basis so this is an extension of what I am currently learning.”

At WestConn, Hastings was able to shake the Dalai Lama’s hand during a chance meeting in the parking lot. “He has one agenda, it’s about passion,” Hastings said. “To have him really shake your hand. It was this feeling of like ‘wow.’ “

Hastings said that meditation calms him. “A calm mind gives you inner strength,” Hastings said, echoing comments the Dalai Lama made during his talks. Hastings said the Dalai Lama also reflects at at the end of the day about what went well and what didn’t. “You examine where you are. Do I want to get angry or is there another alternative?”

Danbury lawyers Bob and Dianne Yamin, a married couple, attended one of the WestConn talks and were lucky enough to be one of a few to have breakfast with the Dalai Lama before one of his speeches.

“After His Holiness greeted me and touched my hands, and walked away,” said Bob Yamin, “Dianne became very teary-eyed, and I had to look away from her for quite some time to maintain my own composure…Even though both [Dianne and I] are devout Catholics, truly we were in the presence of a Holy Man.”

Bob Yamin said the spiritual leader’s talk was practical and included all lawyers can use. “It’s crucial to reduce the level of conflict for us and our clients,” Yamin said. “The practice of law has perhaps never been so stressful.”

Dianne Yamin, who is Danbury’s probate judge, said she found it interesting that the Dalai Lama spoke about the importance of sleep. He gets nine hours a day. “It’s important for lawyers to be well-rested when you are doing stressful things,” Dianne Yamin said.

“Just how he approaches life is a good lesson for lawyers,” she continued, in reference to his sense of “peacefulness.”

“As we approach people in court controversies, to calmly interpret cases is important.”

Another Danbury lawyer, Augie Ribeiro, also attended a special breakfast before one of the Dalai Lama’s talks. He was struck by how the Buddhist leader tried to “remove the pretense that he was better than anyone else.” Ribeiro said that thinking that one person is different or better than anyone else creates fear and anxiety. He said it’s important for lawyers to remember this in dealing with clients, and to treat them with compassion.

Ribeiro thought the Dalai Lama’s teachings were so important that he wanted his law firm’s staff to hear him. So on Thursday, Oct. 18, he closed the office and served lunch for staffers as they watched streaming video of the Dalai Lama’s talk. “I brought in a life coach to help decipher the message,” said Ribeiro, “and we had a two-hour discussion after that.”•