His Holiness, the Dalai Lama XIV Brings Love, Messages of Strength, Compassion to UNO
On foot, by car, by bus, by bicycle, thousands of visitors flocked on Saturday to the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena to see His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speak.
The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet brought messages of peace, kindness, compassion and community -- and through his presence showed support for communities still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
The Dalai Lama, who has been exiled in northern India since China took over his country, is the spiritual leader of approximately eight million Tibetan Buddhists, as well as a Nobel Peace Prize Winner. He arrived in New Orleans on Thursday for a two-day spiritual conference entitled "Resilience: Strength through Compassion and Community."
Saturday's public talk at the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena served as grand finale.
The event began with a striking procession of one dozen Drepung Loseling Tibetan monks, who silenced the crowds with their distinctive guttural chanting. Their colorful ceremonial garb lit up the dark arena.
Techung, a singer and songwriter from the San Francisco area billed as "the Bruce Springsteen of Tibetan music," took the stage with his band Lhasa Spirits. His soaring voice lulled listeners as he performed traditional and contemporary styles Tibetan music.
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, introduced His Holiness, saying the Dalai Lama had come to New Orleans, "a place of resilience, a place of respect" bringing "a message of calm, peace and practical work and working together."
Cheers and whistles erupted as the 77-year-old Dalai Lama took the stage wearing his traditional maroon and saffron robes -- and a University of New Orleans visor. Landrieu introduced the Dalai Lama as "a University of New Orleans supporter."
"Brothers and sisters, I've always been clear, we are the same human being," said His Holiness. "Physically, mentally, emotionally, we are all the same."
The Dalai Lama spoke of his preference for informality and a need for all humans to work toward lessening boundaries and emotional and political distances with one another. He said that he loved meeting former U.S. President George W. Bush, Jr. because the President also preferred informality, but that he did not agree with all U.S. politics, including some measures taken by Bush and the Iraq War.
His Holiness addressed gun control, poverty, the gap between rich and poor, "American maximum consumption," religiosity and other pertinent U.S. and global issues with simplicity.
"Who created violence?" he asked. "Not God. Or not Buddha. People created violence. We have a responsibility to eliminate that, to eliminate violence."
Gun control, he said, is an issue ultimately addressed with the heart.
"Increase forgiveness and tolerance," the Dalai Lama said. "That's the real way to combat guns."
The Dalai Lama brought messages of strength and resilience through kindness, compassion and personal responsibility. He asked everyone present to live with "a compassionate heart."
He spoke for more than an hour, dotting the discussion with simple jokes and infectious laughter. Following his talk, the Dalai Lama took questions, including one that asked how His Holiness stayed optimistic.
"There is no other choice!" he laughed.
As he said good-bye, His Holiness waved to the audience – and he tipped his cap, the blue-and-white UNO visor.