Dalai Lama brings his wisdom, wit and philosophy to W&M

  • Dalai Lama visit
    Dalai Lama visit
    His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama stressed the need for compassion – human to human, religion for religion, nation for nation - during his presentation at William & Mary on Oct. 10.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Dalai Lama visit
    Dalai Lama visit
    Rector Jeffrey B. Trammell (center) and Student Assembly President Curt Mills '13 (right) welcomed the Dalai Lama to William & Mary. He was presented with a green-and-gold William & Mary visor.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Dalai Lama visit
    Dalai Lama visit
    Curt Mills '13 receives a Kata from His Holiness. Offering a white scarf - called a Kata - is an ancient Tibetan tradition and a blessing from the Dalai Lama.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Dalai Lama visit
    Dalai Lama visit
    Although His Holiness never left the stage during his 90-minute presentation the audience grabbed every opportunity to interact with him, even if it was just by making eye contact or shaking their heads at one of his questions or comments.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Dalai Lama visit
    Dalai Lama visit
    His Holiness graciously accepted a green-and-gold William & Mary visor and turns to the crowd before putting it on, drawing a loud ovation.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Dalai Lama visit
    Dalai Lama visit
    W&M students attentively listen to the Dalai Lama lecture on human compassion. More than 4,000 students received free, complimentary tickets to Wednesday's event.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Dalai Lama visit
    Dalai Lama visit
    The Kaplan Arena in William & Mary Hall was packed with some 8,200 attendees to hear His Holiness speak.
    Photo by Jay Paul

Combining paternal wisdom, engaging anecdote and humor – much of it self-deprecating – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama enthralled an audience of 8,200 inside Kaplan Arena in William & Mary Hall and another 10,000 – from 109 nations -- who watched via live web streaming video on Oct. 10.

The need for compassion – human for human, religion for religion, nation for nation – was the overarching theme of a 45-minute presentation and equally lengthy question-and-answer session.

{{youtube:medium|Rjv8AR8_BkE, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama delivered a speech on compassion to thousands at William & Mary on October 10, 2012.}}

Referring to the sellout crowd as “my dear brothers and sisters,” the 77-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner gently teased his audience by saying that it was an honor to be with them, even though William & Mary is “only” the nation’s second-oldest university, after Harvard.

An audience comprised of students, faculty, staff and 3,000 non-university attendees who purchased their tickets in just 16 minutes when they went on sale on Sept. 19, laughed appreciatively. Although His Holiness never left the stage during his 90-minute presentation, the audience relished every opportunity to interact with him, even if it was just by making eye contact or nodding their heads at one of his questions or comments.

“The thing about the Dalai Lama that I found most surprising or most impressive was just how humble he was, how down to earth he was,” said Delaney Janson ’13. “He spoke to us like we were equals with him.”

The contemplative nature of the afternoon was set when the W&M Women’s Chorus performed “Songs of Mind,” written by Associate Professor of Music Brian Hulse. After opening remarks from Rector Jeffrey B. Trammell and a introduction by Curt Mills '13, president of the W&M Student Assembly, the Dalai Lama took the stage to a thunderous standing ovation.

He was offered a green-and-gold William & Mary visor by Mills, whose organization sponsored the event along with the student programming committee of Alma Mater Productions and the International Relations Club. His Holiness stared at it briefly, playfully, before putting it on, drawing another loud ovation.

Moving behind the podium, he wasted no time in addressing what he feels is the self-inflicted sad state of the world today.

“I feel many of the troubles we face are of our own creation,” he stated. “There is too much emphasis on secondary differences – of faith, differences of races, of color, nationality.

“If we look at the fundamentals, we’re all the same people. No differences. No barriers.”

The Dalai Lama lauded the humanity of former President George W. Bush, saying they formed an immediate bond the first time that they met, that he admired Bush because he was a world leader without pretext, and that he "loved him." But he also decried the United States’ tendency to use force in engagements around the world saying, “it has unpredictable consequences,” and recalled telling Bush that, “I love you, I admire you, but some of your policies I have reservations about” in Iraq.

“We have to find a new way to approach problems,” he said, leading him into a lengthy oratory on the importance of inner calm and a more intellectual style of crisis management.

“In order to know the new reality, our minds must be calm,” he explained. “We can carry on research (into solutions) more effectively. With compassion, we can use our intellect properly.”

He told the story of meeting Cuban refugees two years ago. While telling him of their plight, they mentioned that each day they prayed to God that dictator Fidel Castro would be taken to heaven.

The Dalai Lama laughed at what might be termed a compassionate manner of handling a decades-old “problem.”

“That’s nice,” he finally said. “They don’t like Castro, but they don’t hate him. They ask that he please be taken to heaven.”

Medical science, he explained, holds that constant anger and constant fear often go together, and combine to form mind-clouding frustration.

“Anger and fear are eating at our inner system,” he said. “Warm-heartedness brings inner strength.”

He offered that he was not against divorce, except when children were involved. He followed that by saying that “long-lasting marriages are not based on external beauty, but on internal beauty.”

He poked fun at himself with an anecdote about the time he told a friend that his wife “wasn’t very attractive.”

“The man told me, ‘No, she’s not very attractive on the outside, but very, very beautiful on the inside,’” he recalled.

“I had no argument for that.”

He applauds the technological advances of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, yet drew hearty laughter when he told the audience that he went two years without “opening” his television.

“A young Indian heard me say that and asked me, ‘If you never watch TV, how do you pass the time?’” he recounted, drawing more laughter. “I told him, ‘I think,’ what Buddhists call analytical meditation. The time passes quickly.”

While fielding questions submitted by students, he was asked how the people of the world could ever truly get along when there are so many different religions, all of which believe they are the true faith.

While admitting that there are “major differences” in religions, the Dalai Lama argued that all of them preach love, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, self-discipline and contentment.

He gently advised his listeners not to believe the trendy theory that the world will come to an end in 2012. He buttressed his argument by saying that, according to Buddha, we will be around for 5,000 years.

That said, he couldn’t resist one final laugh-inducing punch line.

“And if the end of the world comes, good,” he added. “It will eliminate all of our problems.”

The simplicity with which one of the world’s religious leaders approaches the complexities of life wasn’t lost on Jane Rabinowitz ’13.

“It was nice to see that while he wanted to see respect and we were respectful and attentive,” she said, “he really just wanted to share a bit of his life with us.”

Sagra Alvarado '15 and Graham Bryant '13 contributed to this story - Ed.