October 10, 2007

The Dalai Lama Speaks to Thousands in Ithaca

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Just after 2:30 p.m. yesterday, a crowd of more than 5,000 was brought to a dead silence when a small man entered Barton Hall and proceeded to the stage.
The crashing thunderstorm outside sharply contrasted the serenity of the group. All eyes were focused on the front as people eagerly waited to hear him speak. Here was a man known by millions throughout the world as an international symbol of peace and nonviolence. Here was His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.
His visit to Cornell, in which he delivered an address entitled, “A Human Approach to World Peace,” was part of a two-day series of speaking engagements called “Bridging Worlds.” The Dalai Lama came to bless Namgyal, Ithaca’s new monastery, which he has named “Du Khor Choe Ling,” or the Land of Kalachakra Study and Practice. His visit marks the second time he has come to Cornell; he previously visited in 1991.
The first part of the event was a half-hour long chant by eight Buddhist monks. Following the chants, President David Skorton introduced the Dalai Lama.
“It is a very profound honor for Cornell University and for me to welcome back to campus His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama,” Skorton said.
Skorton added that the Dalai Lama has been an inspiration to people around the world, and that he has authored over 70 books and received more than 80 awards and degrees — including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Skorton introduced the Dalai Lama as an important leader in “bridging the gap between religion and science” and as someone who has been instrumental in focusing on sustainability efforts in his homeland, as well as promoting peace and nonviolence to millions throughout the world. After Skorton’s brief introduction, the Dalai Lama addressed the audience.
“Brothers and sisters,” the Dalai Lama began. He prefaced his talk by remarking that as people, everyone is a member of “the same human family” and therefore he refers to everyone as either his brother or his sister. He also said that the world is overcrowded and thus very prone to violence. He then spoke about his role as the 14th Dalai Lama.
According to the Dalai Lama his number one commitment as a human being is “the promotions of human value,” and his second commitment as a Buddhist is “the promotion of religious harmony” of people throughout the world.
His talk then turned to peace. “Everybody really loves peace,” he said, but warned that peace is not simply the “mere absence of violence.”
Genuine peace, according to the Dalai Lama, must come from within. If a person is full of anger or hate, that individual cannot be genuinely peaceful.
Compassion, he said, is the source of inner peace and strength. He also said as humans we must take care of others as we take care of ourselves and that having that attitude itself brings inner strength.
He then called on people of the younger generation to use peace in solving conflict, and said he has faith in the power of youth.
“I have more confidence in our younger generation,” he said. “Many unnecessary problems of my generation [are due to] mistakes or negligence.”
His speech alternated between statements of inner peace and enlightenment and amusing witticisms that drew laughter from the audience. In the earlier part of his speech, he laughed as he questioned the audience’s desire to hear him speak.
“Some come with expectations … that is dangerous. I have nothing to offer,” he said, to much laughter.
After he concluded his remarks, Skorton asked the Dalai Lama three questions that were posted online by members of the community.
One of the questions asked him how he balances his faith with science and it drew a lengthy response. According to the Dalai Lama, individuals can be both religious and scientific at the same time.
“If during your investigation you find things that contradict scripture, you have to alter your view of scripture,” he said about scientific research.
When asked about how Americans can help developing third-world countries, the Dalai Lama praised the Peace Corps for sending America’s students around the world instead of soldiers. His remarks elicited loud applause from the audience.
After finishing the question and answer section, the Dalai Lama placed a kata, a long thin white scarf, around Skorton’s neck.
Offering a person a kata is a Tibetan custom associated with greeting.
He also gave one to Prof. David Holmberg, anthropology, who delivered closing remarks, and to Susan Wardwell and Mareike Larson, the two sign language interpreters.
“It was beyond an honor. Honor isn’t even the word,” Wardwell said.
She also said after the ceremony several people — some of whom were crying — approached her to touch the kata.
Members of the audience seemed to appreciate the rarity of the Dalai Lama’s visit and were pleased with his talk.
“It’s a once in a lifetime event,” said Alexandra Tsantes ’08. “We’re at a time when we need a little bit of guidance,” she added.
Several people seen leaving Barton Hall were in tears.
The Dalai Lama’s visit was especially significant for students who can relate to his Buddhist teachings.
John McReynolds ’09, who took the Refuge Vows back home in California with a lama of the same lineage as the Dalai Lama, was excited to hear his point of view.
“It’s a great opportunity for everyone, not just for Buddhists,” McReynolds said.
Not surprisingly, the Dalai Lama did not disappoint his audience members, some of whom were extremely pleased with his message and his informality.
“He conveys the most profound concepts with such simplicity,” said Nancy Ciavarri, who drove from Rochester to hear him speak.
“He was so fun,” she said.