Dalai Lama talks compassion, self

by Kevin Smead

The Dalai Lama bows before a sold-out crowd of nearly 12,000. | Courtesy of Tim Mantoani
The Dalai Lama bows before a sold-out crowd of nearly 12,000. | Courtesy of Tim Mantoani

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama concluded his two-day tour of San Diego on Thursday morning at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena. Speaking to a sold-out crowd, the Dalai Lama touched on many different topics, focusing mainly on universal compassion in an increasingly changing world.

The event began with a traditional Native American song and dance performed by Soaring Eagles, a local cultural organization. After a brief Spanish guitar performance, the main event began.

SDSU President Elliot Hirshman took the stage first to express his gratitude toward His Holiness for visiting San Diego.

“Despite the many changes in our modern world, many fundamental questions remain the same … My fervent hope is that we all gain a measure of insight from his remarks,” Hirshman said.

Following Hirshman’s opening remarks, Mayor Jerry Sanders presented His Holiness with the key to the city, noting the importance of the visit.

“Throughout his teachings, His Holiness encourages all of us to strive for a better future, with peace and compassion for others. I’m glad with this visit to the University of San Diego, University of California, San Diego and now SDSU, His Holiness can see our city’s dedication to knowledge and enlightenment, and improving the world beyond our borders,” Sanders said.

Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of the late Steve Jobs and prominent philanthropist, briefly discussed the Dalai Lama’s importance as both a religious and political figure. “Attention to our spiritual well-being is a kind of civic responsibility,” Jobs said. “The Dalai Lama’s lessons for us are personal, and they’re political … The Dalai Lama is a rare figure in our time; a religious leader who includes, rather than excludes, who wishes to expand freedom, rather than contract it.”

Once the Dalai Lama took the stage, he spoke about topics ranging from compassion and respect toward others to the tough challenges that all humanity faces today.

In the beginning of the lecture, His Holiness addressed the crowd as “brothers and sisters,” and clarified by saying, “When I say brothers and sisters, I truly believe we are the same human beings … mentally, emotionally, physically, we are the same.”

Keeping with the theme of the San Diego visits, “Compassion Without Borders,” he discussed the idea of attachment. “Compassion without attachment … is infinite. It is unbiased. That is compassion without borders.”

Though about 12,000 people attended the event, the arena remained silent during the lecture, save for several outbursts of laughter because of His Holiness’ unexpected sense of humor.

During the question and answer session after the lecture, the first question posed was, “I am just one person. How can I make a difference?” His Holiness quickly responded, “I am also just one person.”

After the lecture and Q-and-A session, the Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the Dalai Lama’s personal peace emissary and coordinator of the three events, was presented with a certificate of appreciation on behalf of all three universities.

“Our very purpose in participating in this event was to create a unique dialogue on science, ethics and peace,” Lama Tenzin said. “San Diego is the perfect place for innovative dialogue on compassion.”

Finally, SDSU’s Associate Vice President for Financial Operations Scott Burns discussed the event’s finances. Burns made it clear neither His Holiness nor the universities financially profited from this event in any way. Burns explained how all funds would be reconciled after the event, and all excess funds would be donated to local and international charitable organizations. In providing exact figures, Burns said the event had totaled $574, 000 in ticket sales, with an expenditure total of $527,000.

Those who did not attend or view the live stream will be given another chance to see the event. It will be made available on the SDSU homepage and will air on KPBS-TV at 8 p.m. May 3. The other two events from Wednesday at USD and UCSD will air on UCSD-TV on May 21 at 8 p.m., and May 28 at 8 p.m., respectively.