The Dalai Lama spent his Saturday morning on the National Mall speaking to over 20,000 people about developing inner confidence and warm heartedness. Whoopi Goldberg emceed the nearly three-hour open-air event, which included monks chanting, traditional Tibetan dance, and musicians. The last time the Tibetan spiritual leader spoke on the Mall was after being presented the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in the Capitol Rotunda in 2008.
The Dalai Lama, who recently devolved his political authority to a democratically elected leadership in-exile, did not mention his meeting last Thursday with House Speaker John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and others, nor about the possibility of meeting President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Human rights groups have called on the U.S .Administration to meet with the Dalai Lama, as has Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who said last week said, “China is now calling on U.S. officials to refuse to meet with the Dalai Lama during his current visit. It must be clear that the U.S. sides with the victims in Tibet, not the perpetrators in Beijing. President Obama has an opportunity to make a strong statement about what we stand for by meeting with the Dalai Lama during his current visit, and I urge him to take it.”
Speaking Saturday about the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the early1950s and his subsequent exile to India, the 76 year-old Dalai Lama said, “I lost my freedom at sixteen [years old]. At twenty-four [years old], I lost my country.”
The irony of the Tibetan leader speaking about losing his nation, in front of the U.S. Capitol, while Secretary Clinton was welcoming the new country of South Sudan was not lost on members in the crowd. And political observers have opined that President Obama’s hesitation to sit down with a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner evidences China’s continuing ability to influence who is invited into the White House.
The Dalai Lama focused much of his hour-long remarks on what he called his three life commitments. He said that as a human being, he is committed to the promotion of basic human values such as compassion; as a Buddhist monk, he encourages interfaith dialogue and tolerance; and as the Dalai Lama, he is committed to the Tibetan people. Often times joking and making light hearted remarks, the Dalai Lama concluded the morning by challenged the audience, especially the youth, to devote as much effort to “developing warm heartedness” as they do “brain intelligence.”
In the afternoon, the Dalai Lama returned to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. for the first of three days of teaching fundamental Buddhist tenants. Organizers have said that nearly 10,000 people are attending the teachings. Sitting on a traditional throne with dozens of monks, including the Gyalwang Karmapa, on either side, the Dalai Lama presented the Buddha’s 2,500 year-old teachings on the Four Noble Truths, and outlined the logic used in contemplative session to understand impermanence, causality, and the nature of suffering. Even while teaching classic Buddhist philosophy, Dalai Lama stressed the importance of “respecting everyone, whether believer or non-believer, religious or non-religious.”
“You can disagree on someone’s viewpoint or philosophy, but you must still respect that person as an individual.”
The Dalai Lama will teach in Sunday and Monday afternoons before beginning the Kalachakra initiation scheduled July 12-16th.
A series of talks on Buddhism are taking place in the early evening at the Verizon Center by a number of notable lamas and Western scholars.
Matteo Pistono, author of recently released “In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet” will be contributing to On Faith during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Washington D.C., and tweeting from the Verizon center (Twitter: @matteopistono).
For the full story on events during Kalachakra, read Post reporter Michelle Boorstein’s piece on what to expect. View a photo gallery of the Dalai Lama’s life and his global travels.