The Dalai Lama celebrated his 76th birthday Wednesday at the Verizon Center, surrounded by fellow Buddhists and enthusiasts alike. The celebrations, part of the 2011 Kalachakra festival for World Peace, brought the descendants of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi to town and culminated in a parade of hundreds down Seventh Street Northwest.
The Dalai Lama sat center stage with Martin Luther King III, son of the 1960’s civil rights advocate, and Arun Gandhi, grandson of the leader who helped gain Indian independence decades ago. All gave speeches praising the benefits of nonviolence, compassion, and world peace.
Both Gandhi and King talked about the roots of physical violence and the importance of rising above feelings such as intolerance, prejudice and anger.
“We have to become the change we wish to see in the world,” Gandi said, citing a famous quote belonging to his grandfather. “We have to transform ourselves,” Gandhi added.
The Dalai Lama then took the stage to talk about the importance of self-confidence, optimism and the triviality of material possessions, which he said are “shameful.” He also commented on his recent retirement from political leadership, saying that he had come to recognize the “hypocrisy” of his advocating for the separation of church and state while claiming leadership in both realms.
“Now I can tell people religious institutions and political institutions must be separate. My statement is now honest,” he declared.
The Dalai Lama finished the last half of his speech in Tibetan. The crowd was able to get in a quick happy birthday song before he departed the center at 12 p.m.
Meanwhile, outside the center, a group of hundreds took over Seventh Street Northwest and paraded from the center to the intersection of Seventh and Fourth.
“Every time when we get a chance, we’re really excited and happy to see him,” said Sonam Yangzom, a director for the Tibetan Association of Connecticut who traveled with about 100 others to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Yangzom helped to hold up a large, light green banner that wished the Dalai Lama a happy birthday.
Many waved Tibetan and American flags as they paraded down the street.
Follow On Faith’s coverage of the Dalai Lama in D.C.
Read Buddhist author Matteo Pistono’s reflection on the question, Who is the Dalai Lama?
View a graphic explaining the Kalachakra ritual.
Read, What is the Kalachakra?
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