Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hello Dalai

A message of love, compassion

The Dalai Lama, spiritual mentor to millions of Buddhists, greets a crowd Sunday at Millennium Park.
(Al Podgorski/Sun-Times)


Dalai Lama in Chicago


May 7, 2007

The Dalai Lama said he hasn't attained enlightenment. He's only in the beginning stages.

During Sunday's stopover in Chicago, he also criticized China's aggression toward Tibet. He then said President Bush was "very nice" but denounced U.S. violence around the world.

The message was potent but the delivery casual. Dressed in maroon-and-gold robes, the 71-year-old monk wore a headset and sat cross-legged in a cushioned chair to address audiences in Millennium Park.

No strutting across the stage. No high-pitched preacher's crescendo. No script.

Instead, the man Tibetans believe to be the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of compassion rubbed his head and joked about baldness.

"I am informal," he said, and giggled.

He smiled and giggled a lot throughout his talks, attended by a limited number of ticket holders.

The morning session, in Harris Theater, seated 1,500. The afternoon session in Pritzker Pavilion allowed 11,400 attendees.

The Dalai Lama said he welcomed the curious, but he shot down any notion that he is special or has mystical powers.

"That's absolute nonsense," he said.

He spoke in English but sometimes relied on an interpreter to clarify his message.

'A timely cure'
The Dalai Lama emphasized inner peace, cultivating contentment and nonviolent responses to conflict.

"Love and compassion are the foundation," he said.

His fourth visit to the city was sponsored by the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago, which hopes to build a cultural center soon.

"His message offers a timely cure for the maladies of our time" said the alliance's Sherab Gyatso, noting that 300 Tibetans live in the area.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. In October, he'll receive the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor. Past recipients include Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II.

"It is fine company for a man of his greatness," said Sen. Richard Durbin, who along with Maggie Daley briefly addressed the afternoon crowd.

'Not true practitioners'
The event drew a range of dignitaries as well as corporate and private sponsors. About 200 security guards, under U.S. State Department control, were on hand because the Dalai Lama is the secular head of Tibet as well as a spiritual leader.

All attendees passed through security gates. Chicago Police said the crowd was peaceful and no arrests were made.

The Dalai Lama extolled the virtues of all religions. He said people shouldn't change their faith but practice what they know. The goal of all religions is basically the same path, he said.

"When people change their faiths, their minds become confused later," he said. "Better to keep one's tradition."

He was critical of self-centered and materialistic religious leaders.

"Some ... acquire a lot of things," he said. "These are not true practitioners."

One of the biggest obstacles to inner peace is that people can't just be still, he said. They listen to iPods or watch TV because "they need constant external stimulation."

At airports, he said, they shout and become angry at delays. He uses the time to think. "That's good," he said. "That's useful."

At the end of the afternoon, the Dalai Lama was asked how to best respond to terrorism.

"Talk," and listen, he said.

He later said terrorism done in the name of religion is the worst kind.

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