Dalai Lama spreads message of compassion and forgiveness in Rutgers speech

By ROSA CIRIANNI, Associated Press, September 25, 2005

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (USA) -- Ed Abitanta and Tom Kohutick were among the thousands who came from near and far to hear the Dalai Lama speak at Rutgers Stadium on Sunday.

The two men and about 50 other people walked a mile from a nearby yoga studio to see the Tibetan spiritual leader and hear his message of frank and honest communication in dealing with political and personal conflict.

"It was kind of a pilgrimage here this morning," is how Kohutick, a Marlboro resident, described the procession from the Franklin Township site.

The group was part of a crowd of about 36,000 people who came to see Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who is the spiritual leader and head of state for the Tibetan people. He was tapped at age two as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, enthroned at age five, and took over full political leadership of his country by 15.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since he was forced from Tibet in 1959, a decade after China's invasion and failed peace talks with Chinese leaders. Since then, he has been working to maintain the Tibetan culture, language and religion of Buddhism and advocating nonviolence throughout the world.

The 70 year-old, who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, told young people they have a responsibility to make this century one of peace. He also urged them to develop a wider perspective of the world and not just focus on "America, America, America."

And many in the crowd say his message got through.

Arielle Gomberg and J.C. Goffe said they came to the event to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama. Arielle is Jewish and Goffe is Catholic.

"What he's saying spans sexuality, race, religion, everything. It's for humanity," said Goffe, 28, a former Rutgers student.

Gomberg said the Dalai Lama's teachings could help society.

"His quiet mind is the kind of serenity New Jersey, home of strip malls, could use," she said.

A row of monks, wearing their traditional brightly colored gold and maroon attire, were among a few dozen people who sat near the stage on blankets, pillows or mats spread across the 10- and 20-yard lines on the football field. The visit also attracted several foreign media outlets, including Asian and Russian television stations, a German press agency and publications focusing on Jewish and Catholic issues and life.

The event also marked the largest nonathletic event in Rutgers history, topping visits by former President Bill Clinton (before the stadium was built), and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

The Dalai Lama's humility and humor won over his audience, who responded often with laughter and applause. When Rutgers President Richard McCormick presented him with an honorary degree, he said it was an honor to receive it without having to work hard and study for it.

He started his "Peace, War and Reconciliation" lecture by saying that the topics were familiar to everybody.

"I have nothing to offer, new ideas or new views, nothing special. So, you may disappoint after listen to my ... lecture. If you feel boring, then I'm sorry. But at least today this weather -- not hot, not cold, quite pleasant, so just a few minutes you spend here OK, not my problem," he said.

The Dalai Lama also addressed nuclear and weapons, calling them dangerous and expensive _ not just in financial terms, but also to humanity. He gave the example of some African states that have an abundance of weapons, but not enough food for their people.

He said it should be society's dream that the whole world should be free of nuclear and biological weapons. The Dalai Lama called the concept of war "outdated," and said peaceful reconciliation requires determination, and frank dialogue.

"This whole planet is just us," he said. "Therefore, destruction of another area essentially is destruction of yourself."

The Dalai Lama said people need to develop a deeper awareness about their emotions _ which ones are beneficial and which are destructive. When anger dominates, he said it has a tendency to obscure reality.

He also stressed that all humans are fundamentally the same, mentally, emotionally and in their desire for happiness. Anger and jealousy also are normal experiences that he feels too, for example, when his translator on stage with him speaks better English.

And he said the major religions, although different in philosophy, are the same by having one supreme being and teaching forgiveness, discipline, love, tolerance and compassion. The Dalai Lama also noted that he is not all knowing, and does not have an answer about how to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine when asked.

Anu Goswami, 37, a fashion designer from New York, said she the Dalai Lama's humor surprised her. "He came across as a human being, he came across as a person you could bond with," she said.