The Dalai Lama, in Woodstock, calls for peace and compassion

By Blaise Schweitzer, Daily Freeman, Sept 22, 2006

Woodstock, NY (USA) -- The Dalai Lama came to town Thursday, drawing thousands of followers and admirers in a celebration of the International Day of Peace.

The 71-year-old winner of the Nobel Peace Prize spoke about challenges to world peace without singling out gaffes by world religious leaders or rhetoric of fear-mongering politicians.

His visit was supposed to be a secret, because of security concerns. More than two thousand found out what the 14th Dalai Lama's itinerary was anyway, and showed up at Andy Lee Field off Rock City Road hours before his 3:30 p.m. appearance.

The Dalai Lama arrived via sport utility vehicle and quickly offered a message of compassion, kindness and respect for other religions and against materialism and fear-based thinking.

"We all have every right to successful life, happy life," he said, emphasizing that money shouldn't be part of the definition of success or happiness. "We should not forget our inner values. By inner value I mean ... human affection, or another word, human compassion."

Just as children blossom when parents show love, communities respond to compassionate treatment from their neighbors, he said. "Reach out and create positive atmosphere."

Kind acts help more than the recipient of goodness, he said. "Benefit first goes to the practitioner."

Hostility similarly hurts those on both sides of conflicts, he said.

"When fear, hatred, jealousy dominate our mind, then the best part of our brain which can judge cannot function properly," he said, calling such emotions destructive to wisdom. "You will never get satisfactory result."

Although he is a believer in Buddhism, the world's fourth largest religion, the Dalai Lama isn't pressing for converts to overtake the third slot, held by Chinese folk religion. Harmony among the followers of world's disparate faiths has been important to the him for much of his life and recent events have only sharpened his concern.

True believers of any faith would never use religion as a basis for hatred, but not enough people appreciate that, he said. "In the name of religion, sometimes more conflict, more divisions happen," he said.

He has made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, although he noted Buddhism has no roots there. He has also visited with several popes and Mother Teresa and interacted with Muslims, Hindus and Jews.

He spoke in favor of interfaith prayer and meditation. "Harmony on the basis of mutual respect is the key thing," he said.

The Dalai Lama's security detail had threatened to cancel his appearances if too many people showed up, but the event went off without a hitch.

Visitors from several states drove to Woodstock and showed up hours early to sit as close to the dais as possible. Elaine Taylor of Newburgh said she was brought up to be Jewish but doesn't follow any particular religion. Still, she said she believes in striving for goodness and wouldn't have missed seeing the Dalai Lama.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she said.

Jazz pianist Warren Bernhardt of Bearsville said the event was "quintessentially Woodstock" and although he isn't a follower of the Dalai Lama, he was impressed by the visit. "It's a thrill," he said.

Trudy "Sita-das" Pelligrino of Long Island, was almost radiant. "He brings an amazing love energy and peace," she said. "For real."

The Dalai Lama did not take questions, nor did he respond to any of the protest signs from neighbors of his Woodstock host, the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) monastery. Critical of the size of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery's large new building, which looms over the small church just below the KTD property, residents along Meads Mountain Road posted signs reading: "Welcome Dalai Lama, please help KTD to be a better neighbor."

He did respond to a sign in the crowd reading: "Tibet lives in the hearts of Woodstock."

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India in 1959 when the People's Republic of China overran the country. Before heading up Meads Mountain road to KTD, the Dalai Lama thanked the person holding the sign and said Tibet continues to go through difficulties. "We need more moral support from you," he said.

Before leaving the stage, the Dalai Lama clasped his hands and bowed toward the crowd. A sea of clasped hands returned his gesture.