Dalai Lama looking for answers, too

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, May 10, 2007

He's seeking a way to motivate people

NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts (USA) -- The 14th Dalai Lama, warning that his beloved Tibet is "passing through the darkest period in our almost 2,000 years," acknowledged yesterday that he is not certain how to motivate the people of the world to care about issues he sees as threatening to humanity.

Speaking to an adoring audience of nearly 5,000 Smith and Hampshire college students, the 71-year-old monk was alternately playful and serious as he brought his message of compassion and religious tolerance to the Connecticut River Valley, an area with a small community of Tibetan refugees and a network of colleges that have embraced Buddhist studies and have for more than a decade sponsored a student exchange program with the exiled Tibetan academy.

The Dalai Lama, whose given name is Tenzin Gyatso, kept the audience laughing almost from the moment of his entrance with a black academic gown draped haphazardly over his maroon and saffron robes and a black tasseled mortarboard that he fidgeted with throughout a two-hour convocation at Smith College's Indoor Track and Tennis Facility.

Asked for child-rearing advice, the celibate monk cracked, "First, let me marry," before acknowledging that his own upbringing was a bit unusual, "because of my name, Dalai Lama."

He said his tutors kept a special yellow whip to discipline him, but added wryly, "It was a holy whip for a holy student, but I don't think there is any holy pain."

The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent advocacy for the people of Tibet, also warned of the psychological dangers of unhappiness, hatred, and anger and of broader challenges, particularly that of overpopulation, which he said he views as a major issue facing humankind. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after an invasion by China, now presides over a Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India.

Speaking without notes and mostly in a heavily accented English, but at times through a translator, the Dalai Lama largely stuck to his oft-repeated message, which he delivers in numerous speeches around the world, about the importance of compassion. He said that education and wealth are not sufficient means to happiness, but that "warmheartedness is the key to a sustained, peaceful mind" and that "anger, hatred, jealousy, these are destroyers of a peaceful mind." He warned that technology and knowledge, unless combined with compassion, will lead to "un believable things."

He spoke repeatedly of the importance of maternal affection as a means for teaching compassionate behavior to children. He said his own father was short-tempered, but that his mother was kind and empathetic, feeling sorrow for those she encountered who ailed.

"Maximum affection to your children -- that is most important," he said, to applause, in response to a question about his advice for young families.

But he did not disavow corporal punishment for naughty children, saying "some harsh method is also necessary" but then tempering his remarks by saying, "I don't know, that's my view."

Asked "what can we do to wake up our civilization" to issues such as global warming, warfare, and religious fundamentalism, the Dalai Lama said "the real answer is, I don't know." But, he said, "I think human warmheartedness brings sense of community, sense of responsibility, and sense of concern, and the intelligence side provides us method. . . . Raise the issues, remind leaders. . . . Certainly we will find effective method if we pay sufficient attention and use our intelligence properly."

"I fully agree with these challenges, but I want to add one thing -- the population," he said. "We also have to work to reduce this gap between rich and poor. The poorer people's living standard must be raised up."

The Dalai Lama repeatedly alluded to concern about the state of the environment, particularly in Tibet, which is facing population growth facilitated by a new railway from China. Tibetans have worried that migration of Chinese into Tibet will cause Tibetans to become a minority in their homeland. The United States regards Tibet as part of China; the Dalai Lama advocates not for independence, but for greater autonomy for Tibetans within China.

The Dalai Lama exchanged white prayer scarves, called khata, with those who greeted him. At the gym, for example, he bowed as he placed scarves on the shoulders of the presidents of Smith and Hampshire colleges and allowed them to do the same for him.

The president of Smith, Carol T. Christ, gave the Dalai Lama an honorary degree, and called his visit "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," adding that one of her predecessors had first invited the spiritual leader to visit a decade ago.

The Dalai Lama arrived in Massachusetts Tuesday afternoon, flying into Westfield-Barnes Airport, and he is scheduled to depart today.

Yesterday afternoon, he met with about two-dozen Buddhist studies teachers from the Five Colleges consortium of Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The two-hour seminar was dominated by a discussion among professors about tensions within their field between the academic study of Buddhism and classroom discussion of meditation and other elements of practice and faith.

Today the Dalai Lama is to meet with more than 1,000 Tibetans living in New England; an estimated 138 were resettled here in the Connecticut River Valley under a special visa program that began in 1992. There are also 34 Tibetan students enrolled at the five colleges.

"This area is very receptive, and supportive of the Tibetan cause," said Thondup Tsering, the president of the Tibetan Association of Western Massachusetts.

Tsering and his wife run the only Tibetan institution in town, a restaurant called the Lhasa Cafe, but he said the community hopes to build a Tibetan Community Center.