Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, allowed a standing ovation for only seconds before smiling and gesturing the nearly 2,000 people gathered to take their seats yesterday in the Ben Light Gymnasium.
His Holiness, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, sat on an ornately decorated platform, his legs folded underneath his red and gold robes. He seemed amused with the formality around him as he leaned forward, elbows rested on his knees, and talked to the audience about his belief in the deep connections among all religions and the need for peace.
“Genuine harmony only comes after you know the value of others,” he said. “Just meeting, exchanging smile is not sufficient. Know the other’s traditions, value. And then you get a deeper respect.”
Yesterday’s speech, watched by nearly 1,000 people from remote viewing locations at the college, was the third presentation in “Bridging Worlds,” an event which brought the Dalai Lama to Cornell University on Tuesday and the State Theatre yesterday morning. The Dalai Lama’s four-day visit to Ithaca, which began Oct. 8, is centered around the blessing of the new Namgyal Monastery on Route 96B.
Senior Tenzin Zingshuk, a Tibetan student, said the Dalai Lama is viewed by many Tibetans as a living god. As a member of the monastery, she had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama at the blessing ceremony of the new monastery.
“I felt really lucky, and I felt blessed,” she said. “I felt like I was blessed from head to toe.”
President Peggy R. Williams, who introduced the Dalai Lama at the college’s event, said meeting His Holiness and hosting the event at the college was an honor.
“When you’re in his presence he has an impact,” she said. “Whatever your beliefs, he has some ability to connect incredibly effectively with people, even though you don’t know him, through his smile, through his words and through an incredible laugh.”
At an interfaith dialogue at the State Theatre, His Holiness said though he lost his freedom at age 16, when he became the leader of Tibet, and at age 24, when he was forced to flee to India, he still finds peace in exile.
“A great source of my confidence, my inner peace, comes from the Buddhist teachings,” he said.
During yesterday’s campus presentation, the Dalai Lama said he thinks people should keep the faith they were born with rather than change to a new religion.
“Faith should be a part of your whole life,” he said. “Changing religion is not easy. It is safer to keep one’s own religion.”
The speech centered around “Eight Versus on Training the Mind,” an ancient Buddhist text written by Langri Thangpa in the 11th century. His Holiness spoke to the audience partially in English and partially through his translator, which he joked was necessary because otherwise his friend would be out of a job.
The Dalai Lama said the text warns individuals against having a strong attachment to their sense of oneself.
“This strong grasping at the sense of ‘I am’ is really at the root of much of our emotional issues,” his translator said. “For example, when we examine the way in which we experience strong emotions such as attachment or … anger, we find that at the heart of these emotions is a strong clinging to this notion of ‘I.’ ”
Howard C. Cutler is the author of the 1993 book, “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living,” which he wrote with the Dalai Lama. Cutler said he approached the
Dalai Lama in 1990 and suggested the need for a book that would bring the Buddhist principles on happiness to a western audience.
The book spent 93 weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list.
Cutler said he believes the Dalai Lama’s teachings have been well received by a western audience because people sense that he practices the doctrines which he teaches.
“Among leaders at least it seems that’s a pretty rare quality,” he said. “People build up leaders and then they find out about some kind of a scandal and they get disappointed in people. With him, he really is like he seems to be.”
Cutler also said many people relate to the Dalai Lama’s confidence that people can share common beliefs regardless of their religion.
“It’s really refreshing to see someone who has absolute conviction in the benefits of his own tradition and the value of his own tradition and yet is not trying to push it on other people,” he said.
The Dalai Lama, known by Tibetans as Yeshe Norbu, the Wish-fulfilling Gem, has made connections worldwide, a distinction that has set him apart from his predecessors, Ted Arnold, president of Namgyal Monastery’s board of directors, said.
“Where the previous Dalai Lamas would have been dealing with a very small area … this one has had to and has been interested in fostering relationships with the western world,” he said.
Sydney Piburn, cofounder of the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, said the Dalai Lama — who refers to himself as a simple Buddhist monk — is a man of great humility.
“One of the things he focuses on is the sameness of our human nature, the fact that everyone shares the same qualities of having a mind and a heart and the same aspirations of happiness and well being,” he said.
Arnold said the Dalai Lama is able to set aside unwanted emotions.
“He’s probably the best and most honest embodiment of the full set of Tibetan Buddhist teachings that we have and that we’re likely to see,” he said. “In that regard, the idea that he would be just a simple monk is correct. He would just be the best among them.”
The Dalai Lama said he believes those people of other faiths can benefit from the main Buddhist tenants, which are central to many religions.
“There are the common practices such as the practice of love, compassion, forgiveness and contentment,” he said.
Michael Faber, Jewish chaplain at the college, said he believes many people who are disappointed with their religious leaders find a rare wisdom in the Dalai Lama.
“Every once in a while we run across someone who actually is in possession of the wisdom of the tradition, like the Dalai Lama,” he said. “Those are treasures.”
Zingshuk said she hopes other students at the college will learn from the Dalai Lama’s teachings on inner peace and tranquility.
“The way we can control ourselves, control our mind, [those teachings] help me a lot,” she said. “I’m thinking the students and Ithaca College as a whole might be able to use some of the stuff from his presentation, apply them and gain more peace on a regular basis.”
In the closing part of his speech and the last engagement of “Bridging Worlds,” the Dalai Lama repeated his message of the commonality of human nature and the importance of inner happiness.
“We are born on this planet,” he said. “Whether it is god or whether it is a previous life doesn’t matter. The reality is we are here. So in the mean time, everyone live one happy life.”