Saturday, September 09, 2006

HH Dalai Lama Brings Canadian Teens a Message of Compassion

Tibetan Buddhist leaders' simple words leave restless young people spellbound

As reported by The Globe and Mail; Saturday, September 09, 2006

By Rod Mickleburgh

Vancouver -- A remarkable, mutual admiration society took over the Orpheum Theatre here yesterday morning, as the venerable Dalai Lama held several thousand normally restless teenagers spellbound with his simple preaching on compassion.

Despite occasionally awkward English and less than perfect miking, the 71-year-old Tibetan Buddhist leader had them craning forward to catch every word, their cellphones and daily teenage rituals momentarily forgotten.

When he got up to leave, bowing to his young audience with hands pressed together in blessing, they responded with a long, sustained standing ovation, full of the whoops and cheers normally reserved for rock stars.

Maybe it was the red Canada visor he balanced on his bald head throughout the 21/2-hour dialogue, maybe it was his unflagging good humour, jokes and ready laughter, or maybe -- more likely -- it was his message of the need to learn tolerance and compassion in our increasingly violent world that turned the teenagers on.

But His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, as unlikely a teacher as the students have ever had, was a hit.

"He was really cool," said student Jenny Tan, before rushing off to join her friends. "He kind of opened my mind, that a lot of our own universe depends on others. I never thought about it that way before."

Echoed Vincent Wong, 16, of Prince of Wales Secondary School: "He's pretty cool, actually. He knows a lot. I really like him.

"Sixteen-year-old Narpinder Rehallu from Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School said she was inspired to be a better person.

"Helping others out more, changing the way I act, I guess. Not being biased just to friends and family but paying attention to others," she said, thoughtfully.

The event, which filled the 2,800-seat theatre to capacity, was billed as one of the few times the exiled Nobel Peace Prize winner has shared the stage exclusively with young people.

There were student emcees, a student moderator and six other students to pose questions to the Dalai Lama, seated cross-legged in their midst on the seat of a large comfortable armchair.

Asked right off the bat why he felt it was important to have a dialogue with young people, the Dalai Lama replied: "The answer is quite simple. The past is past, and the future is coming."I am from the 20th century. We created many problems. Now we are now ready to say goodbye. . . . For the younger generation, it is easier to deal with the new reality. It is easier to change."

Then, pointing at his long-time interpreter, he added, with a large grin: "That is an old person's face. It is much better to see a young person's face."

The theme of his dialogue was "Nurturing Compassion," and the Dalai Lama did not shy from applying it to current events, including the continuing bloodshed in Iraq.

He said the world is becoming inured to such grim events. "Thousands die every day in Africa. Not much is done. Day by day, in Iraq, hundreds of people are killed, and it just becomes regular news. It is very sad.

"We are becoming more and more detached, seeing this as a chronic disease. That must change," the Dalai Lama declared.

The key to change is moving beyond selfishness toward compassion for others, he said. That is the road to inner peace and strength.

"Extreme self-centredness and selfishness always bring disaster. People who always use the words 'me, my, I' have a greater chance of heart attack. This is scientific fact."

Modern education seems one sided, he added, paying little attention to inner values.

"So we get people who just see profit as important. Money, money and more money. That doesn't go together with inner spiritual development."

He did not spare the world's religions, saying schisms in Catholicism, Islam and even Buddhism had caused hatred and destruction in the world.

"More religions, more hatred. What benefit? -- The more harmony, the more peace."

The dialogue was not one sided. Three students shared their own stories with the Dalai Lama, who listened intently to each, particularly the tale recounted by 17-year-old Lucy Wang of Point Grey Secondary School.

Ms. Wang told of her summer visit to a poor village in China where her cousin Ting lived.

Each day, under a broiling sun, Ting, the same age as Ms. Wang, sold ice cream, raising money for new shoes, a better umbrella and school supplies for her young sister. Then an old woman in the village became sick, needing an operation she could not afford. Without a second thought, Ms. Wang's cousin turned over her entire summer's savings -- $70 -- to the village's fundraising drive.

Ms. Wang asked Ting how she could give up what she had worked so hard for. Ting replied, "Those things can wait, but sickness cannot."

Ms. Wang was deeply moved and inspired by her cousin's unselfish decision. She said she is now working "every day" to meet her new goal of helping others.

The Dalai Lama was moved, too."Wonderful, wonderful," he told Ms. Wang, as her short video account ended. "I admire your way of thinking, and also your cousin's. Sometimes I think compassion is greater among poor people and the uneducated."

Seated on stage beside the Dalai Lama, the earnest high-school student blinked back tears.