University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen, left, and Gloria Gibson, center, present The Dalai Lama, right, a honorary diploma before the keynote speech by The Dalai Lama to students, faculty, and guests at the McLeod Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus Tuesday, May 18, 2010, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Dalai Lama is on campus to discus education issues with the community. (RICK TIBBOTT/ Courier Staff Photographer)
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa ― The Dalai Lama was ready to deliver a speech about education on Tuesday — but first, he had a confession to make.
"I was rather lazy as a student, no time for homework," the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said, to laughter from the audience at the University of Northern Iowa.
An audience member submitted a question asking how the Dalai Lama stayed motivated to study.
"My tutor carried a whip," he said with a smile. "At that young age, it was a holy whip, but it (didn't) make any difference to holy pain. Out of fear, I came to study."
But he says as he grew older, he said he took an interest in studying for the sake of knowledge.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, nine years after China sent communist forces to occupy the Himalayan region. Since then, the Buddhist leader has led a self-declared government-in-exile in India.
It was the 74-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate's first visit to Iowa, which came during a six-day tour through the Midwest.
Northern Iowa is one of about a dozen universities that participate in the Tibet Fund, which brings in three or four Tibetan students each year. Northern Iowa has hosted about 30 students total, and most of them study education.
The school originally extended an invitation to the Dalai Lama in September 2007. Representatives from Northern Iowa traveled to India in 2008, were granted an audience and worked with the Dalai Lama's office to bring him to Iowa.
The speech was nominally about education, but he went on to talk about world peace and the paths to individual and worldwide happiness. He said external disarmament of nations is important, but not as important as "internal disarmament," which he said means accepting peace as a path to happiness.
"That means, teach people a peaceful way," the Dalai Lama said. "It means a more compassionate attitude. ... We have to think about change to a peaceful world."
Northern Iowa conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters upon the Dalai Lama before his speech. Earlier on Tuesday, he participated in a panel discussion about teaching nonviolence.
At the heart of both the panel discussion and his speech were the Dalai Lama's sentiments that happiness will elude individuals until they come to accept the rest of the world as their equals. That can be accomplished, he said, through education.
"We and 'they' is outdated," he said. "Otherwise, our future will be very difficult. So consider the entire world part of 'we.' "
But education can be for good or evil, he said, so it has to be balanced by respect for other people.
"Education brings some equality, but education alone is not sufficient," he said. "We have to place more importance ... on compassion.
"Education alone (is) no guarantee to bring a happy life."
The Dalai Lama emphasized, in both his panel discussion and speech, that a secular government is the only proper one in the 21st century.
"Some people believe secular means a disrespect of religion," he said. "Secularism does not mean disrespect of religion, but rather respect of all religions."
The Dalai Lama travels next to New York.