By DENNIS WEBB
ASPEN — The Dalai Lama delivered a message to the Chinese government from western Colorado on Saturday: Go ahead and demonize him. He can take it. But treat the Tibetan people with respect.
The 73-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner and self-described “simple Buddhist monk” addressed a crowd of thousands stationed inside and on the lawn of the Benedict Music Tent. He mixed lighthearted banter with pointed criticism, a fair amount of it directed at the country whose acts of suppression caused the Tibetan leader to flee his native land in 1959.
The Dalai Lama said he fully supports this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, and he is not seeking the separation of Tibet from China. But he said Tibetans’ human rights must be honored, and Tibetans need to share in more of the material benefits of the Chinese economy.
“Unity must come from heart, based on trust, mutual respect,” he said, speaking in broken English, and repeatedly directing some of his comments to a Chinese contingent sitting at the front of the crowd.
The Dalai Lama’s appearance this week in Aspen, which included a meeting Friday with presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, followed violent protests and a Chinese crackdown in Tibet earlier this year. McCain on Friday called for political autonomy for Tibet.
After the Dalai Lama took the stage Saturday in his red monk’s robe and a white scarf covered with children’s drawings, he pulled his crossed legs and shoeless feet up beneath him in an easy chair and made a promise to his listeners.
“I’m not going to meditate without talk. Don’t worry about that,” he said, emitting a deep belly laugh.
Displaying his trademark self-deprecatory humor and humility, he joked of having been too lazy to have prepared a speech, and reiterated his assertions that references to him being a “Little Buddha” or “God King” are nonsense.
“Quite often in my dreams, I remember I’m a Buddhist monk — (I) never remember I’m a Dalai Lama,” he said.
This particular monk met with former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1954 to speak about the future of Tibet. And he said Mao made several promises, such as that the Chinese had come to help Tibet and would withdraw in 20 years.
The Dalai Lama also said today’s Chinese leadership has moved away from true Marxism, which entails looking out for the working-class and needy.
“They don’t care about the gap between the rich and poor,” he said.
But he said the same such gap exists in the United States, and a key to closing it is providing education to those who need it.
The Dalai Lama said it’s important to show compassion toward enemies, and that whereas the 20th century was a century of bloodshed, “this century should be a century of dialogue.” He said that as people recognize the oneness of humanity and that they are more alike than different, they will be better able to avoid war and tackle global environmental challenges.
For Buddhists, the Dalai Lama’s local appearance was like Catholics getting to see the pope.
“His messages are very powerful, very strong,” said Llakpa Tshefer Sherpa, a Nepal native who traveled with his wife from their Denver home to hear him speak.
Tenzin Lobsang, a monk from India now touring the United States, praised the Dalai Lama for his simplicity and humility.
“His Holiness is only thinking of others,” he said.
This simple monk’s assertion about how simple the solutions to some of the world’s problems are impressed Kelley Hill of Denver. She said she also admired how he delivered his message with charm and a twinkle in his eye.
“He definitely has a presence you can feel,” she said.
• E-mail Dennis Webb at email@example.com.