Tibet’s spiritual leader visits state Senate before giving speech
By Justin Mason
The Dalai Lama bows to the audience at the Palace Theatre in Albany on Wednesday. (Gazette Photographer: Peter Barber)
ALBANY — With his palms pressed together, the Dalai Lama sat down in front of a row of lights, cameras and eager reporters gathered at the Crowne Plaza.
The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet was late for an early afternoon news conference. And it was a fact he wasn’t going to overlook during his first visit to the state capital.
“My appointment,” he said in somewhat broken English while glancing down at his gold-colored watch. “It’s late. Sorry.”
It was a mistake in the kitchen, he explained, an elfin smile forming on his face. Apparently, his lunch had come late —as if the 14th in a line of holy leaders dating back several centuries would need to explain his tardiness.
Of course, the Dalai Lama’s trip to the Capital Region itself was a bit late. Months of anticipation for his late-April visit were followed by an abrupt cancellation of the event, which was followed by an equally abrupt rescheduling of the talk sponsored by the World Ethical Foundations Consortium, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Seagram heirs Clare and Sara Bronfman.
But when the Dalai Lama made his first public appearance at the New York state Senate Wednesday morning, few seemed concerned about the path that brought him to Albany. After speaking to the Senate, the Dalai Lama held his news conference the Crowne Plaza and then delivered a speech to an enthusiastic audience of roughly 2,600 gathered at the nearby Palace Theatre.
The crowd lines up around the block as they wait to see the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, May 6, at the Palace Theatre in Albany. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)
During all his stops, he called for compassion and the need for values as mankind traverses troubled times. He predicted that people with a strong sense of family and community would rise above the effects of the worldwide economic downturn, while those who had abandoned their values in pursuit of money or material gain would continue to suffer.
“These people with other values,” he said during the news conference. “I’m quite sure they will be the least disturbed because they have other values.”
Wearing gold and crimson robes, he spoke invitingly and at times laughed along with his audience. He had a translator, but only occasionally relied on him for help.
True to his reputation, he remained humble about his significance in the greater scheme of humanity, instead insisting he is only one among 6 billion humans now inhabiting the planet. He spoke of establishing religious harmony and urged people to be more attentive to their families rather than chasing material pursuits.
“We should pay more attention to inner value,” he said. “Money alone is not sufficient.”
He played down the “barriers” of color, language and political ideology and the difference between rich and poor. He said the important thing is to communicate, even if it is with the exchange of a smile.
“The basic thing is we [are] all the same human beings,” he said. “We are the same human members of the same human family.”
He spoke of people of the Muslim and Christian faiths as his “brothers and sisters,” and urged them to find religious harmony through mutual respect. This concept, he conceded, was one developed after his exile from Tibet in 1959.
“[In Tibet], we said we Buddhists are very fortunate … the others, not so fortunate,” he said with a chuckle.
But after traveling abroad, he said he gained a broader respect for other religions. He came to look upon them with reverence and respect for their closeness to god.
He also spoke of peaceful leaders throughout history, including Mahatmas Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. He said relying on peaceful methods always proves more effective than violence, which has done nothing to rectify humanity’s problems.
The Dalai Lama addresses the state Senate in Albany on Wednesday. ( Michael P. Farrell / Times Union )
“We must find a ways and means to face problems that are non-violent,” he said.
The Dalai Lama praised the United States for being a safe-haven for freedom and democracy. Though he acknowledged there were historical ebbs and flows of these values because of the policies of different presidential administrations, he said the core values of the country always remain the same.
“I admire your ancestors’ principles, democracy, liberty and freedom,” he said. “U.S. policies must carry on these principles.”
Thousands of spectators greeted him at the Palace, where a line of people waiting to enter the venue stretched more then two city blocks. Some had to wait more than two hours to enter because of extra security at the entrance.
Even as the Dalai Lama took the stage, a line of more than a hundred people stretched down Clinton Avenue and around the corner of North Hawk Street. Inside, he draped white katas —a silk Tibetan scarfs — around the Bronfman sisters, Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings and Bishop Howad Hubbard, the four who sat on stage with him throughout his speech.
“Compassion in the heart is the key factor for happiness in life,” he told the audience. “Also for health.”
The Dalai Lama also spoke of Chinese oppression in his native Tibet, and how the “hardliners” were dismissive of a rich Tibetan history and culture. He urged China to let the Tibetans speak their plight to the world so that the truth about their condition could be known.
“Let them see the reality. If the majority of people are happy and our information is wrong, then we must apologize to the Chinese. But if our information is correct, then the Chinese should apologize,” he said to applause.
The Dalai Lama is greeted by members of the Padmasambhaua Buddhist Center in Oneonta on Wednesday, May 6, at the Crowne Plaza in Albany. (Photo: Cindy Schultz / Times Union)
The Dalai Lama, or Tenzin Gyatoso, was born to a farming family in a small hamlet in northeastern Tibet. The boy named Lhamo Dondrub was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of 3.
Just nine years into his teaching and only 15 years old, the Dalai Lama was thrust into power after China invaded Tibet in 1949. A decade later, he was later forced into exile after the Chinese military brutally quashed a national uprising.
He now resides in the city of Dharamsala in northern India, where he heads the exiled Tibetan government. His fame has helped spread the teachings of Buddhism and the call for the liberation of Tibet.
Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, a Buddhist monk from the Catskills, felt blessed for the opportunity to see the Dalai Lama at his home away from home. He escaped from Tibet during the 1960s and lived in India until immigrating to the United States.
“I’m surprised he made time and visited,” he said. “He brings his message of love, compassion and peace.”
Schodack resident Mary Mabeus said she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to hear such an historic figure speak. She said the importance of the Dalai Lama’s message even eclipsed the more than two-hour wait to enter the Palace.
“It’s worth it,” she said. “And more.”