His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual leader of Tibet greets the more than 8,000 people who attended his visit to the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
DULUTH — Just moments after His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, took to the stage at the Arena at Gwinnett Center Tuesday, he rushed back off.
The leader of the Tibetan Buddhist religion spotted a friend in the crowd — a friend who could not see him — so within moments, he hurried into the audience, leaning his forehead onto his his blind friend Richard Moore, allowing him to feel his face, and showing an audience of 8,000 what it means to love.
“Love, love, love. He practiced that as a young boy, so I call him my hero,” the Dalai Lama said of Moore, who was injured and blinded during the conflict in Northern Ireland when he was a child but never developed anger.
As the spiritual leader kicked off his speech, one of several events planned as part of his role as a presidential distinguished professor for Emory University, the Dalai Lama’s humility brought Leanne Foy and her friend Mary Aquino to tears.
“He is such an inspirational person,” said Foy, who saved for months to bring her friend, who is suffering from a terminal lung disease, from the Orlando area to fulfill her bucket list. “That was such a human kindness.”
Known worldwide not only as the spiritual figurehead of his religion but for his message of peace, the Dalai Lama’s compassion and heart was evident from that first touching moment, during his visit as a presidential distinguished professor at Emory University.
And while Buddhists, like Tennessee woman Lisa Le, traveled to hear from their leader, the message for the diverse crowd of 8,000 was welcome across religious lines.
“It’s a thrill,” Le said.
Born not long before World War II broke out, the Dalai Lama contrasted the 20th century, “the century of violence, century of bloodshed,” with the current one. He encouraged people to set aside their “extreme self-centered attitude,” which permeates from individuals to nations, and pursue a life of compassion.
“There is a possibility to create a peaceful century,” he said. “The only way to solve this problem is through dialogue.”
The seeds of compassion begin with family, he said, fondly talking about his own illiterate mother who spoiled him, carrying him on her back as she worked in the fields, allowing him to pretend she was a horse pulling on her ears to direct her how to turn.
“We are already equipped with this seed of life, compassion,” he said.
It grows, he added, with education. So with 1 billion of the world’s 7 billion people labeling themselves as “non-believers” and those who do consider themselves religious vulnerable to corruption, the Dalai Lama talked to the crowd about coming together with as one humanity, despite differing faiths.
“Through education, we can develop firm conviction in the mind,” adding that he did not expect change to being at Capitol Hill but in the minds of individuals.
“It is not sufficient just to complain when we hear Syria’s problem, Iraq, other problems. These are universal problems. We have the intelligence to try to find a way to solve this problem,” he said, telling people that the past philosophy of destroying your neighbor’s property to win a victory in war is no longer reality.
“I think action is more important than faith, than prayer,” the 1989 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize said. “I think I’m quite sure a lot of man-made problems can be reduced … not through preaching but through education.”
The message resonates with Kathy Hoffman, an Alpharetta woman who teaches world religion at a Catholic high school.
“What I enjoy is his peaceful, nonviolent approach to life,” Hoffman said. “He has a lot to teach us.”
Hoffman said her students enjoy seeing videos of the monk, especially because of his sense of humor. And his life, including having to life in exile from Tibet, is a fascination. Since the students couldn’t attend the lecture on a school day, Hoffman couldn’t wait to share the message.
“We find truth in all other major world religions,” said Hoffman, who saw the Dalai Lama Tuesday for the third time. “It should be a part of all Catholics’ journey … to take the opportunity to listen and learn. … If we ever hope to find peace in the world, that’s where we have to start.”