Dalai Lama's message touches many - Catholic Courier

Dalai Lama’s message touches many

As the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama is one of the world’s best-known religious figures. In the opinion of diocesan campus-ministry leaders who saw him recently in Ithaca, there’s a good reason for this popularity: the universal value of his statements on world peace and interreligious cooperation.

The renowned Buddhist monk gave three public lectures as part of his “Bridging Worlds” tour of Ithaca. He appeared on Oct. 9 at Cornell University and Oct. 10 at the State Theatre prior to speaking at Ithaca College.

Each public presentation by the 72-year-old Dalai Lama, recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, drew large crowds. Yet despite this fanfare, the Dalai Lama emanated an air of humility, simplicity and informality, often breaking out into laughter during his talks.

“That was very beautiful, very appealing,” said Father Carsten Martensen, SJ, director of campus ministry at Ithaca College.

“By all appearances, one could assume his presentation would not have changed should one come across him sitting on a hillside on a summer afternoon,” remarked Peter Dwyer, Catholic chaplain at the University of Rochester.

“I was struck by his gentleness and authenticity. He has a very calming and welcoming presence about himself and is well-spoken. It is obvious that he possesses a great intellect and spiritual maturity,” said Father Brian Cool, director of UR’s Newman Catholic Community.

The Dalai Lama serves as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, a religious discipline that seeks to achieve enlightenment, or Buddhahood, through the removal of such negative states of mind as ignorance, hatred and attachment to material possessions. This liberation produces a sense of altruism that encourages all other sentient beings to attain the same state.

In addition to his religious importance, the Dalai Lama is the head of the Tibetan government, which has operated in exile from India since the late 1950s following the invasion of Tibet by China. This political discord was rekindled only a week after the Dalai Lama was in Ithaca, when Congress gave him the Congressional Gold Medal Oct. 17 with President George W. Bush looking on — an act that angered Chinese authorities.

During his lecture at Ithaca College, the Dalai Lama advised attendees to learn more about other religions as well as their own.

“It is very, very important to promote religious harmony. Genuine harmony only comes after you know the value of other traditions,” the Dalai Lama said.

That sentiment struck a chord with Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH, a chaplain at Cornell Catholic Community.

“If we really take interfaith dialogue seriously, we have to really listen to what this person has to say and bring something back into our own tradition — what we have in common, as opposed to what we disagree on,” Sister Fannon said.

Father Cool agreed, saying, “I think Catholics can take away the need to always be in dialogue with those who are different from us to help find a language and understanding that points to the shared understanding of God’s mystery.”

“He speaks a great deal about how we have a common responsibility to each other. We’re all brothers and sisters and need to be compassionate and living justly, which is right out of the beatitudes,” observed Father Daniel McMullin, Cornell’s director of campus ministry, who served on the organizing committee for the Dalai Lama’s Oct. 10 talk.

Father McMullin, who got to personally greet the Dalai Lama that day, added that the Buddhist leader practices what he preaches, saying his public emphasis on compassion, kindness and attentiveness “is exactly that offstage as well. He made it a point to go to each person and shake hands.”

Sister Fannon added that she was struck by an opening segment of the Dalai Lama’s program at Cornell, featuring local Tibetan monks chanting for more than 20 minutes.

“There was kind of profound silence after that. It sort of reminded me of the universality of the mystical, that all people are able to in some way to have access to the mystical element in human experience,” Sister Fannon said. She added with a laugh that “it was a very peaceful crowd, very different from a rock concert.”

Despite this serene atmosphere, Father Martensen noted the irony of how most of the expenditures for the Dalai Lama’s visit were for paid security.

“I found it rather sad in that he is a man of peace, with a sense of compassion — and yet, at same the time, there were a number of FBI agents surrounding him next to the stage, state police, local police, police sharpshooters overlooking the area,” the Jesuit priest remarked.

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