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Witnessing the compassion of the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama
Photo courtesy of photographer Bill Luster
and the Lexington Herald-Leader

It seems His Holiness the Dalai Lama—the spiritual leader of Tibet and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize—has a bit of a reputation for his boisterous laugh and his sense of humor.

That’s one of the things that surprised Transylvania students when they had a chance to hear him speak in Louisville on May 19, 2013.

“He was far more genial, engaging, and relatable than I could have ever imagined. His message about inner peace breeding outer peace was truly meaningful to me,” said Victoria Sullivan ’14.

While in Kentucky to visit the Drepung Gomang Institute in Louisville, the Dalai Lama spoke to a crowd of 14,000 at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, a venue known more for heated basketball competition and rousing musical concerts. Thousands stood patiently on the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge spanning the Ohio River, waiting for clearance to enter the arena. It was a mixed crowd of varying backgrounds, varying ages, varying colors, and varying faiths. 

In the midst of what some would call a temple for contemporary commercialism, the Dalai Lama delivered a message of peace, equality, and inclusiveness. Thirty-seven Transylvania students, faculty, and staff were fortunate enough to attend, thanks to the generosity of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the offices of the Dean of Students and the Associate Dean for Religious Life.

“It was great to see this world leader speaking about not discriminating on the basis of language, culture, religion, or nationality, but rather encouraging different viewpoints coming together in a mutually respectful and harmonious way,” said Kaitlyn Hill '16.

Queued up for the Dalai Lama
Thousands queued up on the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge, waiting to gain access to the Yum! Center
and hear the Dalai Lama speak.

The theme of the event was “Engaging Compassion,” a goal the city of Louisville embraced when Mayor Greg Fischer signed a resolution adopting the international Charter for Compassion, making Louisville the largest city in America to join the Dalai Lama in promoting compassionate communities.

Fischer was in part inspired to take this action by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and writer who spent part of his life at The Abbey of Gethsemani near Louisville. The Dalai Lama, who was a friend of Merton’s, has called him “a strong bridge between the Buddhist and Christian traditions.”

In his comments at the Yum! Center, the Dalai Lama averred that all major religious traditions convey a message of compassion. Assuming that humans will stumble along the way, these traditions also encourage tolerance and forgiveness. “I think each of our religious traditions is a different expression of the same fundamental message,” he stated.

Several in attendance noted that he encouraged them to extend their compassion to the larger world we share. “His Holiness emphasized not only the importance of compassion toward our fellow humans, but also the environment that surrounds us and the animals we share it with,” said William Burriss ’13.

And, according to the Dalai Lama, building a compassionate world takes more than earnest prayer. It takes action. A number of the students took this to heart.

“I feel a calling to activism, but at the same time, I feel completely at peace. That's how I imagine the Dalai Lama's spirit to be,” said Carly Wynne ’14.

Casey McBride ’14 was even more pointed in her response. “In my favorite moments of the talk, he stated that compassion and humanity are not built through prayer, but through action. He then went on to discuss how identifying one’s self with a religion does not matter if you are not kind. These comments spoke volumes to me.”

Sullivan claims the experience was “something I am never going to forget as long as I live.”

The Dalai Lama would be pleased to know that his words have already spurred some action where all change must start—with an individual’s first step. “The world would certainly be a better place if we all followed his example, and I certainly hope to do so personally,” vowed Burriss.

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