Dalai Lama Magnet for Global Youths

January 6th 2010

Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, 5 January 2010 (By Nalin Verman, The Telegrah, Calcutta) - At 74, he is an unlikely “destination” for youth. But ask Bernard Wilson, and the 22-year-old will say he has come all the way from Melbourne just to see the Dalai Lama.

He isn’t the only one who has crossed oceans to hear the spiritual leader.

Among the 30,000 who have gathered in Bodh Gaya for the Tibetan monk’s annual World Peace Lecture that began today, at least 1,000 — most of them between 20 and 40 — are from non-Buddhist countries like Australia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, England, Brazil and several African countries.


Bernard Wilson (top) & Martin (bottom). Photos by Deepak Kumar.

The number is over three times more than the 300 from western countries who had flocked to Sarnath last year for the lecture, says Jigme Tsering, a senior official in the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

Some 350 westerners had gathered for the discourse at Dharamsala three years ago.

“Look, His Holiness attracts the youth because he never asks them to change their mother religion,” says Tsering, explaining the presence of so many westerners at the five-day lecture. “Buddhism does not advocate conversion or baptism. He simply says Buddhism is more relevant in this age of distress.”

Martin, a mechanical engineer from the Czech Republic, agrees. “Though born a Christian, I am an atheist,” says the 31-year-old. “But I have adopted the Buddhist philosophy for it is simple and practical.”

How practical, the Dalai Lama explained today. “You do not have to depend on prayer to something eternal or non-visible to get rid of your sufferings…” he told the gathering. “Just meditate to free your mind from the illusion of impermanent attraction. Believe in yourselves… your own mind than in something supernatural which does not exist in the teaching of Gautam Buddha.”

Martin is among over 30 visitors from Czechoslovakia, where the Dalai Lama had delivered a lecture in November 2008, one of the many the spiritual leader has given across the globe.

So what is the secret of the 1935-born monk’s global appeal among the young.

Observers say it has been a “gradual process” that began in 1989 when the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize. It was the year the Berlin Wall collapsed, in another blow to communism after Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms to “restructure” the Soviet economic and political system.

While the appeal of communism waned, Buddhism drew youths in a tension-fraught world in flux.

“It teaches you the way to live a life free from suffering, particularly in this age of stress and tension,” says Lucy, a librarian from Boston and a Buddhist for five years now who has come to Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago.
Dalai Lama

“And the Dalai Lama is the best equipped to teach you how to,” says the 41-year-old.


Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, greets devotees as he prepares to begin a series of lectures at Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of Patna, India, Tueday, Jan. 5, 2010. Bodh Gaya is the town where Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment after intense meditation and became the Buddha. The lectures will continue till Dec.9. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Lucy says “stress at the workplace” aggravated her problems caused by Lyme disease, a common tick-borne infection that can affect the nervous system, joints, skin and heart. “Eventually, even doctors declared me sick beyond recovery,” she recalls.

Then she came into contact with a Buddhist monk. Did he cure her ailment?

“No,” says Lucy. “The monk cured more than my ailment. He cured my imperfect mind.”

Yuri Jesus, who lost his job last year in the wake of the downturn, and his girlfriend Delphing have come from Brazil. “Job is a temporary thing. If it has gone it will come again. I should be positive. This is what Buddhism has taught us,” he says.

Marisa Galasso, 40, from Italy, feels disease and stress are “temporary”.

Her compatriot, former footballer Roberto Baggio, is a Buddhist, too, though Raimondo Bultrini, an Italian expert on the religion, explains that the ex-World Cup star adheres to the Sogakki sect, which is a bit different from the Gelugpa school of though that the Dalai Lama preaches.

“But still, Buddhism is Buddhism, and it has attracted Baggio the way it has attracted other youth across the globe,” says the veteran journalist. 

 

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