Vancouver, Canada 11 September 2006 (Doug Ward / Vancouver Sun) Thousands of people pack GM Place to hear spiritual leader talk about cultivating happiness and achieving inner peace.
Dharma steeped in the Shangri-La thin air of Tibet hit Vancouver in recent days with the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who regularly reminded his fans here that he is just a 'simple Buddhist monk.'
The Dalai Lama's message, repeated in stump-speech aphorisms about the need for compassion and affection for others, was simple too -- as simple as the venerable monk's saffron robes.
Given the crowds he attracted, simplicity seems to be a good thing. The Dalai Lama remains a spiritual superstar in British Columbia.
His unadorned, self-deprecating persona continues to go over well with those who desire serenity and moral clarity in a world beset by materialism and war.
A Vancouver Sun poll in 2004 found that the Dalai Lama was the most admired spiritual leader among British Columbians. And there was nothing to indicate last week that his popularity here has waned.
His mix of pop Buddhism and advocacy for human rights, non-violence and altruism still inspires reverence.
On Saturday, 13,500 people paid between $20 and $60 to hear the Dalai Lama talk at GM Place about 'cultivating happiness.' His rapt audience responded with rounds of applause, especially when Immigration Minister Monte Solberg presented him with a framed copy of his honorary Canadian citizenship.
The award was a nod to his political importance as the embodiment of the struggle for human rights in Tibet. Solberg called the Dalai Lama 'a leading champion of human dignity.'
The move by Parliament last summer to grant the Dalai Lama citizenship angered
China, which rules Tibet. Only two other people have been granted the honour: South Africa's former president, Nelson Mandela, and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued many European Jews during the Holocaust.
But it was the Dalai Lama's advice on how to achieve inner peace that seemed to be the big draw. At times the event resembled a giant self-help seminar.
He told the audience: 'Think about others and your own problem appears insignificant; think only of oneself and even a small problem appears unbearable.'
A cynic might find his unelaborate prescriptions almost reminiscent of Chauncey Gardiner, the character in the movie Being There, whose short TV-informed utterances were accepted as profound.
But there were few cynics to be found in the GM Place crowd.
Jodi Wood, 32, a high school teacher who came over from Victoria, said afterwards that 'I don't think you can see the Dalai Lama enough in one lifetime.
'He is such an icon and model of the values that he speaks to. It's not just rhetoric. I mean, he glows with the warm part of loving that he talks about.'
Wood said she didn't mind that the Dalai Lama's speech was pretty much what she heard him say two years ago at the Pacific Coliseum. 'It's reassuring, it's comforting it's validating. It's that we really can make a difference,' said Wood.
About what people are seeking from the Dalai Lama, she said: 'We want to know if something more is possible.'
Susan Jones, 55, was one of thousands who lined up afterwards at GM Place to buy a CD version of the speech they just heard.
'I really like the Dalai Lama. He reaches many people and he reaches me,' said Jones, a Vancouver teacher. 'He's talking about something that can help all of us in the world to become happier and more committed people.
'I think he is wonderful in bringing another perspective that needs to be heard more than the bad things we hear in the daily news and the [George W.] Bush perspective.'
Charlene Thompson, a 40-year-old office worker from Port Moody, also had a glowing review of the Dalai Lama's speech.
'He's amazing. He's what everyone should be. He's Buddha,' she said.
Joseph Charumski, a 44-year-old wearing a 'Free Tibet' T-shirt, said the event provided life-changing advice. 'The reason I came today is that I am seeking my own happiness,' he said. 'This is a good way to start. I think simplicity is a good thing.'