Atlanta, GA, USA, 21 October 2007 (AP) - Several thousand people gathered Sunday morning at Emory University's gymnasium to hear the Dalai Lama offer an introduction to Buddhism as part of a weekend of events with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who has accepted a distinguished professorship at the prestigious private college.
Speaking in both Tibetan and English, the Dalai Lama spoke from atop a wide, golden chair, flanked by Tibetan monks and followers of other types of Buddhism. He described being tutored starting at age six on Buddhist practices and philosophies.
'At that time, (I had) no interest,' the Dalai Lama said, laughing. 'When my tutor came, I used to feel like the sun was setting and it was getting dark. As a young student, I always preferred play.'
Later Sunday, he was to meet with leaders from other religions to talk about strategies to resolve conflicts peacefully.
The Dalai Lama's visit will also include a free public talk at Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta on Monday and lectures to the Emory community.
Laura Pavicevic-Johnston, 20, drove from New Orleans for the weekend of events with one of her professors. The Tulane University student visited the Dalai Lama's headquarters in Dharamsala, India, a couple of years ago but the spiritual leader was out of town.
'I think it's amazing,' she said of the Dalai Lama's visit to Emory. 'Hopefully he will come back to Emory often.'
On Friday, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was presented with a science curriculum designed by Emory faculty and translated into Tibetan. Emory faculty plan to teach the curriculum to thousands of Tibetan monks living in India starting in January, part of a program requested by the Dalai Lama to improve monastic education.
On Saturday, the Dalai Lama and researchers held a daylong symposium about the effects of Buddhist practices on depression.
Although the Dalai Lama has honorary professorships at universities across the globe, Emory is the only place he has accepted a teaching professorship. The Dalai Lama joins an already prestigious group of high-profile professors at Emory, including former President Jimmy Carter and author Salman Rushdie.
His appearance brought with it high security, including a Secret Service detail. The conference attendees at the weekend's events had to pass through metal detectors and have their bags screened to get into the building.
The Dalai Lama fled the Himalayan region for India in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains highly popular among Tibetans and is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but China reviles him as a Tibetan separatist. The 72-year old monk and Nobel Peace Prize laureate has reiterated in Washington that he wants 'real autonomy' for Tibet, not independence.
China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.
Chinese officials lashed out angrily at the United States after the Dalai Lama received Congress' highest civilian honor in an elaborate ceremony last week. The Dalai Lama brushed the furious reaction aside, saying he supports 'genuine autonomy,' not independence for Tibet.