Melbourne, Australia 10 June 2007 (The Age / Gabriella Coslovich) - The vast basin of Rod Laver Arena usually echoes with the thwack of racquet against ball, the genteel applause of the crowd and the not-so-gentle outbursts of tennis super-brats.
Yesterday, centre court was filled with sounds of a markedly different kind: the deep, resonant chanting of monks, the ritualistic ringing of bells and the trademark chuckle of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
About 4000 people filled the stadium to hear the Dalai Lama's teachings on his final day in Melbourne. They arrived early, striding along Swan Street before 9am in brilliant sunshine and a bracing 6 degrees.
With its roof closed, centre court was transformed into a restful and richly hued Buddhist temple. Scarlet drapes adorned with images of the Buddha and deities formed the backdrop to a wide stage. On a high, central throne covered in luxuriant brocades sat His Holiness; to the right of him, monks in their traditional saffron robes, to the left, nuns.
It was a morning of teachings, blessings, initiation, the visualisation of oneself as a deity and the recitation of mantras.
The Dalai Lama is adept at keeping things light, at cracking a joke when proceedings are at risk of becoming too arcane, as he did after a long mantra, telling the crowd: 'Of course, these are Sanskrit words. I do not understand what is the meaning.'
And when the crowd chanted the syllable 'dhi' 100 times on one exhaling breath (to sharpen memory) he advised: 'Of course, for people with shortness of breath sometimes it's difficult, but eventually you get use, so no problem.'
He preached the importance of altruism and selflessness. Happiness, he said, comes from caring about the welfare of others, and suffering from clinging to self-centred attitudes. 'We are selfish, but with the help of our intelligence we can be wise-selfish instead of foolish-selfish.'
The Dalai Lama's preliminary prayers, conducted in Tibetan, were especially for the 250 Australian-Tibetans who had come to see him. For Tibetan-born Kesang Wangmo it was a day of 'heaven on earth'.
She had risen at 5am to help cook the sweet sticky rice that her community gave as an offering during the prayers for long life, passing plates of it through the crowd.
Kesang was a newborn when her family fled Tibet in 1959, seeking refuge in India.
She migrated to Australia 18 years ago and last year travelled to India with her family to see the Dalai Lama speak, but the huge crowds had precluded close interaction.
'In India, I never had the opportunity to see it so clearly,' she said. 'We Tibetans are so fortunate