Seattle, WA, USA, 12 September 2008 (Seattle Post Intelligencer) - Sitting in a sun-drenched stadium where fans typically cheer bone-crunching collisions, an adoring Qwest Field crowd heard the Dalai Lama speak Saturday on compassion.
The event was the largest of the five-day Seeds of Compassion conference, which continues through Tuesday at several Seattle venues, though it fell short of predicted attendance.
Unlike the more studious panel discussions, Saturday's colorful gathering was planned as a celebration. Participants included an 1,800-member, intergenerational choir singing songs of peace and compassion, hundreds of people wearing ancestral costumes, dozens of swaying youth holding hands, and Native American elders.
In many ways, the event was a quintessential Seattle demonstration, though on a far grander scale: an endorsement of peace, nonviolence, diversity and global responsibility.
The difference, of course, was the presence of the Dalai Lama. The Buddhist monk delivered a 28-minute speech that was preceded and followed by standing ovations from the announced crowd of 50,817.
The exiled Tibetan political and spiritual leader is considered by his followers to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. But he began his remarks on a stage on the field by downplaying his influence, saying he had "nothing to offer (that is) something very special."
"Some people believe the Dalai Lama has some miracle power," he said. "That's totally nonsense. I'm just one human being."
The monk repeated some of his themes from his remarks on Friday, the conference's opening day, saying each person's happiness depends on how loving and compassionate he or she is to others.
He also called "nonviolent dialogue" the only way to approach problems, whether they are on the global or family level.
That was a point made by his emissary, Lama Tenzin Dhonden, who spoke before the Dalai Lama.
"The danger is clear and it's growing as we've seen recently," said Dhonden, alluding to recent unrest in Tibet, which is controlled by China. He said the Dalai Lama favors autonomy rather than independence for Tibet because he believes it would benefit both China and Tibet.
But getting there "requires a Chinese commitment to serious dialogue," Dhonden said.
The Dalai Lama is expected to address Tibet's future when he holds a press conference Sunday morning.
Not everyone agrees that Tibetans are innocent victims in the struggle. As the event started Saturday, a plane passed over the stadium, dragging a banner that read DALAI LAMA PLS STOP SUPPORTING RIOTS.
The message was a nod to claims by Chinese leaders that the Dalai Lama has fanned the unrest in Tibet, an accusation he has flatly denied.
"He might support non-violence, but he does not support violence and riots," said Kate McCoy, 27, of Seattle.
Ballard resident Jason MacLurg, 56, brought his Tibetan flag to Qwest Field. When he held it aloft while waiting to catch a bus on Friday, a driver of a passing SUV gave him a thumbs-down sign.
"There are points of view that are opposed to the Dalai Lama and perhaps this flag," MacLurg said.
Despite the intended non-political nature of Saturday's peace-and-love spectacle, George Vinh, 55, said he went to Qwest Field "to support the Tibetans."
If he could pose one question to the Dalai Lama, the West Seattle man said, "I would ask why he doesn't want independence" from China.
The Dalai Lama did not mention China in his speech but spoke against the use of force and said "the concept of war is outdated."
He advocated for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the "inner disarmament" of jealousy, suspicion and fear.
Perhaps surprisingly, the monk said even prayer had a "limited effect" on increasing compassion.
Several times he upheld women as models of kindness. "My original teacher of compassion (was) my mother," a woman who was illiterate but had "a very, very warm heart."
The Dalai Lama, who made some remarks while grasping the hand of Gov. Chris Gregoire, also recalled a novel suggestion he made several years ago to improve diplomacy. Instead of formal discussions, the families of world leaders should spend one or two weeks together with no agenda, then talk "once they know each other as human beings."
The intergenerational choir underscored the importance of familiarity in one of their songs, as evidenced in one of their refrains:
Days of war are coming to an end, time to change.
If we can do it on our playground you can do it just the same.
"I'm not so deep into politics, but I want to contribute in any way I can to bring a change," said Issaquah resident Tulika Dugar, a native of India who sang with her 4-year-old son, Rahul, and her Montessori students.
"He inspired me," said 11-year-old Adam Westerman of West Seattle. "He was right that compassion comes back to you."
When someone wants to fight, he said, "you can just let it go. Even though they have their opinions and you have your opinions, you can stop it."
Patti Doumany, 53, flew to Seattle from her home in Dallas to attend Saturday's gathering and other parts of the conference.
"The children are our future," said Doumany, a child therapist who is staying with friends. "I would have slept under a bridge to be here."
Following his Qwest Field appearance, the Dalai Lama met privately with about 500 local Tibetans, East Indians, Mongolians and Nepalese in WaMu Theater.
The monk, speaking in Tibetan, mentioned the riots in Tibet, said Karma Wangdu, 27, president of the Seattle Tibetan Youth Congress. "He said, 'Let us be cool and not be frustrated.' "
Another attendee, Angbabu Sherpa, 42, of Seattle, said the Dalai Lama reminded his private audience to treat others with respect because "anything you do will be returned to you."
The Dalai Lama's visit is the first to the United States since riots erupted last month in Tibet. Worldwide protests against the Beijing Olympics also have intensified, largely because of the Chinese government's controversial human rights record.
The Chinese government has blamed the Dalai Lama for the protests and said that Tibetans have been violent.
In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled from China. Thirty years later, he received the Nobel Prize.