Boca Raton, Florida, USA, 24 February 2010 (By Lona O'Connor and Samantha Frank, Palm Beach Post) - Some things just do not get lost in translation. Though a crowd of 3,000 devotees struggled this morning to understand the heavily accented English of the 14th Dalai Lama, his overall message was loud and clear: Build world peace by building your own inner peace.
"For world peace, you change oneself and change the world," the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader told the packed audience at Florida Atlantic University's arena, on his first visit to Palm Beach County. "The initiative must come through the individual. That's all."
Photo: Richard Graulich/The Post
This morning's speech handily avoided the more political tinge of his previous day's address at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, in which he had reminded his audience of the United States' responsibility in the world.
"America is a champion of democracy and liberty; you should be proud of those values," he had told more than 3,500 listeners at Nova on Tuesday.
The Dalai Lama has walked his usual political razor's edge on his trip to the United States. The Chinese government, which has controlled the affairs of Tibet since 1950, considers him a dissident who foments uprisings in his homeland.
Before and after his highly publicized meeting last week with fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Obama, Chinese officials objected vigorously, as they do whenever the Dalai Lama meets a world leader. He fled Tibet in 1959 and has since made his home in northern India near the Tibetan border.
The prelate stuck to Buddhist basics at FAU.
He wrapped a few lucky dignitaries in long white silk Tibetan scarves and greeted the crowd with his trademark palms-together gesture and radiant smile. He made a show of removing his shoes, then sat cross-legged on an overstuffed armchair.
Asked if there was ever any justification for violence, the Dalai Lama answered in a neutral, pragmatic way, without referring to the Chinese.
"Violence, nonviolence, both are just methods," he said. "But violence by its very nature is unpredictable. Once you start violence, it often becomes out of control, also violence comes out of negative emotions."
The audience filled FAU's arena, even packing seats where the view was blocked by video screens and other equipment. The run-up to the speech had seen a frenzy for tickets, with 6,000 requests for 3,000 seats, online scalping and people still begging for seats when the arena doors were shut this morning.
Still, FAU had few takers for a separate venue where people could view a simulcast at the nearby student union. Out of 2,400 seats in the student union auditorium, only about 150 people showed up. But they were content with their not-quite-personal audience .
Becky Weeks, a 24-year-old graduate student in ocean engineering, had seen the Dalai Lama in person about six years ago at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "He was inspiring, so I wanted to make sure I could see him again," she said today .
Hearing the Dalai Lama speak had special meaning for Abhijit Pandya, a computer science professor who was in the overflow room. He said the Dalai Lama blessed him in 1959, right after escaping from China to the mountains of India. Pandya was a baby at the time.
"Ever since that experience, whenever I get a chance to see him, I do," Pandya said.
The Sun-Sentinel contributed to this story.