University Welcomes Dalai Lama
Security was tight as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet visited Princeton University Tuesday.
According to University spokesperson Martin Mbugwa, some 4,200 people were in attendance at Jadwin Gymnasium to hear the Tibetan spiritual leader discuss the importance of compassion and kindness in academic life.
The venue began filling up around 8:30 a.m. with campus police and members of the Princeton Police Department on hand. Barriers had been erected to direct visitors as they entered the building. Inside, they were guided through airport-like security, asked to remove cellphones and metal objects, and pass through scanners.
Protesters and supporters of the Dalai Lama were separated and corralled by barriers into areas outside the gymnasium, which had been transformed into an auditorium for the occasion.
A gorgeously colored and richly embroidered silk hanging above the stage looked incongruous against the orange and black sports banners suspended from the domed roof of Jadwin Gym.
The Dalai Lama’s first appearance in Princeton was at the invitation of the University’s Office of Religious Life and The Kalmyk Three Jewels Foundation, which promotes Kalmyk tradition around the world. Originating in the Kalmyk Republic of Russia in the Northwest corner of the Caspian Sea area, the Kalmyks helped bring Tibetan Buddhism to the United States in 1951. There are members of the Kalmyk community in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
As the Tibetan leader came to the stage, shortly after 9:30 a.m., the entire audience, which had been waiting for the best part of an hour, rose to its feet. Dean of Religious Life Alison L. Boden accompanied the Dalai Lama, whose name is Tenzin Gyatso, and an interpreter to the stage.
The religious leader stood by the podium as Ms. Bowden introduced him and said that marshals would collect questions from the audience for His Holiness to answer. “We welcome the world’s most spiritual and compelling voice on a host of issues,” she said. “We are eager to receive his wisdom.”
Signaling his wish that the audience be seated, the Dalai Lama received immediate laughter and applause as he donned an orange Princeton baseball cap. Without an interpreter, he addressed the audience: “Brothers and sisters, I feel that it is a great opportunity to talk with many of you, students and faculty. Someone asked me if I had been to Princeton before. I told them no, I had never come because I had never been invited. I’m not here as a tourist, however, I am here as a Buddhist monk; my daily prayers, my body, speech, mind, is dedicated to serving others.”
He spoke about being almost 80-years-old. “At age 16, I lost my own freedom; at 24, I lost my own country through circumstances beyond my control.”
Addressing the importance of developing compassion and kindness, alongside the intellect, in an academic environment, he said: “The world has been made a lot easier because of science and technology, but along with progress has come problems, even here in America there is still a lot of poverty.”
But while the affable scholar/monk shared his thoughts with the audience inside, protesters outside could be heard chanting “False Dalai Lama, Give Religious Freedom.”
Carrying banners that read “Dalai Lama Stop Lying,” the protestors claimed that the Dalai Lama discriminates against those who follow another form of Buddhism, as represented by Dorje Shugden.
Similar protests have accompanied appearances by the Dalai Lama in California and in Germany, so it was no surprise to the University or the municipality. The protestors had announced their intention beforehand.
Almost as many Tibetan supporters as protestors also made their feelings known by dancing, drumming and singing directly in front of the entrance to Jadwin Gym. One man Geshe Chogkhan Thubten Tandhar wore his support and respect for the Tibetan leader (see photograph) by way of a placard around his neck that read: “Long Live Dalai Lama, the Apostle of Compassion and The Soul of Tibet.”
The morning event was open to the University Community as well as members of the public with free tickets (two per applicant) made available in mid-September.
Later in the day, His Holiness met privately with a select group of students and faculty to discuss the meaning of service as expressed by the University’s informal motto, “In the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations.” This event was by invitation only and was described as being an opportunity for “continued reflection.”
The event was covered extensively by some 30 media outlets and was simulcast to the Princeton community at the Princeton Public Library.