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Dalai Lama draws 65,000 in Seattle
SEATTLE - In a speech focused on fostering compassion in children, the Dalai Lama urged those gathered in a pro football stadium Saturday to support not only nuclear disarmament, but an "inner disarmament."
Speaking to an estimated 65,000 people in the packed stadium, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader said that nuclear weapons have provided a deterrent at times, but they may no longer be useful.
"Nobody dares to use nuclear weapons," he said. "Now I think we should think seriously about elimination of all nuclear weapons." Genuine disarmament will require willpower, he said, and dissolution of hatred, jealousy and fear.
Mostly sidestepping the issue of political turmoil in Tibet, the 72-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk delivered an upbeat message of compassion, equality, humanity and happiness. His appearance is part of a five-day Seeds of Compassion campaign that continues through Tuesday in Seattle.
The Dalai Lama's tour came as protests along the Olympic torch route over Chinese treatment of Tibetans were being staged in several countries. He arrived in Seattle a day after demonstrators disrupted the torch run in San Francisco. The long-planned Seattle visit has been virtually without controversy.
The Dalai Lama planned to make remarks this morning concerning the situation in Tibet, which has seen recent violence and rioting. The Buddhist leader fled to India in 1959 after a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule failed.
In Seattle on Saturday, Qwest Field -- regarded by many as the loudest outdoor stadium in the National Football League -- took on a contemplative tone for the day.
The Dalai Lama spoke of having a "genuine sense of compassion toward your enemy" and said compassion could transform the world. He playfully extolled the virtues of cultivating inner strength.
In a scene patterned after the opening of the Olympics, a procession of 1,000 people representing the cultures of the state of Washington entered the stadium, passed before the main stage and then moved into the stands. Children carried the flags of Tibet and more than a dozen countries and peoples. The sound of dozens of drums filled the air.
The Dalai Lama watched the procession from a red upholstered chair on a stage set with yellow pillars and a white canopy. At the center of the field was a bright yellow circle with a heart shape inside a flower -- the logo of Seeds of Compassion.
"It gives me goose bumps to see all these people here," said Seattle resident Ethelyn Abellanosa, 38. She had come to see the Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, because "he sets an example" and has devoted his life to "peace and love."
"It's all about faith in humanity and faith and love," she said.
A friendship bracelet exchange ceremony and 1,800-member choir of parents and children ended the program.
The Seeds of Compassion events started Friday with scientists, psychologists, neurologists and others focusing on the theme "The Scientific Basis for Compassion: What We Now Know." That was followed by a concert by Dave Matthews, Tim Reynolds and Death Cab for Cutie.
In an onstage conversation before his performance, Matthews, the Dalai Lama and NBC news anchor Ann Curry exchanged ideas on topics including war, peace, music and motherhood.
Asked Matthews: "How can you know what your enemy understands if you don't talk to them?"
The Dalai Lama responded that enemies can become friends through respect and respectful dialogue. Compassion can be extended to enemies, he said.
Later, he said that compassion can be elevated through practice. He spoke of cultivating inner strength, inner calm, less fear and more contemplation. "Knowledge does not solve our problems," he said. "Knowledge must combine with warmheartedness. Compassion is needed. The time has come. We must place more emphasis on compassion."
In all, more than 150,000 people are expected to attend the Seeds of Compassion events. Nearly 15,000 students from schools throughout Washington are expected to participate in an event Monday. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels will present the Dalai Lama with the key to the city. On Tuesday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will join in a discussion about how spiritual communities can foster compassionate action.
Seeds of Compassion is funded primarily through mobile technology entrepreneur Daniel Kranzler's Kirlin Charitable Foundation. The group describes itself in conference materials as bringing "world attention to the importance of nurturing kindness and compassion beginning with children and extending to all who touch their lives."
The only sign of protest over the Dalai Lama's visit arose when a group of Chinese students urged the University of Washington to ensure that he did not have a "political agenda" or "arouse anti-Chinese sentiments" on campus.
When the Dalai Lama opened the conference Friday morning at the university, he told 8,000 students that "problems happen because of wrong views and wrong action." But he did not directly address the political turmoil in Tibet.
In brief remarks before the Dalai Lama spoke, his emissary Lama Tenzin Dhonden called for autonomy rather than independence for Tibet, which he said faces real and growing danger.
"Autonomy would be good for Tibet and for China," he said. "It would require Chinese commitment to serious dialogue." In Tibet, recent protests have been the loudest and most sustained in nearly five decades of Chinese rule.
On a stopover in Japan en route to Seattle, the Dalai Lama told reporters that he supports the Olympic Games. He denied using the prelude to the Olympics to foment unrest.
The Dalai Lama last visited Seattle in 1993.
Raj Manhas, executive director Seeds of Compassion and former superintendent of Seattle schools, said he hoped the region could leverage the event to "become a leader in the science of compassion."
Conference backer Kranzler said he hoped the event would "reconnect our hearts with our brains," adding that "when we give of our hearts, we can re-create a powerful and sustained change in our society."
Like other speakers, he underscored an urgent need for compassion: "This is really important, given where we are in this world. When we plant seeds of compassion in our world, we can really make a change."
© 2008 The Los Angeles Times