A question directed to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Wednesday sought his advice on how to stay optimistic amid the destruction, pain and suffering that exists in the world. His response capped a recurring theme during his 75-minute appearance at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion.
“Simple answer,” replied the 76-year-old cultural icon while he sported a blue USD visor. “It is far better to remain optimistic.”
The matter-of-fact comment, followed by his own laughter at the quick response, drew applause, appreciation and smiles from 4,700 people attending the second of the Dalai Lama’s three public San Diego-area university appearances on the Compassion Without Borders tour.
An optimistic outlook and approach to life holds the key to happiness in the Dalai Lama’s estimation. His USD-titled talk, “Cultivating Peace and Justice,” provided ample chances to deliver on his belief that “genuine peace comes through inner peace. It does not come out of fear.”
This simply stated, yet profound, approach is an example of the aura that surrounds the Dalai Lama. Even when he became the fourth recipient of the University of San Diego’s Medal of Peace at the beginning of Wednesday’s program and was given this honor by USD President Mary E. Lyons, PhD, personally, he demonstrated humility.
Words like this endeared him to the audience and established a personal connection.
“He was just so human. He talked about all of us being on the same level,” said USD sophomore English major Heather Milam. “We all have a lot in common. We can share this world.”
Chuck Cook, a senior accounting major, said, “The Dalai Lama made it feel like we were close friends. The way he carried himself was not only infectious, but also it was an effective way to get his message to people.”
The Dalai Lama’s mission is an eternal commitment to the pursuit of peace and enlightenment for all. This spiritual leader of Tibet, who stepped down from his political position in 2011, has many admirers. They embrace his vision, live the compassion without borders motto he professes and appreciate his wisdom and easy-going nature.
“I’ve been exposed to his teachings on compassion and the need for us all to bring it into our daily lives,” said Vivian Francis ’10 (MA, Peace & Justice Studies). “He’s a source of major inspiration. He talks about what is within us and what we can take away from his teachings, things like compassion, integrity, love and service.”
Michaela Fortunato, a senior business administration major, was at the front of the line to get into the JCP. She echoed what other USD students felt.
“It’s just so cool to see someone who is so influential. His message resonates with all. There are no boundaries.”
The bulk of the Dalai Lama’s talk Wednesday did explore different avenues — from biological and medical factors to being steadfast with respect — that can lead people toward being their best self.
“Fear is the destroyer of a calm mind. Anger is the destroyer of peace of mind. What destroys your happiness is the enemy,” he said.
By diffusing anger, hatred and negative actions within, a happier, healthier and more compassionate person emerges.
“My big takeaway was him talking about change and how it’s necessary for it to come from within,” Cook said. “People often keep looking for something to happen or someone else to make it happen, but change really starts from within us.”
There are many examples within the USD community demonstrating this action:
• President Lyons reminded the audience and the Dalai Lama the words of Joan B. Kroc, whose generosity more than a decade ago made USD’s Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, the School of Peace Studies and the Distinguished Lecture Series program possible. It was the late community leader whose vision for the IPJ, Lyons recounted, “be not only a place to talk about peace, but to make peace.”
• The university’s Fall 2011 designation as one of 10 institutions nationwide as a AshokaU Changemaker Campus provides prospective, incoming and current USD students an understanding that they’re in an environment where innovative, creative and productive thinking is not only encouraged, but is an opportunity to act upon it.
• Wednesday’s event had visible elements of USD’s compassion. The Dalai Lama event was an opportunity for the campus community to embrace sustainability during USD’s Earth Month celebration in April. Alternative transportation to USD, through carpools, bicycling, public transportation and walking, was encouraged. Special trash bins surrounded the JCP to make it a “zero-waste” event. Thirteen student winners of a Dalai Lama essay contest, asking what Compassion Without Borders meant to them, earned a highly coveted ticket to the event. USD students and sisters, Megan and Mallory Wilhelms, unveiled a Compassion Without Borders mural that had been created by students from USD’s Center for Inclusion and Diversity and the Center for Awareness, Service and Action’s (CASA) Migrant Outreach program.
The Dalai Lama’s appearance was a chance to inspire and to keep the conversation going about compassion, peace and justice for all. That message was not lost on Associated Students President Anthony Pavlovic, a senior communication studies major, who was part of a small group of USD students to personally greet the Dalai Lama in San Diego.
“This event reaffirms that the elements of our mission statement aren’t just something that’s thrown around,” he said. “It’s very important to train and to harness them at USD. If you see a man like the Dalai Lama living these same values, it helps you understand where the values of an education can take us.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos by Tim Mantoani