Dalai Lama’s plea for peace and retirement

The Dalai Lama speaks to an audience at Rogers Centre on Friday, Oct. 22, 2010.

He calls himself a simple Buddhist monk, yet he fills the Rogers Centre with as many people as the Blue Jays.

Chuckling and telling stories like a grandfather around the dinner table, the 14th Dalai Lama captivated an estimated 15,000 people Friday with thoughts about world peace, “inner values” and the need to overcome conflict with dialogue.

He also spoke of himself: “I’m certainly not the best Dalai Lama of the 14, and certainly not the worst. But I am a popular Dalai Lama,” he added with a contagious laugh that left his audience roaring.

He sat on a white, throne-like chair at the centre of a stage, wrapped in his familiar red and gold robes. He donned a visor to block the glare from the bright lights, and let out a laugh. “I am very happy once more to come here as an honorary citizen of Canada,” he said, opening a talk entitled, “Human approaches to world peace.”

His appreciation for Canada was followed by a gentle push. Noting the gap between rich and poor, he called on Canadians to do more to fight poverty.

Tibet’s spiritual leader and head of its government in exile also chastised countries that blocked a new climate change agreement at the U.N. Copenhagen summit last December. He didn’t name Canada, but the position of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government at the summit was sharply criticized by environmentalists.

“At the Copenhagen summit, some important countries (thought) national interests are more important than global interests. This is a pity,” he said to loud applause.

Young people were the majority of the audience and the Dalai Lama — who is in Toronto until Monday — had a special message for them.

“You, the younger generation who belongs to the 21st century, have many responsibilities to bring some peace to the world, some compassion to the world. The main responsibility is on your shoulders.”

In the war-torn first half of the 20th century, the Dalai Lama said, governments used force to settle differences. Too often, national boundaries were used to obscure “the oneness of human beings — that (there is) not much difference between this nation and that nation.” Overcoming the sometimes violent divide requires dialogue.

The Dalai Lama used his own life as an example — in 1949 China took control of Tibet and in 1959 he was forced to flee to India.

“At 16 I lost my freedom, at the age of 24 I lost my own country. Now, at 75, what I learned is the power of talk. In the spirit of dialogue, you can’t (have) one side (that is) defeated and one side win. Open your hearts; consider others.”

No one is beyond talking to, he added. After the 9/11 attacks, he said he urged dialogue with Osama Bin Laden to understand “what really is his complaint.”

Attendees were full of praise.

“I loved how jolly he was,” said Renee Lo Iacono, a writer who came from New York. “People say you laugh and giggle when you’re enlightened like him. You can just see how happy he is, despite his trials and tribulations.”

Musician Matt MacLean, 23, said simply: “He gave me a lot of hope.”

The Dalai Lama answered questions submitted by people on-line, including whether the next, reincarnated Dalai Lama can be female.

The purpose of reincarnation is to serve Buddha. So, “if a female reincarnation is more useful — why not?” He suggested there were two advantages to a female Dalai Lama. One is that “biologically, females are more sensitive (than males) about others’ pain.” The other, he joked, is that she would be more attractive.

In any event, he made clear he was hoping for a break from his job.

“I’m looking forward to complete retirement,” he said, laughing. “If I have human rights, I should have the right to retire.”

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