Dalai Lama Brings Message of Compassion to Houston

The Dalai Lama spoke at Rice University in Houston Tuesday, drawing several thousand people to a public lecture on compassion in every day life. VOA's Greg Flakus was there and has this report.

In his speech, the Dalai Lama emphasized that compassion is the key to peace, both within families and communities and in the world at large. He said humans are born with the seed of compassion in them, but that it must be nurtured in the family.

He cited religious strife, such as the current fighting between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq as an example of how humans sometimes do themselves and their neighbors great harm by putting too much attention on minor differences.

The Dalai Lama said the world is now ever more interdependent and that people everywhere need to realize their connection to others, all around the world.

"We have to act according to the new reality," said Dalai Lama. "Under these circumstances, the different races, different nationality, different religious faith, these are secondary and not important. Important is six billion human beings and one planet."

After the speech, hundreds of people mingled outside to discuss their feelings about what the Dalai Lama had said.

For many Tibetans who call Houston home, like Dorjee Tsewang, just being in the same room with this spiritual leader was exciting.

"As Tibetans, we believe the Dalai Lama to be a God king, so any moment we have an opportunity to be able to get an audience with the Dalai Lama, whether it is just for a second or whether it is with a family and a crying baby, it does not matter, it just makes you feel much better," said Dorjee Tsewang.

Local family law attorney Shondra Jones, who has read books by the Dalai Lama and is familiar with his teachings told VOA there was one particular theme in this speech that impressed her.

"The value of the family, in terms of how fathers relate to mothers, how mothers relate to their children," said Shondra Jones. "We live in such a hectic society that we do not stop and think about those simple things that are going to make an impact on the kind of human beings we are producing. I think that was, to me, the most important thing that he said."

Known worldwide as a man of peace, the Dalai Lama arrived with a group of bodyguards and police searched all bags before allowing anyone into the hall. There have been reports of threats from al-Qaida, but, as visiting Columbia University Professor Robert Thurman noted, the holy man's differences with China over the issue of Tibet is the main source of anxiety.

"The only people who seem to be persecuting him in the world is the current Chinese government," said Robert Thurman. "Even the Chinese people like him."

Rice University Religious Studies Professor Anne Klein said those who listen to what the Dalai Lama has to say should find no room for hatred or anger, no matter what their religious tradition may be.

"He is really a great world figure for bringing people together," she said. "Religions have so often kept people apart and he wants to look past all that, as he said today, and just focus on human compassion."

After his main speech, the Dalai Lama visited a class at Rice University, where he spoke on tolerance and universal responsibility in a global village.