Among my many great presents this year was the opportunity to photograph and attend a talk by HH the Dalai Lama at Hunter College on October 19. HH the Dalai Lama is a renowned peacemaker and scholar, who, until recently was Tibet's political leader in exile. He has turned over that role to a notable Harvard scholar, but remains the undisputed spiritual leader of Tibet and an inspiration to millions around the globe. Addressing a special congregation of Chinese artists, activists, scholars and friends, he posed the following challenge in his own inimitably diplomatic and direct way: "It is time for 1.3 billion Chinese to see the realities. Let them see the realities and decide for themselves what is right and wrong." By realities, he was of course referring to the oppression within China by its own government and the Chinese government's ongoing persecution of Tibetans and imposition of oppressive policies in Tibet.
The discussion with HH the Dalai Lama involved scholars in a panel as well as members of the audience. HH the Dalai Lama reiterated the importance of Tibet's maintaining a middle way approach with China, one in which the neighboring countries see themselves as interdependent rather than separate from one another. But he also challenged all people to practice ethics and humanity, stating what he has said often--that he respects those of all religions and even those who have no religion. Religions are institutions that are fallible and often corrupt, he said. Even so, we can all be warm-hearted with one another. "Even animals appreciate warm-heartedness," he noted.
An audience member asked: "How can we practice compassion in our society, which is so cutthroat and competitive?" HH the Dalai Lama was quick to answer, "I don't see millions of Americans as being cutthroat."
In his usual warm, positive and all-inclusive fashion, HH the Dalai Lama embraced panel members and artists and warmed up to the audience with his incisive remarks and humor. A Chinese artist gave him a painting at the end of the panel, and afterward, HH the Dalai Lama received an honorary degree from Hunter College, adding to his collection of honors from around the world.