May 21, 2001
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Dalai Lama seeks 'inner disarmament'

Arthur J Pais and Neil G Greene

The Dalai Lama offered a seemingly simple lesson to nearly 20,000 people who flocked an amphitheater in Mountainview in the Silicon Valley on Saturday.

World peace and disarmament cannot be achieved, the exiled Tibetan leader said, unless people take the first step towards "inner disarmament".

Seated on a throne against a painted backdrop of Tibetan mountains, the Dalai Lama, arguably the most famous exiled leader today, talked about life and forgiveness, punctuated with his characteristic humor.

He does get angry sometimes, said the man who fled Tibet along with thousands of followers after its annexation by China.

The anger came from "small, small things," he said. "I often just lose my temper. But negative feelings, hatred, I think almost none."

The Bay Area engagements that drew over 25,000 people also included instructions on some of the most difficult aspects of Buddhism.

Before arriving in San Francisco, the Dalai Lama, co-author of The Art of Happiness, which has been on the bestseller list in America for nearly 100 weeks, addressed a colorful mix of people in three states.

The congregation included exiled Tibetans and lamas, top ranking politicians, JeBus (Jewish Buddhists) and hundreds of people in search of inner peace.

In St Paul, Minnesota, he addressed the state legislature. One of the men who took the initiative for the event was state senator Satveer Chaudhary.

In Portland, Oregon, thousands of children and grown-ups heard the Dalai Lama despite shrill protests from a dozen Republican lawmakers who had objected to children from state-run schools attending a peace rally addressed by the Tibetan leader.

Critics of the event said since the Dalai Lama is a spiritual and religious leader, the event had to be termed religious even if he did not bring religion into his discourse.

Since public schools are forbidden to mark religious events including Christmas, the critics argued that sending children to listen to the Dalai Lama violated the law separating religion and public schools.

The Lama spent five days in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of the events were free, but some, like the luncheon at the Fairmont hotel in San Jose, were expensive.

Nearly 430 people paid $400 each for the Fairmont event, which honored 100 people who made a "difference."

Emceed by actress Sharon Stone, the fund-raiser was attended by such luminaries as Robert Thurman, a best-selling author and professor at Columbia University.

Among the people honored was environmentalist Rakesh Jaiswal from India. "I consider them my teachers," the Dalai Lama said.

"It's a sign of the times that we're all looking, we all feel that there is a way, and that we don't know what the way is, and we're all willing to open ourselves to people who know the way. It's a sign of the times that you see so many Tibetans and Easterners together," said Shankar Mitra, who immigrated to the United States in 1981 from Calcutta and now resides in Redwood City.

"Growing up as a Hindu in India, we were taught to respect all religions," said Mitra, adding that listening to the Dalai Lama in person helps him take the next step along his spiritual path "not as a Hindu, but as a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism.

"Hinduism felt too A-religious, there was not the personal connection of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism is very lucid, Hinduism felt cloaked," he said.

Sandra Ross, a member of Students of Free Tibet, traveled from Connecticut to show her support and hear the teachings of the Dalai Lama.

"I'm a Jew, I identify with Tibetans because they're slaves in their own country," said Ross as she eyed a group of people enjoying the lunch break, many of whom she recognized from protests against the Chinese across the country.

"It's mostly consciousness raising, people wanting to belong to his goodness and his view of the world. Let's face it, he's the only game in town. People want to be treated with respect, and the more you're with [the Dalai Lama], the more you're real," she said.

Shortly after the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, an estimated 80,000 Tibetans sought asylum in India and Nepal, and today more than 200,000 Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama live in exile.

One such exile is Jigme Yugay of Palo Alto.

Yugay, whose name translates into fearless, battle-victorious left Tibet in 1959 before his tenth birthday and moved to a small mountain town in Sikkim. His family was fortunate enough to be reunited in India, where they opened a Tibetan restaurant, he says.

"We had a lot in common with the Indian community. We were two people not completely unaware of one another. They accepted our ways and our culture and we accepted theirs without conflict," he asserts.

The greatest strain of the Chinese occupation comes on the parents, says Yugay. "The parents give up their children, and tell them to go to India, just trusting in his holiness."

What the parents hope for is that their children will receive an education in Dharamshala in India where the Dalai Lama resides, a place Yugay hopes to one day visit. "I would like to go back to India, and get involved with the schools and teach the younger ones, and try to teach them to continue to practice (Buddhism)," he adds.

The Dalai Lama's insistence upon a peaceful resolution to the occupation of Tibet supersedes any inclination Tibetans have about fighting for freedom.

"His Holiness is the spiritual and political head of Tibet. And what he says goes. The people of Tibet will die for him, there's that kind of trust," says Yugay.

And while Yugay acknowledges that the situation has improved slightly over the past decade, he says the aim of the Tibetans is not to be successful in exile, but to go home.

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