World peace must develop out of inner peace.
- Dalai Lama
On Saturday September 9 2006, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet spoke to 12,000 people at GM Place in Vancouver, BC. The title of his talk was "Cultivating Happiness.
The Dalai Lama is the only person for whom I would personally use the word "role model" - someone whose words, examples and actions have inspired me on a personal level.
My wife and I were seated in the top-most row of the upper level of the stadium - right up in the "nose bleeds", but the large-screen monitors made it very easy to see everything happening down below. The event began with performances by a Vancouver-based Tibetan Children's Choir, a group of kids ranging in age from 5 to 14, who had learned traditional Tibetan songs, dance and musical instruments. For me, the highlight of this performance was the duet of a 5 year old boy singing, accompanied by a 10 year old boy playing an eight-stringed instrument that looked like a bass guitar. At one point, the older boy played a kind of guitar solo, plucking his strings for all he was worth. His obvious joy and proud, almost swaggering body language showed on the big screen for all to see, and the crowd roared and applauded his performance with the loudest cheers of the event.
Next, Emcee Kevin Newman announced Vancouver's Mayor, a federal minister and His Holiness. He was then told that they were delayed. After telling some stories and joking with the patient crowd of 12,000, there was a few minutes' pause while the organizers deliberated on bringing out the Tibetan children's choir again.
Then, quietly from the other side of the stadium, we all heard the murmur of a familiar song. It got louder and more definite, and swept around to my wife and me like a gentle wave. The entire audience in GM Place had begun gently singing the Canadian national anthem. It was a lovely and moving moment of spontaneity.
Not long after, everyone finally arrived on stage. Author and organizer, Victor Chan, a long-time friend of the Dalai Lama and a Director of the Vancouver-based Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education, spoke of the way his life was personally transformed by meeting the Tibet leader 30 years ago. Mr. Chan wrote an excellent book entitled The Wisdom of Forgiveness.
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan spoke warmly of his private meeting with the Dalai Lama, and of the singular honour bestowed upon our city to be the first and only one to have an education centre named after the Tibetan leader. The Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education is due to open in Vancouver in 2009.
While he personally might be genuine in his respect and admiration for the Tibetan leader, I believe that Mayor Sam Sullivan's office also has a vested interest in cultivating stronger trading and tourism relations with China. The Vancouver Mayor's office has been criticized publicly for asking Falun Gong members to remove a makeshift shelter and protest signs from in front of the Chinese Consulate. The speculation was that this was an attempt to appease Chinese government officials. It must be a real challenge for a politician to balance trade, politics and ethics where China is concerned.
Federal Immigration Minister Monte Solberg took the stage, and told us that the Canadian Parliament has unanimously voted to sign a motion granting His Holiness with honourary Canadian citizenship, and that this honour had only been granted two times previously in our history. Kevin Newman the Emcee, joked that any Canadian would attest to how difficult it is to get members of our Parliament to agree about anything.
At the federal level, China and Canada have long had differences over Tibet. Recently, China has made slightly threatening remarks in response to the Harper government's unanimous decision to grant honourary citizenship to the Dalai Lama.
The presentation at GM Place, and indeed the tone of the Dalai Lama's entire visit, was very non-political and not limited to one particular culture or nationality. Nobody mentioned the ongoing Tibetan crisis, or the new Chinese railway which will help move tourists and Chinese citizens into Tibet faster than ever before. The rail cars were built by Montreal-based Bombardier.
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of millions of Tibetans, a recipient of the nobel peace prize and and an internationally recognized promoter of peace and non-violence. By his own admission, he is a simple Buddhist monk. He spoke in general terms about achieving peace of mind by exercising compassion and kindness in daily life. Praying for peace is a nice idea but achieves nothing without concrete action, he stressed. Referring to Muslim Terrorists, he reminded us that the actions of a minority of "mischievous" people claiming to act in the name of a religion should not spoil the image of that religion for everyone else. He also said that since 9/11, he has become the unofficial spokesman for persecuted and victimized Muslims everywhere.
On this trip, his primary mission seems to have been to open dialogue with citizens about the benefits of peace, love and compassion and to raise awareness for the new centre which will bear his name. Vancouver was chosen because of it's combination of Eastern and Western influences; a multicultural makeup, which includes Chinese and Tibetan. So we may hope this will be the right place to open educational dialogues and learn to live together and work for peace.
The Dalai Lama's 2006 visit to Vancouver, BC.
Dalai Lama to build education centre
Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education