The Dalai Lama cannot cure you of your ills, and he will be the first to tell you that. "People sometimes say I have some kind of miracle power," he said this afternoon at the beginning of his presentation to a capacity crowd at the Kohl Center in Madison. "I'm very skeptical about that."
Then, gesturing to a chronic rash on the back of his neck, he said, "If there's a person who has healing power, I want to show him my little problem."
It was one of many funny moments during the 90-minute talk, during which the Tibetan leader spoke softly about compassion, the future status of Tibet and whether world peace is possible. On that last point he is optimistic. He said, to applause, "With our effort, tirelessly, this century should be a more peaceful, compassionate, happy one. That's my belief."
That hopeful message came at the end of his talk, called "Compassion: The Source of Happiness." Throughout the presentation he sat, sometimes cross-legged, on a loveseat in the middle of a vast stage. He wore a saffron robe. Next to him was a coffee table holding a vase of flowers, and sitting in an armchair was an interpreter, Thupten Jinpa. He mostly sat quietly but translated a few of the monk's words.
We first feel something like compassion, the Dalai Lama said, when we are infants and are closely connected to our parents, on whom we are totally dependent. Later in life, though, we are compassionate only voluntarily.
But, he said, the more compassionate we are, the more we quiet our anxieties. "You have a choice whether to be concerned for others' suffering or not," he said. "But with the volunteering comes self-confidence, and self-confidence is the opposite of fear. Usually frustrations come from fear."
So how do we become more compassionate? "That will not come spontaneously," he said, "but through training, through human intelligence." The training, presumably, takes longer than 90 minutes to explain.
At the end of the talk, the Dalai Lama responded to questions submitted in advance. One was from a mother of two children, who wanted to know how she could teach her children to be good human beings. "I have no actual experience to take care of children," he said, to laughter. "Monks lack of that experience, so next question."
In response to a query about the future of Tibet, he gave a lengthy, at moments angry disquisition about his land, which was invaded by the People's Republic of China in 1950. He urged the Chinese government to grant Tibet not independence, but autonomy.
Except for moments of laughter and applause, the audience members sat in rapt silence. Among them was Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who met privately with the Dalai Lama yesterday at the Madison Club.
"He's very engaging, with a good sense of humor," said the mayor. One of the Dalai Lama's jokes related to the Tibetan flag that flew over local government buildings in honor of his visit. The display was strongly protested by the Chinese consul in Chicago.
As the Dalai Lama blessed the mayor, "he said something to me," said Cieslewicz. "'I understand the Chinese have given you a special blessing.'"