We Brunonians have been anticipating the Dalai Lama’s arrival for weeks, and on Wednesday, October 17 the day finally came when His Holiness delivered Brown University’s Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs here in Providence, Rhode Island. A friend on Facebook said that he waited in line in front of the Rhode Island Convention Center for an hour and fell asleep during the lecture. Sad story.
But what’s probably even more sad is that he didn’t miss that much–except probably the moment when His Holiness put on a Brown baseball cap to sport some hometown swag. And when he told his audience to either share his thought with others, if they found it interesting, or just to “forget” it, the stenographer transcribed it as “fuck it.” The Huffington Post then wrote a short piece called “At Dalai Lama Brown University Speech, Profanity ‘F**k it’ Mistakenly Attributed toBuddhist Leader,” with other national news media also reporting similar stories. Oh well. Guess that’s what we really care about.
The Dalai Lama talked about how he has long lived in a violent world and how the younger generation should open their minds to a new way of thinking in this century of dialogue and compassion. Taking care of others is important for one’s own happiness, and happiness is where peace stems from, said His Holiness.
And he didn’t say a lot more than that. I was disappointed because I expected him to speak a bit about the fraught Tibet-China relationship, or at least say something about politics. Instead, all he talked about was happiness, peace, respect, and religion.
Trevor Manuel, Finance Minister of South Africa, once told the press that “to say anything against the Dalai Lama is in some quarters, equivalent to trying to shoot Bambi.” I wonder what he meant by calling Dalai Lama “Bambi”: Is it because the Lama supports human right, animal welfare and world peace, and he is concerned about environmental problems? Or is it because he is “innocent,” “harmless” and even “vulnerable” like Bambi?
Before the lecture, I talked to a reporter sitting right next to me about our general impression of the Lama. She said that most Americans see him as a religious leader and a symbol of peace and non-violence. The Dalai Lama is often compared with a Buddha, and many people here think of him as a Gandhi-esque character. Meanwhile, in China, the Dalai Lama is almost never covered in the news. And when he is, he is mentioned as a political figure who fights for Tibet’s independence against the Communist Party.
I asked my Chinese friends at Brown about their opinions of the Dalai Lama’s lecture. A Chinese student in the class of 2014 calls him Tibet’s “Mr. puppet.” My friend doesn’t necessarily mean that the spiritual leader is heavily manipulated by Western society in order to control Tibet’s foreign policy, as often explained in Chinese newspapers; rather, he compares the Dalai Lama with American politicians, seeing him as a spokesperson of an ideology.
Kelly Wang, a junior studying computer science, doesn’t share such opinions. She thought the Dalai Lama’s lecture was pretty interesting. “The whole point is to bring such peaceful attitudes to more and more people,” Kelly said. She was also impressed by the Dalai Lama’s demeanor: Gentle, humorous, and radiating goodness.
Some others were just as disappointed as I was, but they just didn’t want to make it too obvious. I asked on Facebook whether I was the only one who was not impressed by the lecture, and a friend commented: “I didn’t like the lecture at all but at the same time I didn’t want to post on [Facebook] as if I really disliked it.” He explained that the lecture was too general and the Lama is limited by his English. “We just expected much more.”
Yizhi Xiao, a graduate student in comparative literature, made a little joke about the Lama’s speech, saying that it reminds him of “sixties hippie stuff.” “I can totally see John Lennon giving this whole lecture–if not singing it aloud.”
His comment reminds me of a conversation I overheard between two excited undergraduate students on their way to the Rhode Island Convention Center. They were talking about famous people they have seen at Brown:
“When was the last time someone important came to Brown? ”
“Hmm, I remember it was my first year here. Justin Bieber came.”
“Did you go to his concert?!”