Without even an introduction, the 14th Dalai Lama took the stage in Louisville on Sunday to deliver a public talk at the KFC Yum! Center, the first event of his three-day Engaging Compassion visit to the city.
Taken by surprise, the diverse crowd of more than 14,000 slowly stood in ovation, then elation, as they recognized the Tibetan spiritual leader moments before he gave his hour speech.
After donning a red visor and quieting the crowd with a humble wave of his hand, he began his teachings filled with smiles, belly laughs and his own take on sympathetic living.
Focusing mostly on the universal need for compassion in everyday life, the Dalai Lama stressed the importance for all living beings to have more love and kindness throughout the afternoon. Empathy, he said, begins with changing oneself. Like ripples formed from just a pebble dropped in water, the movement can spread.
“In order to build a compassionate century, firstly we have to build compassionate human,” the Dalai Lama said. “In order to create peaceful world… first we ourselves, the individual, must cultivate compassion.”
Accompanying him, at least two dozen representatives of different religions shared the stage. As an advocate of interfaith dialogue, the Buddhist monk expressed his belief in the shared intentions of all religions and how compassion and loving kindness can provide some common ground.
Following the talk, His Holiness answered audience questions about topics like Buddhism’s take on capitalism and his relationship with Kentucky Trappist Monk Thomas Merton. Another asked about the Dalai Lama’s personal views on forgiveness in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. To forgive, he said, you must separate the action from the human being. A vehement death penalty opponent, he still said the person should be punished fully for their actions. Yet others shouldn’t feel anger toward the individual, but compassion.
“Instead you should feel pity,” His Holiness said.
People from around the world attended the event each for their own unique reasons. Indiana resident Angela Swan came to hear for the first time the Dalai Lama’s teachings. A teacher, Swan sees how more compassion in education could yield some positive results.
“I guess I see in education that we need more compassion. Not just for students, but for students’ families, for teachers. It’s needed everywhere in our communities,” Swan said.
Nawang Khechog escaped Tibet as a child in 1959. Several of his family members including his two sisters died in their attempt to reach India. A Grammy nominated flutist, he will be playing in the Tibetan Freedom Concert Monday night. To Khechog, the Dalai Lama’s visit is as much about spreading compassion as it is about educating others about Tibetan culture.
“Tibetan culture is unique and ancient, thousands of years old. And not only ancient, but it’s a really useful culture to the world,” he said. “You can see that through His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He symbolizes compassion, peace, love, non-violence.”
Numerous community and government leaders attended the event at the invitation of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. Although Catholic, New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan said he hoped to learn ways to increase compassion in his own city through listening to His Holiness’s words. Other events addressed the need for greater empathy in government and the ways state and local officials can cultivate the practice. Fischer himself actively sought to have Louisville designated as a City of Compassion.
“I think compassion is universal and there’s a lot of overlap between religions,” Gahan said. “Being compassionate, being kind, those are values we all cherish. I think anytime we can bring that message to the forefront, everybody receives a benefit.”