For his eightieth birthday today, the Dalai Lama asked not for material possessions, but world peace (and what did you ask for, ya selfish bastard?). In celebration of the Tibetan Buddhist leader's inauguration into the over-80 club, His Holiness embarked on a three-day Global Compassion Summit which kicked off Sunday in Anaheim at the Honda Center. Celebrations will continue at UC Irvine on Monday and Tuesday.
Sunday's event was an odd celebration of the Dalai Lama's lifetime commitment to peace, love and understanding, featuring C-list celebrities, Nobel laureates and MC Hammer.
It was a cold, overcast day outside and it was dark and unusually cold inside the Honda Center as well. After sacrificing their first born to park at the stadium, attendees made their way over to the long, serpentine lines to get in. The loud sound of drums and chanting echoed through the parking lot.
A healthy-sized protest was planted on the west side of the building. They played drums and chanted along with, "False Dalai Lama! Stop lying!" (Not quite as catchy as "Where's my burrito?!" but it'll work.) The International Shugden Community (a sect of Tibetan Buddhism, NOT agents of Red China, for once) organized the protest.
According to a glossy booklet they were handing out, the "the Dalai Lama is a ruthless and corrupt politician who uses intimidation, humiliation and banishment to suppress those who do not abide by his authoritarian edicts." They go on to say he "makes vast sums of money out of Buddha's teachings, sports Gucci loafers and Rolex watches and stays in five-star hotels while his own people whom he suppresses so cruelly live in poverty, hardship and fear."
The Dalai Lama maintains through all this he is but a "humble Buddhist monk".
Inside, the pre-show kicked off around 10:40 a.m. How does one open for the Dalai Lama, exactly? With Bollywood dancers, avant garde circus acts and children's choir, apparently. TV news personality Ann Curry was the day's ringleader, introducing each guest speaker and leading a Q&A session.
The event was not so much a Dalai Lama inspirational talk, but more people talking about the Dalai Lama. His holiness spent much of the event seated on a white couch, nodding and smiling accordingly while special guests–many with seemingly little connection to His Holiness–praised the man's compassion, kindness and infinite wisdom.
Anaheim mayor Tom Tait was the first such speaker. He spoke of his trip to India to meet the Dalai Lama and the man's overwhelming hospitality. Now it was his turn to offer the Dalai Lama hospitality. "The word Anaheim has its roots in German, with 'heim' meaning 'home'. I want to welcome you to our heim and 'The City of Kindness'."
The City of Kindness? I guess "The Happiest Place on Earth" was already taken.
The big man then proceeded to honor Tait with a ceremonial white scarf.
A woman yelled during a moment of silence, "Will someone turn down the air?! It's freezing in here!" to audience laughter. Her pleas were heard and it eventually warmed up in the stadium.
Another Buddhist monk took the podium. While recalling when the Enlightened One took him in as a young man, and other tales of compassion, the monk burst into tears. In a particularly touching moment, the man took about 30 seconds to regain his composure.
The lineup of speakers got progressively more odd as the day went on. Well-known beacons of compassion, hope and enlightenment spoke, such as American Idol judge Randy Jackson, pop star Cody Simpson and Wilmer Valderrama, best known as Fez from That 70s Show.
Ann Curry delivered this gem: "Your Holiness, have you ever seen How I Met Your Mother?" before introducing actor Josh Radnor. The idea of the Dalai Lama cracking open a cold one on a couch and chuckling at the exploits of Barney Stinson was a rather humorous one.
George Lopez came out and recalled a moment he and His Holiness shared backstage. "I have the honor of being scolded by the most compassionate man in the world," he said. "Backstage I told him 'Happy Birthday' and he said, 'I don't celebrate birthdays.' I didn't know the Dalai Lama was Mexican!"
And then it was Hammertime. Ann Curry said in her introduction, "With all due respect your Holiness–you can't touch this." The man who blessed humanity with "Hammertime" and parachute pants shared his wisdom on the tenants of compassion with a poem.
And it went on like this. Dozens and dozens of well wishers came from all over to say "Happy birthday" and "Compassion" to the Dalai Lama. It was like when people come out of the woodwork to say "Happy Birthday" on Facebook, but a lot of them don't really know you.
A shoeless Michael Franti came out and sang his new song "Once A Day", spreading the message that "Everybody oughta hug somebody at least once a day." He then encouraged the audience to hug somebody at that moment.
A giant, four-tier golden cake rolled out on the stage. Sadly, no stripper popped out.
His Holiness finally made his way to the podium two hours into the event. He finished his last few bites of cake and addressed the crowd. "Brothers, sisters," he began. He spoke for about twenty minutes. Highlights of his message included "Peace is the only way for the survival of humanity," and the notion that a person must change himself for the better before they can change the world for the better. "Happy individual, then happy family, happy community, then we have happy humanity."
After his message, he returned to his couch and the guest speakers were given the mic yet again. It was supposed to be a Q&A session between the speakers and His Holiness but it mostly turned into a soapbox session for Randy Jackson and the like, preaching their ideas of the Dalai Lama's teachings.
Eventually a man in the back of the audience yelled, "Let His Holiness speak!" just as actor Josh Radnor was given the mic.
But then came the money quote. The Dalai Lama referenced mayor Tait's earlier callback about Anaheim being the City of Kindness. "What is [the] significance of City of Kindness? City of Kindness is [a] wonderful idea but I think in reality [it is a] City of Apathy. City of Fear. It is a beautiful name but you must take action. Tirelessly." He went on to say the city needs to do more than claim it is a kind city, it must show the world by building good schools, and looking after its children and its people. BOOM.
The crowd began to thin by 3 p.m. I was one of the last reporters in the press box as most of the media had already left. As the Q&A wrapped up the Dalai Lama finished his last question. "So, make some sense? Or no sense?"
It made some sense, your Holiness. It made some sense.
I made my way back to the car, turned the key. Little Steven's Underground Garage was on and Steven Van Zandt was there, as if in some divine coincidence, summing up the day's message perfectly.
"We don't believe in [linear] time. We believe the past, present and future are all happening at once. We believe life is just what moment in time you choose to tune in to," the guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band said. "We must take some energy, but don't hold it baby; let it go through you. Once you know who you are, the actions take care of themselves. The way to do is to be. Without going out of your door, you can know all things on Earth."
MC Hammer couldn't have said it better himself.