O Canada, sang a lone voice in the stands at Vancouver's GM Place Stadium, and in a crescendo, voices began to join in until the whole audience was on their feet singing. They were welcoming the XIV Dalai Lama as one of their own. This past September, His Holiness was invited to accept honorary Canadian citizenship.
The room was thick with sentiment as the 71-year old monk of peace came on stage, fatigued but smiling even after several long days of talks and meetings. Before he would speak on the topic of cultivating happiness, to the thousands attending, His Holiness was presented with a framed document of his honorary Canadian citizenship. He is only the third individual in Canadian history to receive this gesture. Federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Monte Solberg, was on hand to present it formally to him.
"Now that I am a citizen of this country," said the Dalai Lama with a chuckle moments after, "I want to know what my rights and duties are." If there is one thing that can be said of the Dalai Lama, it is that he has an enormous sense of humor. He exudes calm and peace effortlessly, and that is precisely the reason why listening to him speak about living compassionately struck home to Canadians.
"I consider this an expression of support," said the Dalai Lama of his citizenship, donning a red and white baseball hat with the words CANADA splayed across. As he spoke to the large crowd, he would take the hat off and on periodically, studying the cap for moments at a time, smiling warmly. The support, he explained, beyond politics, religion, and nationality, is that of peace. Most are aware of China's occupation of Tibet. Yet even though the Chinese Government was forthright in their position not to give the Dalai Lama this recognition, the Dalai Lama maintained his position to be peaceful, even with adversaries.
"Genuine, unbiased compassion extends to our enemy," His Holiness told a full audience in the discussions held days before. Looking at it from a political standpoint, one may assume that he is simply talking about physical war. However, it is his belief that being compassionate to others in everyday living is ultimately what will end the bloodshed.
"Peace," "compassion," "cultivating happiness" and "connecting for change" were all dialogues the Dalai Lama hosted in the days prior to the large discussion at GM Place.
Most of the talks were held in downtown Vancouver in the luxurious Orpheum theatre. The scent of fresh-cut lilies permeated the air where they wafted from the red-backed stage, to the high vaulted ceilings above. At each event, the room was filled with a sense of anticipation to see this self-proclaimed "simple monk" speak. The talks began with an introduction of the scholars. His Holiness came on stage last, adorned in his traditional red and gold monks robes. He bowed to those sharing the stage, greeting all one by one as he met each with his gaze and an unwavering smile. He beamed genuinely as he looked out to the audience, hands held in prayer at his heart.
There was much discussion among the panelists regarding compassion, peace and happiness and how to achieve that state.
"Respect your enemy," he stated. "This is what leads to happiness. So when the enemy has successes you say, oh, very good." A big smile and belly laugh followed. He explained that being compassionate reduces the mental states that lead to suffering and stress, but when we have compassion for the ones we are at odds with, it gives us strength and leads to happiness. For his whole intention is to be at peace and promote that state of being to his fellow man may that be Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist or any other religious group, or nationality for that matter.
"Many of our fears are based in self-centredness. When we have compassion we have more self-confidence more inner strength," he said. He explained that when we are at odds, we need to take in account the other's perspective ... In respecting the other's opposing view we eliminate the warlike sentiment and come to a more balanced look at the situation. Acceptance of another's ideas and actions creates a space for understanding, a place for compassion. However, when we are determined to hate we create what he calls "emotional carnage." He explained that spending time disliking and despising someone takes more energy and creates stress in our lives, than to live in compassion.
Victor Chan could have been seen as an enemy to the Dalai Lama. They met in India in 1971. The Dalai Lama may easily have met Chan, a Chinese man, with disdain. After all, it was his nation's government that was controlling Tibet and its people. However, when they met in India, the Dalai Lama welcomed him into his space. Little did they know at the time, they would become lifetime friends spanning over 30 years. Chan was one of those responsible for encouraging the latest visit by the Dalai Lama. Part of the multitude of reasons for the Dalai Lama's recent journey to Canada was to announce the inauguration for the soon-to-be-erected Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education to be built in downtown Vancouver of which Chan is a Trustee and Founding Director. It is the Dalai Lama's hope it will be a meeting place to cultivate that kind of compassion and to build a better society and community by focusing on mental clarity.
"I think it is a hopeful sign that there is a real desire for peace and no more bloodshed," he said of the centre's intended purpose. He then opened his hands, looked into them and held them open speaking again to the audience, "these hands are not for fighting, but for hugging and embracing."
With the creation of this centre, and designation of honorary citizenship to our country, it is apparent that Canadians are embracing the Dalai Lama's peaceful ways. The centre will be a place to hold dialogues about peace and compassion, not just once a year, but on an ongoing basis.
For more information go to visit www.dalailamacenter.orgMichelle Johnson is a freelance writer and photographer.