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The Dalai Lama Visits USC

His Holiness addressed the USC community on ethics, religion and mosquitoes Tuesday

The Dalai Lama showed some Trojan pride during his address to the USC community at Galen Center Tuesday. (Lauren Furniss)

A USC baseball cap is not an uncommon sight on campus.  But some students may have been surprised to find one gracing the head of none other than the Dalai Lama on Tuesday. 

In his first visit to Southern California, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet addressed thousands of students, faculty and community members at two separate events on USC’s campus while jovially donning a Trojan hat along with his traditional red and yellow robes.

Co-hosted by USC’s Student Interfaith Council as well as the Dalai Lama Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values, the Dalai Lama’s visit began with a lecture on “Secular Ethics, Human Values and Society” at USC’s Galen Center.  With more than 5,000 attendees, crowds began gathering outside the venue as early as 7:30 a.m. 

Following introductory remarks by the University Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, the Dalai Lama took the crimson and gold-draped stage.  He started by referencing a recent illness that forced him to cancel appearances at UCLA, saying he developed a throat problem following his recent visit to Japan.  His Holiness explained that maintaining a calm mind was crucial for preserving his energy and motivation to speak, saying that this was a lesson he carried throughout his life.

The Dalai Lama also emphasized the need for a calm mind as well as inner strength while referencing his tumultuous early life as the leader of Tibet.  His Holiness became the leader of Tibet as a teenager in 1950 and witnessed the takeover of Tibet by the Chinese government in 1959.  “At age 16, I lost my freedom and at age 24, I lost my country,” the Dalai Lama said.

The Dalai Lama then discussed the need for a variety of belief systems and religious traditions, pointing to every human’s shared experience as a reason to avoid ideological conflicts.  “Emotionally, mentally, physically, we are one human being,” His Holiness said.  “We have the same right to be a happy person.”

His Holiness also shared his idea of his central aim in life, which interestingly, did not require religion.  “Our aim is a happy world.  A happy world is based on a happy community, which is based on a happy family which is based on the happy individual,” he said.  “If we touch on religion to achieve a happy world, it is difficult.  The problem is the large number of unbelievers.  And it is possible to achieve individual happiness without religion.”

He also made the claim that secularism is not something religious leaders or believers should fear.  “Secularism is not at all negative towards religion,” said the Dalai Lama.  “Secularism respects all religions and respects the nonbeliever.”

His Holiness then fielded questions from audience members who had submitted their inquiries online prior to the event.  He commented on the recent death of Osama Bin Laden, saying that although bin Laden’s actions were terrible, he still deserved compassion. 

The Dalai Lama also spoke on his recent visit to Japan, where he led prayers for the victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters over the last two months.  While His Holiness acknowledged that the country had been besieged by “tragedy upon tragedy,” he encouraged the Japanese people to “look forward and work hard to rebuild,” pointing out that “the tragedy has already happened.”

The Dalai Lama closed the question and answer session by responding to a question about whether he had ever acted unethically.  His Holiness responded that he had a complicated relationship with mosquitoes, admitting he has a difficult time restraining himself from swatting them away.

Later that afternoon, the Dalai Lama addressed a packed Bovard Auditorium, where he sat on a panel of philosophy, religion, psychology and neuroscience professors and experts from across the country.  The panel was moderated by Pico Iyer, an esteemed journalist and biographer of the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama will remain in Southern California this week to receive an award from international human rights organization Amnesty International in Long Beach.  He will also deliver a talk on Wednesday at University of California, Irvine.

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