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Dalai Lama takes message to arena

The Dalai Lama yesterday brought his message of nonviolence and religious tolerance to the FleetCenter, declaring to a full house of 14,578 that "disarmament is our only hope."

But he gave a mixed message on war, acknowledging that the Second World War and the Korean War had made positive contributions to human society, and he said that only time will tell whether the war in Iraq was justifiable.

And he sounded notes of simultaneous pessimism and optimism on the situation in Tibet, his home country, which is controlled by China. The Dalai Lama is not only the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, but leads the Tibetan government-in-exile, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his advocacy of nonviolence as he leads his people in a struggle for cultural autonomy.

"From my perspective, I am optimistic," he said, speaking just days after meeting with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Washington. "But if you look at the developments, sometimes it feels hopeless."

The Dalai Lama said that a growing number of Chinese intellectuals are sympathetic to the plight of Tibetans, who have little religious or political freedom under China, and that the gradual increase in democracy in mainland China causes him to feel hopeful that Tibet, too, will eventually benefit from such change. But the Dalai Lama said he is worried about "cultural genocide," a loss of Tibetan language and culture, as large numbers of ethnic Chinese move into Tibet, threatening to make Tibetans a smaller minority in their own land.

The Dalai Lama, whose given name is Tenzin Gyatso, spoke for about an hour, then fielded questions for another 25 minutes. He was greeted by a standing ovation when he began and ended, and the crowd also rose as he entered and greeted him silently by bowing toward him with their hands clasped in a traditional Tibetan greeting.

The venue provided a somewhat surreal setting for the 68-year-old Buddhist monk, whose followers believe he is the 14th incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. Dressed in a sleeveless red and saffron robe, he sat on a white lounge chair on a small stage at one end of the cavernous sports arena. His image was beamed through the arena on overhead video screens bearing logos for Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, and PCConnection.com; the crowd of Buddhists, pacifists, and spiritual seekers sat quietly beneath rafters decorated with the championship banners of the Celtics and the Bruins.

The corridors of the FleetCenter were filled with an unusual array of vendors selling books by and about the Dalai Lama, or products with names such as "Dharma Crafts." Activists set up tables promoting Tibetan meditation centers and organizations such as the MIT Buddhist Community, the Tibetan Nuns Project, and Students for a Free Tibet. The International Campaign for Tibet collected signatures on petitions urging a negotiated solution to the Tibet-China conflict, while the Tibetan Association of Boston raised money for a proposed Tibetan Cultural Center in Boston.

The Dalai Lama's message was to exhort people to pursue lives characterized by compassion, forgiveness, contentment, tolerance, and self-respect, all of which, he said, can lead to happiness. He said Westerners focus too much on material acquisition, and not enough on internal satisfaction.

"We tend to be not contented with what we possess in material objects -- we always want more and more -- but with our inner qualities we remain quite complacent, and we don't strive for better," he said.

He also encouraged the pursuit of nonviolence, and said schools should teach dialogue as a method of conflict resolution. He said many wars have been failures, and called for global demilitarization. But he also said that some wars have provided benefits, citing the Second World War, which he said "protected civilization, democracy, and decency," and the Korean War, which he said "saved South Korea, not only for freedom but for prosperity."

The Dalai Lama sprinkled his talk with humor. As he opened, he warned that anyone who came expecting that he had special healing powers was sure to be disappointed, and wiggling his fingers in the air, he said, "If someone really has healing power, then I would like to call them about my knees."

Many of those who attended last night's speech are not Buddhists, but said they were interested to hear the Dalai Lama because of his philosophy of nonviolence.

"We support world peace, and we like his methods," said Ashley Bryant, a 15-year-old high school student from Marblehead.

The FleetCenter talk was one of several steps the Dalai Lama has taken during this trip to reach out to American Buddhists and to Americans interested in Buddhism. On Friday, he consecrated a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Medford, the Kurukulla Center, which is shared by Buddhists of American and Tibetan origin. And yesterday, he met privately with the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association, to discuss the high number of Unitarian Universalists who either identify themselves as Buddhists or who have adopted some Buddhist practices.

Also over the weekend, the Dalai Lama engaged in an unusual public discussion with scientists about what Buddhists and scientists can learn from one another. As that discussion ended yesterday, the Dalai Lama said that science until now has focused on the study of the external and physical, but now must more intensely examine emotion and the way the mind works in order to prevent humans from harming each other and to shed light on the internal path to peace.

"We must understand the nature of reality to overcome suffering and achieve happiness," he said. Buddhists believe in opposing forces, he said, and believe that the weakening of one force, such as hatred, will cause the strengthening of its opposite, love.

The Dalai Lama is to spend today at Harvard University, meeting with a variety of scholars associated with the school's Asia Center. His one public event, a 4 p.m. talk with the Harvard community in Memorial Church, is sold out, but it will be simulcast in the Harvard Science Center and webcast on the Harvard University Asia Center's Internet site.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com. Globe correspondent Ron DePasquale contributed to this report.

Dalai Lama's visit
The Dalai Lama greeted Tsering Tsomo, 4, at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge on Sept. 12. The Dalai Lama greeted Tsering Tsomo, 4, at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge on Sept. 12. (Globe Photo / Bill Brett)
The Dalai Lama's image was projected on the FleetCenter scoreboard during his sell-out talk on Sept. 14. The Dalai Lama's image was projected on the FleetCenter scoreboard during his sell-out talk on Sept. 14. (Globe Staff Photo / Justine Ellement)
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