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One of the world's most famous religious figures, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, capped off a five-day visit to New England this weekend. He spoke before a crowd of 15,000 people at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Saturday.
In his morning lecture, the Dalai Lama spoke about the Four Fundamentals of Buddhism. Then he took a break, and so did everyone else. People came up into the concourse to try on Tibetan gear, sample Tibetan food and learn about Tibetan culture.
But it was the afternoon lecture, about the pursuit and achievement of happiness, that seemed to be the big draw.
Danielle Manning of Roxbury said it was "definitely" the reason she came to see the Dalai Lama.
"I think it's a lot easier in the world that we live in to get sucked into the negative than to be in an environment that is open and expressive of happiness as a gift," she said. "So I'm grateful."
Fifteen thousand people showed up, fear of the swine flu didn't keep them away. Tickets ranged from $37 to $200. The majority of the proceeds will go to the development of a Tibetan Cultural Center in Boston.
When the Dalai Lama approached the stage, someone handed him a gift. He accepted it with his trademark laughter.
And it was hard not to feel a little joyful as the 73-year-old Buddhist leader sat crosslegged on a white and gold throne, his bald head covered with a bright red New England Patriots baseball cap.
"Because we are same human being," the Dalai Lama told the crowd. "Emotionally, mentally, physically — we are the same."
Compassion — and the serenity it brings — is the key to happiness, he said. It's a central tenet to much of his teachings, and he cited scientific research, as he often does, to bolster his point.
"Nowadays, scientific research finds indication that peace of mind — calm of mind — is very crucial factor for health. Constant fear, hatred — very bad for our health."
Still, the Dalai Lama may be the world's most revered Buddhist monk, but he's also the leader in exile of Tibet.
Fifty years ago, a failed uprising and the resulting Chinese crackdown forced him to flee the country. He recently said Tibetan culture, language and religion face extinction under Chinese rule, and that Tibetans are living in "hell on earth" -- a feeling he repeated when answering an audience question on what Americans can do about the Tibet situation.
"The Chinese government always say, 'Oh, people are very happy, last 50 years much happier than under Dalai Lama's rule,'" the Dalai Lama said. "If things like that, then Chinese government must be proud to show, to invite people, instead of restriction. So therefore, please try to go to Tibet."
But the Dalai Lama was also mindful that his audience was made up of predominantly young Americans concerned about the economy and their families. So he capped off his lecture with simple advice.
"I think that if our young people pay more attention about inner world, that can be useful."
That's the message — of compassion, and the obligation that parents have to teach compassion to their children — that seemed to have resonated most deeply with people.
It's exactly the reason why Betty Zakon-Anderson said she brought her 10-year old son Tucker to see the Dalai Lama.
"I just thought, what a great opportunity for them. It's exciting," she said.
Her son Tucker agreed. He said he had fun at the morning lecture, and learned something too.
"How not to hold on to everything that you get, to release it, 'cause it will change and it might not be the way you want it. And to be loose on everything."
Tucker said that's something he thinks he can do.
This program aired on May 2, 2009.
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