The Dalai Lama's 80th birthday celebration began on Sunday, July 5 in Anaheim of all places, at The Honda Center, as the July Fourth holiday weekend screeched to a halt.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait was onstage to receive a white prayer scarf from His Holiness and he explained that Anaheim is the "City of Kindness," inspired by the rainbow drawing -- "my wish is to help people" is written along the bottom -- and life of a young Anaheim girl who died tragically at age 6.
The Dalai Lama, after receiving wishes from friends and what seemed like random celebrities (no Richard Gere, no Patti Smith, no Leonard Cohen), commented -- in his inimitably honest fashion -- on Anaheim's kindness moniker.
"You can call it the City of Kindness," he said, "Beautiful name. But, really, city of anger, city of fear. So now you must make an effort."
We must all make an effort. That was -- and is always -- the Dalai Lama's message. An effort to be kind. An effort to be compassionate.
Ex-NBC correspondent and anchor Ann Curry, mala beads peaking out of the cuff of her crisp white shirt, did a thorough job moderating the event. Columbia University professor and Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, who has known the Dalai Lama for over half a century, wished him a long life. Nobel Laureate Jody Williams talked of visiting Hiroshima with His Holiness. Desmond Tutu's son came by on behalf of his father who is home celebrating his own milestone -- his 60th wedding anniversary.
His Holiness seemed most moved by the Agape Children's Choir and by musician Michael Franti leading the audience of 18,000 in a rockin' Happy Birthday.
After a talk on compassion, the Dalai Lama dialogued on the transformative powers of creativity and art with musicians MC Hammer and Randy Jackson, comic George Lopez, actress Julia Ormond and others.
But he mused whether real change can occur until the existing educational system -- which he called inadequate and encouraging of materialistic rather than selfless thought and action -- was transformed. "It will take a few centuries to change our society," he stated.
On Monday, the Dalai Lama's actual birthday, he dialogued with several Nobel Laureates, professional experts and artists (singer Gloria Estafan and actress Julia Ormond) on Wisdom, Vision and Experience. He was joined by Iranian Shirin Ebadi, whose Nobel for work she did on behalf of women and children was seized by the Iranian government. His Holiness invited 85-year-old activist Dolores Huerta, who with Caesar Chavez, started the United Farm Workers Union, to share his seat with him. And Professor Thurman beautifully summed up the Dalai Lama's message that compassion comes from wisdom, which is a deep understanding of reality.
"Your brain has the ability to investigate the causes of reality," His Holiness explained. With ground-breaking psychologist Paul Ekman, who was on Monday's panel, the Dalai Lama is creating an online emotional atlas that will allow people to understand more clearly what they are feeling.
"Your future is in your own hands," His Holiness added.
Or, rather, in your own head.