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Originally published April 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 12, 2008 at 10:14 AM

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Dalai Lama kicks off Seattle visit with 3 events

The moment came early, during the Dalai Lama's opening remarks to thousands gathered at the University of Washington's Edmundson Pavilion...

Seattle Times religion reporter

The moment came early, during the Dalai Lama's opening remarks to thousands gathered at the University of Washington's Edmundson Pavilion.

The Tibetan Buddhist leader had been speaking of serious things: violence, negative emotions and other problems in the world. Younger people would have to face serious consequences, he said.

But his generation? Not so much, because it was "ready to say goodbye," he said with a playful smile and a childlike opening and closing of his hand to gesture bye-bye.

The crowd burst into laughter.

It was a lovefest here Friday for the Dalai Lama. Nearly 22,000 people attended his three public appearances on the first of five days the Nobel Peace Prize winner is spending in Seattle for a series of events designed to nurture compassion.

The crowds gave him standing ovations as he walked onto, and left, the stages. They laughed as he punctuated his sometimes long and discursive answers with playful, pithy comments. And they applauded his views on the need for a calm mind and right perspective.

And for his part, the Dalai Lama was charming and warm, dressed in saffron and maroon robes, sitting sometimes cross-legged in an armchair, consulting with a translator occasionally but for the most part speaking English on his own.

The 73-year-old Buddhist monk took part in panels on the science behind compassion and early childhood development; on putting that knowledge into action, and on music and media with musician Dave Matthews and "Today" news anchor Ann Curry.

In his first appearance of the day, at Edmundson Pavilion, the Dalai Lama said "it seems that more and more people, particularly from the scientific fields, particularly medical science [are] now showing interest" in how emotions are important to a person's well-being.

He leaned forward, listening attentively as scientists talked about how children learn by imitating adults, and how that lays the groundwork for fostering empathy. He showed interest in how meditation can lead to changes in the brain.

The Dalai Lama said he thinks some part of compassion is biological. All animals — humans included — have something to gain from being compassionate toward others, he said.

He drew a difference between limited compassion and unlimited compassion, saying the first is biased and the second is not.

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You can't be compassionate only toward people you like or toward people who are the same as you, he said. You must also be compassionate toward people whose ideas you don't agree with.

Even Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin had "the basic human nature," he said.

If you limit your kindness and compassion to people with whom you already have something in common, than you're weakening yourself, he said.

But when he finished, there was silence. The Dalai Lama laughed. "I don't know, is that right or wrong? Please make correction," he said, to the laughter and applause of the audience.

In the afternoon, he moved to KeyArena to talk with experts who are working on ways to raise healthier children.

John and Becky Augsburger, both 44 and lifelong Catholics who live in Olympia, came to the event because they want to teach their three children how to be better people.

And "it's just a rare opportunity to see someone in person who's had such an impact on the world, spiritually and politically," John Augsburger said. "We're very excited."

Huan Do, 36, a Buddhist who lives in Seattle, wanted to see the man he believes to be one of the living Buddhas.

"While he's here on Earth, he can enlighten us," he said. "That's not an opportunity you can turn down."

Michael Jaquish, 59, of Gig Harbor, is a Buddhist, former police chief and professional life coach. He said he just wanted to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama. "He's like the pope for Buddhism," he said.

On stage, the call to action started early with William Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, which works in foster care. He challenged the audience: "How will this world be different because of you?"

The Dalai Lama urged the audience to cultivate compassion.

"From the selfish viewpoint, practice more compassion — you get more benefit," he said. It brings inner strength, less fear and "sound sleep," a comment that drew laughter from the audience.

"I love my sleep," he told the crowd. "Eight hours, sometimes nine hours without disturbances."

One speaker noted that schools offer physical education and asked the Dalai Lama whether schools should also set time aside for social and emotional learning.

"We should have educational, emotional, social experts come, discuss and make concrete plan — how to educate from kindergarten to university," he said to loud applause.

Raising emotionally healthy children — "ultimately, that is preparation for world peace."

Though the crowds were smaller than expected at the experts' panels, KeyArena was sold out for the dialogue Friday afternoon between the Dalai Lama, Matthews and Curry.

In response to Matthews' question about how music ties in to compassion, the Dalai Lama said, "every human action carries some meaning."

And if music or art contains a certain message like love, he said, art could have a "certain deeper effect."

When Curry asked about how people could open themselves up to see the suffering in the world, the Dalai Lama said the media was a neutral tool, and could be used to either distort information and mislead people, or could provide information that was correct.

"Through knowledge, some people may develop conviction after they learn the correct information."

Women, the Dalai Lama said, seem generally to have greater capacity for compassion. He credited his mother, not his religious teacher, as the source of his ability to show compassion.

Matthews drew applause after saying, "It would help the world if there was a little less machismo."

The recent unrest in Tibet did not go completely unmentioned. It came up early in the day when Dan Kranzler, co-founder of Seeds of Compassion, which organized the gathering, said he was honored the Dalai Lama came "especially in such times of trouble for the Tibetan people in China."

"And may I say personally," Kranzler added, "the world knows the truth. The world knows."

The Dalai Lama then embraced Kranzler.

Connie Eden, 53, an artist in Everett, for one, did not want politics to intrude on the event. She said shortly before the morning session that she has heard the Dalai Lama speak about politics. "I'm hoping like heck this will be low-key and about positive energy."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporters Haley Edwards and Sanjay Bhatt contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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