Tibetan Americans dressed in bright red, yellow and blue lined up outside, waiting for a glimpse of their spiritual leader. They sang, danced and waved flags as more than 4,000 people filed into the gym.
About a hundred yards away, a group of protesters from another religious sect, cordoned off behind a large banner, chanted as the spiritual pep rally carried on in front of Princeton University’s Jadwin Gymnasium.
A hush fell over the crowd inside the gym as Princeton University officials walked to the microphone. The crowd stood and applauded as the Dalai Lama took the stage, but he motioned for them to sit down, as if he felt embarrassed by the attention. He then put on an orange Princeton cap and giggled.
He spent the next hour outlining his simple philosophy of life, discussing the importance of compassion, kindness, and critical thinking for his talked called “Develop the Heart.”
“There are a lot of man-made problems in the world. There is a huge gap between rich and poor everywhere in the world, including America. There is also lots of corruption. In America it is a little better. In some countries it is a very big problem,” the Dalai Lama said. “There are also advances in technology and science that sometimes are helping to create more fear and destruction.”
The Dalai Lama, 79, said each individual’s fate is dependent on the rest of the world. We are all interconnected, regardless of religious beliefs or other differences. The East is dependent on the West, and the West is dependent on the East. Religion is sometimes used as a weapon of fear, he said, when compassion is at the core of the teachings of the world’s religions.
“We really need a sense of global responsibility,” he said. “We need a sense of care for each other, a sense of oneness. We are all the same human beings. We all want a happy life, and no suffering.”
People need to learn to focus on their similarities instead of their differences and recognize the humanity in others, he said.
“The very purpose of life is to live a meaningful life,” he said. “Meaningful means peaceful. Do any action in life with a sense of compassion. Then there is no possibility to harm, exploit, or cheat the other if you are acting out of compassion.”
The opposite, he said, is only focusing on the self and living a self-centered life. This leads to insecurity, bullying, exploitation, and killing.
“We were all created by the God and we all have sparks of God in us,” he said. “This should give us self-confidence, and a sense of courage and optimism…We all have the same light.”
The Dalai Lama said he was blessed as a child to have a very loving mother. She was an uneducated farmer who worked in the field and tended to the animals, carrying him on her back as she worked.
“She was very kind. Her kindness spoiled me,” He said. “It was easy to bully my mother. She carried me on my shoulder and I held her ears. I could tug on them and direct her movement. I never saw my mom with an angry face. I was very fortunate.”
Children who grow up without being surrounded by compassion live with a sense of fear inside and a sense of insecurity, he said, adding that a sense of being loved and feeling secure is very important to proper development and health.
“Constant fear and anger eat away at our immune systems,” he said. “Compassion makes us healthier and makes our immune systems stronger.”
The Dalai Lama criticized the materialist culture of modern society and the belief that money is the source of all happiness.
“There are some people who feel distrust and jealousy no matter how rich they are. They are unhappy. Others with much less feel a sense of peace and are much happier,” he said. “Money is very useful, but to totally rely on money is wrong.”
Change will come when individuals spread the message that humans are interconnected and should lives of compassion, the Dalai Lama said.
“We can practice these things. Then peace will really be possible in the 21st century,” he said. “Young people — it is your responsibility, your opportunity — to make attempts now at making the world a more peaceful, happy world. You need to be active instead of just wishing. Then it is possible. You must attempt to do it.”
After his speech, the Dalai Lama answered several questions from the audience. He also spoke with a group of students at 1:30 p.m.
Asked what his biggest regret was, the Dalai Lama said he wished he would have focused more on his studies when he was young.
“I was quite a lazy student, not much interest in study — only in play, play, play.” he said. “I regret that precious time. It can never be recovered.”
He told students to read a broad range of books and analyze them using critical thinking.
Asked to define universal human rights, he said all people want to live a happy life.
“Our life very much depends on hope,” he said. “There is no guarantee what will happen next year or next week, but on the basis of hope, we are making an effort.”
He also stressed the importance of trust and forgiveness.
“Forgiveness means to not develop anger towards a person,” he said. “It does not mean we accept what was done.”
The crowd erupted with laughter when he was asked what the key to happiness is and he joked “Money or sex.”
Asked about his happiest memories, the Dalai Lama said in addition his childhood time with his mother, meditation has been an important source of joy.
“When I am in a deep meditation I feel a sense of peace,” he said. “I have an understanding of a deeper reality.”