Amid protests, the Dalai Lama visits Berkeley

The Dali Lama spoke to a crown of 3,000 at the Berkeley Community Theater on Sunday
The Dalai Lama spoke to a crown of 3,000 at the Berkeley Community Theater on Sunday. Photo: Live stream of event

About 3,000 people crammed into the Berkeley Community Theater on the Berkeley High campus Sunday morning to hear a talk on “How to Achieve Happiness,” by the Dalai Lama.

It was Dalai Lama’s second stop on a three-day local speaking tour. He spoke in San Francisco on Saturday and he will speak at Santa Clara University today. Before coming to the Bay Area, he met with President Barack Obama.

Protestors who believe the Dali Lama discriminated against Buddhists who belong to the Shegden sect protested his appearance. Photo: Ted Friedman
Protesters who believe the Dalai Lama discriminated against Buddhists who belong to the Shugden sect protested his appearance in Berkeley on Sunday. Photo: Ted Friedman

Along the way, the Dalai Lama has been confronted by Tibetans who practice another strand of Buddhism called Shugden. The Dalai Lama once embraced Shugden, but denounced it in 1975 after deciding it contributed to “sectarian disharmony.

On Sunday, a few dozen protesters stood behind a metal fence on Allston Way across from the entrance to the Berkeley Community Theater and held up signs saying “Dalai Lama Stop Lying,” and “Give Religious Freedom.” The protesters have complained that the Dalai Lama has excommunicated thousands of Shugden Buddhists and that he encourages other Buddhists to deny them jobs and housing. They have called him the “Worst Dictator in the Western World,” on their Facebook page.


People lined up around Berkeley High to get a good seat at the Berkeley Community Theater. Photo: Ted Friedman
People lined up around Berkeley High to get a good seat at the Berkeley Community Theater. Photo: Ted Friedman
Everyone had to pass through metal detectors before entering the theater. Photo: Ted Friedman
Everyone had to pass through metal detectors before entering the theater. Photo: Ted Friedman

Those lucky enough to get tickets to hear the Dalai Lama lined up early by the Berkeley Community Theater for the 9:30 a.m talk. There were many Tibetans in the audience. Everyone had to pass through metal detectors before entering the theater.

A chorus of Tibetan children started the gathering by singing the Tibetan and U.S. anthems. Congresswoman Barbara Lee then introduced the Dalai Lama around 10:30 a.m.. an hour after the talk was supposed to start. The Dalai Lama, who had been sitting on an orange couch surrounded by flowers, then got up and led Lee to the couch for his speech. He donned an orange visor to protect his eyes from the glare of the lights to deliver his talk.

He told the crowd that people need to stop just thinking about themselves, and open their hearts to think of the greater community. To be happy, one must have compassion for others and forgive them for their shortcomings, he said.

Those who could not get into the theater watched a live feed of the Dali Lama's talk at Dharma Bookstore/Tibetan Aid Project on Harold Way. Photo: Ted Friedman
Those who could not get into the theater watched a live feed of the Dalai Lama’s talk at the Dharma Bookstore/Tibetan Aid Project on Harold Way. Photo: Ted Friedman

The Dalai Lama’s visit was sponsored by The Tibetan Association of Northern California. The Dalai Lama also visited the group’s headquarters in Richmond on Sunday to bless the grounds. He will be in the United States on a speaking tour for the next two weeks.

The Dalai Lama last visited Berkeley in 2009 when he gave a talk at the Hearst Greek Theater on the UC Berkeley campus.

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