Rediff Logo News Check out our special Offers!! Find/Feedback/Site Index
August 12, 1999


Search Rediff

New York's Hottest Ticket: Dalai Lama

E-Mail this report to a friend

Alan Kravitz in New York

Dalai Lama Mitali Banerjee, a spokeswoman for the Parks Department, has been wondering if it is the Dalai Lama or a Hollywood celebrity who is the star attraction at Sunday's discourse at the Central Park.

Hundreds of people have been calling the Parks Department to find out when they can begin camping out, she says, adding that park officials feel as if a mini Woodstock is being planned at the Central Park.

But she has also heard that what is being offered is music to the soul, and by a man who is 64, and whose home has been seized from him.

The Dalai Lama will start speaking about 11 am at the Central Park on Sunday, but the seating begins only at 9 am.

"I am going to be outside the 98th Street and Fifth Avenue entrance by 10 pm Saturday," says Jerry Cano, a businessman in Queens, who is in his late 20s. "I am tired of listening to people of religion who try to sell their brand of religion as if they are selling life insurance or a stereo system. I believe he radiates serenity, and I need to have a lot of it."

Though the Dalai Lama is not a stranger to New York City, at no time during his previous visits has he made commitments to the number of speaking engagements as he has done this time.

His three day lecture series starting on Thursday has sold 10,000 tickets for an average price of $85 at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan. Hollywood celebrities such as Martin Scorsese (the maker of Kundan), actress Goldie Hawn and singer Michael Bolton are among the 325 people who have each paid $750 to have a dinner with the Dalai Lama. Proceeds from the event will go to Tibetan causes.

"There has been a lot of awareness about Tibetan Buddhism in the past five or six years across America," says writer Ric Ornellas, an American Catholic who embraced Buddhism about a decade ago.

"The Dalai Lama is also a symbol of nonviolence, and the fact that Tibet is brutally occupied by China makes him a very sympathetic figure."

Many Americans look up to him because there are no scandals about him. "Many Indian gurus saw their reputation slide because of scandals," Ornellas says. "But the Dalai Lama has remained a symbol of integrity for many decades."

"Some people attribute the awareness to the interest some of Hollywood bigwigs have in Buddhism. But I think it also has a lot to do with books and articles about Buddhism in the mainstream media," he adds.

Richard Gere, who is backing the Dalai Lama's many events in New York with his star-power, is one of the biggest champions of Tibetan causes in America. He says he thought of becoming a monk a few years ago but when the Dalai Lama's people heard about it, they met with him, imploring him to stay in Hollywood.

"We need you out there," one of them told the star, whose current film, Runway Bride, with Julia Roberts is one of the biggest hits of the season and has grossed $85 million in two weeks.

Gere is one of the many Hollywood celebrities who admire and support the Dalai Lama. Other distinguished Americans who are close to the Dalai Lama include the composer Philip Glass and actor Harrison Ford and his wife Malissa Mathiessen who cowrote the Kundan screenplay.

But there is yet another person who has contributed singularly for the appreciation of Buddhism and the cause of Tibet.

Robert Thurman, who once studied to be a Buddhist monk and spent several years in Bihar, has written many books and magazine articles on Tibetan Buddhism.

Father of actress Uma Thurman, he has lectured widely on Buddhism. A professor at Columbia University, Thurman was the cover story of The New York Times' magazine last year.

Called the 'Billy Graham of American Buddhism' and 'the Dharma warrior', the soft-spoken Thurman has gone from being a devotee, to a scholar, to a celebrity, and has spread the word about Buddhism to Americans. As Buddhism attracts more attention in the West, Thurman believes the time is ripe for what he calls and "inner revolution."

The Dalai Lama too has contributed his own towards creating awareness for his cause.

His book, The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, written with psychiatrist and spiritualist Howard Cutler, has sold nearly half a million copies and has been on The New York Times' bestseller list for more than seven months.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sit down with the Dalai Lama and really press him about life's persistent questions? Why are so many people unhappy? How can one abjure loneliness? How can we reduce conflict? Is romantic love true love? Why do we suffer? How should we deal with unfairness and anger? How do you handle the death of a loved one? These are the conundrums that Cutler poses to the Dalai Lama during an extended period of interviews in The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.

Though initially, the Dalai Lama's answers seem simplistic, like a surface reading of Robert Fulghum, the book becomes an absorbing, challenging read as Cutler pushes: But some people do seem happy with lots of possessions; but "suffering is life" is so pessimistic; but going to extremes provides the zest in life; but what if I don't believe in karma?

As the Dalai Lama's responses become more involved, a coherent philosophy takes shape.

Cutler then fashions the Dalai Lama's answers in the context of scientific studies and cases from his own practice, substantiating and elaborating on what he finds to be a revolutionary psychology.

When Cutler asks the Dalai Lama -- who has been exiled for more than three decades -- if he is happy, the answer is 'Yes'; when he asks if he is ever lonely, the answer is an unqualified 'No'. How can that be? Because, the Dalai Lama replies, he always looks at others positively and experiences a "feeling of affinity, a kind of connectedness."

"Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, the very purpose of our life is happiness, the very motion of our life is towards happiness," the Dalai Lama notes.

Through meditations, stories, and the meeting of Buddhism and psychology, the Dalai Lama shows ways to defeat day-to-day depression, anxiety, anger, jealousy, or just an ordinary bad mood. He discusses relationships, health, family, and work to show us how to ride through life's obstacles on a deep and abiding source of inner peace.

While the book is continuing to be one of the hottest selling self-books in recent years, several articles about the Dalai Lama have appeared in major newspapers in New York, and Time Out magazine ran a cover story on him two weeks ago.

Gere believes that one of the reasons why people never get tired of listening to the Dalai Lama is because of his humor.

"He's earthy in his humor and spirit and has a mind the size of the universe," Gere told reporters on Tuesday. "He has made me a better person in tangible ways. I get angry less quickly."

Unlike the soap opera type of Christian evangelists, the Dalai Lama does not offer adrenaline pumping speeches. For that matter, he hardly talks about Buddhism in his public engagements. Instead, he talks about inner life, about character transformation and becoming a better person.

"In many ways, his message is universal," says Ornellas, "And it can be accepted by broad-minded persons belonging to other religions."

(A P Kamath contributed to this story)

Previous: US Urges India and Pakistan To Abide By 1991 Agreement
Next: More Anti-Narmada Dam Protests Planned

Tell us what you think of this report