The Dalai Lama brought his message of compassion and unifying humanity to Sacramento while also delving into gun control, education and environmental matters during his first address to the California Legislature on Monday.
People packing the Assembly chambers for the speech included Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who later tweeted “Not washing my hand & only fist bumps!” after shaking the Dalai Lama’s hand.
People rose expectantly as the Dalai Lama entered the Assembly chambers flanked by crimson-robed monks. Many lawmakers clasped their hands together as he passed.
In preludes to the speech, legislative leaders hailed the Dalai Lama as a source of healing after the Orlando shootings and praised his work combating climate change.
Breaking a hush blanketing the chamber, the Dalai Lama won laughs by urging attendees to sit – saying he disliked formality. He urged more compassion and understanding, urging “religious harmony” in calling people everywhere essentially the same regardless of their faith and saying love and affection are key.
“We are social animals,” he said. “We need a sense of community.”
“Different faiths, different nationalities, different ranks and positions ... we start our life, when we are born, (the) same,” he added. “All religions have (the) same potential to create ... compassionate human beings.”
Protecting the environment, the Dalai Lama said, is “very, very necessary ... this planet is the only place we can live happily, we can breathe happily.”
“This state (is) already, I think, paying special attention about environment issue. Wonderful. Wonderful,” he said, alluding to California’s aggressive policies to curb the effects of climate change.
He also turned his focus to education, arguing that most schools focus on material matters rather than teach how to cultivate “inner value.”
“In order to create more healthy society, education is the key factor,” he said, helping to create more “compassionate leader(s)” rather than those focused on “money (and) power.”
And on a day when the U.S. Senate plunged into a divisive debate over gun laws, the Dalai Lama said gun control must flow from a “sense of respect for others’ life.”
“Inner disarmament is very essential,” he said.
After meeting the Dalai Lama during his earlier visit to Orange County and marking the occasion with a resolution making July 2015 Kindness Month, Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, worked to bring the Buddhist spiritual figure to Sacramento so her colleagues could be encouraged to “pause and realize we’re all human beings,” Nguyen said.
“I hope the state legislators who represent the 40 million people of California, we can all help spread the love, kindness and compassion,” Nguyen, born to Buddhist Vietnamese parents, said after Monday’s speech. “We can all respectfully disagree, but at the end of the day we’re all human beings and we should live in harmony.”
Official contacts with with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader risk antagonizing China, whose leaders view the Dalai Lama as backing Tibetan independence. Chinese officials assailed the White House for hosting the Dalai Lama earlier this month and warned Washington against altering its policy of viewing Tibet as part of China.
Gov. Jerry Brown has worked to cultivate deeper commercial ties between China and California, leading a trade delegation to the economic juggernaut in 2013. A Brown spokesman said the governor attended a private luncheon with the Dalai Lama on Monday afternoon. The Chinese government did not weigh in on the meeting, spokesman Evan Westrup said, noting Brown had met with the Dalai Lama before.
While the Dalai Lama has visited California before, he has never stopped by Sacramento, even though foreign dignitaries regularly appear in the Capitol. In 2009, a planned visit didn’t come to fruition.
Hundreds of well-wishers – and a lone megaphoned protester – gathered along the west entrance of the Capitol to await the Dalai Lama’s arrival. Tibetans sporting traditional garb, waving flags and bearing offerings traveled from Vacaville and Berkeley looking for a moment with their spiritual leader.
“We came here to welcome. We are hoping to get the blessing,” Tsultrim Gagya said.
Tenpa Jamyang said he spent three days making a poster with 81 pictures of the Dalai Lama, in honor of the spiritual leader’s 81st birthday next month, and a banner chronicling the timeline of the 14 Dalai Lamas.
Surrounded by security, however, the Dalai Lama was whisked from his motorcade into the Capitol, pausing only briefly to greet legislative leaders and wave to the crowd.