He might have been Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder approaching the mosh pit, such were the ear-splitting squeals of delight from 16,000 star-struck teenagers as he abandoned his comfortable armchair to advance to the front of the stage at the city's packed hockey arena Tuesday.
But no rock star he. Rather, this was a 74-year-old, self-described "simple monk," who nonetheless manages to wow the world with his consistent, heartfelt message of the need for universal peace and compassion.
"I want to talk here," the Dalai Lama said, ignoring a planned question-and-answer session and looking down at the thousands seated before him.
The future of the century is in your hands. Please, take care of it The Dalai Lama
And talk he did. Emphasizing his points with passionate hand gestures, the Dalai Lama called on the youth of today to do a better job in the 21st century than his generation did with the last one.
"You are the seeds of a better future," he told them. "The 20th century had the most bloodshed ever. More than 200 million human beings killed through violent action. All were people just like us."
It was time for a century of peace, a century of compassion, the Dalai Lama declared, as whoops and cheers echoed through GM Place and camera flashes lit up its darkened corners.
"Make the world very safe, very peaceful, very happy. You are the key generation to make that happen. There are still 91 years left. The future of the century is in your hands. Please, take care of it."
The Tibetan spiritual leader was the most prominent of a dazzling array of speakers at the celebratory We Day event for young people, organized by Craig and Marc Kielburger's Free the Children charity. The roster included Mia Farrow, Jane Goodall, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean and Nobel Laureate Betty Williams.
Lacing his message with humour, the Dalai Lama also advised students not to take their textbooks and teachers at face value. "Read and listen. Then, make your investigation. If you just accept everything, then your brain is wasted."
Afterward, the kids were more than all right with their elderly Tibetan teacher.
"Awesome," said 16-year-old Laura Goncalves. "He gives off so much energy, and he's funny. He was really inspiring."
Echoed schoolmate Jasmine Singh: "He was better than our teachers at school. I expected it to be boring, but he was entertaining. I liked his message that we can change the world by changing ourselves and helping others. We shouldn't just sit around eating junk food all the time."
"He was really amazing," said Daniel Shearer, 15. "He seemed very humble, but you could see he was very wise. He was great."
Awe was not confined to those under 20. Among those transfixed was Mia Farrow.
"Guess what? I got to meet the Dalai Lama," she gushed to reporters. "It was a real rush. I'm still getting over it. He was backstage and he just brought this something. … Everyone stopped. He seemed to transcend everything. Just by being around him, we all felt we had to try to be the best that we could be."
During his three-day stay in Vancouver, where he participated in a series of peace dialogues, the Dalai Lama made little mention of the situation in Tibet and restrictions on Tibetans under Chinese rule. Considered the prime political leader of Tibetans as well as their spiritual head, he remains in exile in India, having fled his homeland after a failed uprising in 1959.
But he made an exception at the We Day celebration, touching on it in a very personal way.
"My life has not been an easy one. At age 16, I lost freedom [when Chinese troops occupied Tibet.]At age 24, I lost my country. I remain as a refugee," the Dalai Lama said. While some constructive things have taken place under China, Tibetans, he said, still live constantly in fear.
Yet the Dalai Lama said he continues to have compassion for "those narrow-minded Communists. They, too, are part of the world's six billion human beings. We must respect them and have concern for their well-being. That is what having a sense of compassion means. It's for everyone."
Singer Sarah McLachlan also appeared at the event. She confessed later, however, to falling short of fully embracing the Dalai Lama's message, noting how he talked warmly of the compassion felt by mothers, including his own, for their children.
"I was racing around with my two kids to get out the door this morning, and I yelled at my 7-year-old. I guess I didn't do it [compassion]so well."