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Dalai Lama awarded honorary citizenship Add to ...

He describes himself, as he did here again on the weekend, as "just a simple Buddhist monk." His common-sense heartfelt homilies on human happiness and making the world a better place are no threat to the works of Hegel or Sartre.

Yet this 71-year-old, bespectacled, bald-headed Tibetan in yellow and maroon robes and plain brown oxfords can wow and pack 'em in like nobody's business.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama did it throughout an event-filled, four-day visit that ended yesterday, as politicians, corporate high-rollers, high-school kids and the general public clamoured to soak up his wisdom.

In the midst of it all, Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Monte Solberg braved the wrath of China to present the revered, exiled leader with honorary Canadian citizenship in a public ceremony at GM Place before 12,000 people.

Flanked by two Mounties in their ceremonial scarlet tunics, Mr. Solberg praised the Dalai Lama, condemned by China as a dangerous separatist, for his preaching of peace, practice of kindness and dedication to humanitarian work.

"These are the values of Canadians," said the Conservative minister, who travelled to Vancouver specifically for the presentation.

Earlier Saturday, Jason Kenney, parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, held a private meeting with the Dalai Lama, conveying, he told reporters later, the Prime Minister's personal welcome to Canada.

During his visit, the Dalai Lama sold out appearances at the 2,800-seat Orpheum Theatre, despite ticket prices ranging as high as $175.

At GM Place, where rough-and-tumble hockey heroes and rock stars normally hold raucous court, he kept a full house still and quiet throughout an hour-long, non-stop talk on "Cultivating Happiness."

He delivered his talk, without notes, from an armchair, alone on the large stage except for his veteran interpreter.

Two days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there was applause when he said recent events have made him a defender of Muslims.

"My faith is Buddhism, but I respect all religions. It is unfair, because of some [bad]Muslims, to blame all Muslims, so I have become a defender of them."

Yesterday, the Dalai Lama was the catalyst for a day-long dialogue bringing together business leaders and prominent social activists from around the world to discuss ways of working together for the common good.

The good-humored winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize could not resist joking that trying to bring corporate and social sectors together reminded him of an old Tibetan saying about the difficulty of "trying to fit a sheep's head on a yak's body."

Later, he pointed out that he, himself, was neither sheep nor yak. "I am here maybe as a yeti. A mystery." No one laughed louder at that than he himself.

His message to the gathering, however, was much more than mirth.

He mourned ongoing hatred and killing in the world. "We have modern technology and education, but too often we are still guided by human hatred.

"It is easy to kill, but hard to eliminate hatred. Today's society believes the enemy is 100 per cent black. 'So eliminate them!' Iraq, Lebanon. . . . You just look and cry."

The key to erasing conflict, the Dalai Lama stressed, is to break down barriers and develop inner strengths, such as warm-heartedness, compassion and generosity of spirit.

The business world, too, falls short in these areas, he said, as high-powered executives listened intently.

"Business concentrates on how to make profit. That is not sufficient," he said.

"While you are making money, you need to keep in mind your service to society. Return some profit to the community. Everyone should have a sense of global responsibility."

Business types lapped it up.

"The Dalai Lama is a wonderful human being, a real role model," said Darcy Rezac, managing director of the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Also on hand was former prime minister Kim Campbell, now secretary-general of the Club of Madrid.

Hearing the Dalai Lama for the first time, she said she was impressed by the simplicity of his message.

"But it's a deceptive simplicity. He acts like a mirror, forcing people to focus on themselves, even as they seek answers from him. That's an interesting skill."The Dalai Lama came to Vancouver to endorse plans for the $60-million Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education to be established in the city.

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

 

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