By THE CANADIAN PRESS
CALGARY — The Dalai Lama was welcomed to Calgary on Wednesday with a white cowboy hat reserved for distinguished visitors and an honorary degree that he joked was especially appreciated because he’d always been a “lazy student.”
Speaking to an audience of 15,000, made up largely of students ranging in age from elementary school to university, the Tibetan spiritual leader recalled being given ancient texts at an early age that he couldn’t seem to memorize.
He told the crowd his tutor had two whips — a yellow one for the “holy student” and another for the other pupils.
“If the holy whip is used, I don’t think there’s any difference of holy pain,” he said, laughing.
The Dalai Lama is in the city for the first time in three decades to take part in a conference organized by the University of Calgary, which awarded him the degree.
In his opening address, he said that people need to change their thinking from us versus them to realizing we are all fundamentally the same.
Everyone is loved the same by their mother and grows up with that essential affection and capacity for understanding, he said.
“In our blood, the seed of compassion is there.”
He also said that the path to peace is not just a lack of war, but a deliberate and determined attempt to avoid violence. He called former U.S. president George W. Bush a very nice man who entered conflict in Iraq with good intentions.
“But the method is violent . . . so unexpected consequences happen.”
Earlier in the day, the Dalai Lama was welcomed at the airport by Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier, who placed a white cowboy hat on his head, a traditional western welcome.
The Tibetan spiritual leader laughed as he tried to figure out which way the hat fit on his head. He then posed for pictures wearing his traditional scarlet and gold robes, with the white hat perched atop his head and one furry mitten on his hand.
He made a fist with the mitten, one of a number of small gifts from First Nations groups, then chuckled, turning to shake Bronconnier’s hand before being presented with a white scarf — a symbolic Tibetan greeting.
Former South African president and Nobel laureate F.W. de Klerk also spoke at the conference, which was aimed at getting students to think about how they can help those in their community.
South Africa barred the Dalai Lama from a peace conference in Johannesburg in March, saying the government didn’t want to endanger its relationship with China.
China claims Tibet as part of its territory and accuses the Dalai Lama of touring the world with an agenda of separation for the region. The Communist regime doesn’t like when world leaders choose to meet with him.
The Dalai Lama fled China as a young man in 1959 after a failed uprising against community rule and has lived in exile in India ever since. He has since said he isn’t campaigning for outright Tibetan independence but rather meaningful autonomy and democracy.
De Klerk withdrew from South Africa’s conference in protest of the country’s decision to deny the Dalai Lama entrance. He said Wednesday that Canada has set a good example by inviting the Dalai Lama because he espouses “tolerance and compassion.”
“Who could be against that?” de Klerk asked.
“(The South African government) must just get their own house in order and resist pressure from China and say we take our own decision.”
University of Calgary president Harvey Weingarten said this visit is about spreading peace and he has not heard of any plans of protests.
University of Calgary president Harvey Weingarten said this visit is about spreading peace and he has not heard of any protests being planned.