His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama kicked off his three-day birthday celebration at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA on Sunday during which he spoke about compassion and the transformative power of the arts before an intergenerational, multi-ethnic audience of more than 18,000 people during what was billed as the Global Compassion Summit. Guests that evening included comedian George Lopez, MC Hammer, and Randy Jackson. Journalist Ann Curry served as the main speaker.
But some people weren’t too happy to see his Holiness in the Golden State. This week, thousands of Shugden Buddhists protested outside of University of California Irvine and the Honda Center against what they describe as his religious persecution. The Dalai Lama banned the practice of Shugden Buddhism — the worship of the deity Dorje Shugden — in the 1990s to the chagrin of its followers who have since tried to diminish his Holiness’ spiritual influence by questioning his Buddhist affiliation.
“I feel excommunicated from the Buddhist community because of the things he says about my practice,” Lizette Fowler, 48, a meditation teacher from the United Kingdom and Shugden follower, told the Los Angeles Times. She counted among the protesters on Sunday. “He only has to say ‘Please give everyone religious freedom. Please don’t discriminate against Shugden practitioners.’”
The Shugden Buddhists’ presence shows little sign of dampening the spirit of celebration. The Dalai Lama — who turned 80 in June, according to the Tibetan calendar — will continue the festivities later this week at the University of California Irvine during a panel discussion with other Nobel laureates, where he’ll reflect on his life’s work and experiences. His Holiness also plans to reaffirm his commitment to climate change during another on-campus gathering.
“This milestone occasion is a joyous opportunity for people to come together in celebration of His Holiness’ life and achievements,” Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden, founder of the non-profit Friends of the Dalai Lama, told the Associated Press. “On this very special birthday we will have a chance to celebrate his accomplishments in many areas and hear his exciting view for the years to come.”
At the age of 15, the Dalai Lama — born Lhamo Döndrub — assumed spiritual and political leadership of Tibet after China’s invasion. During the 1959 Tibetan uprising, he sought refuge in India, from where he set up a satellite government and advocated for Tibetans worldwide. For decades, the Dalai Lama traveled the world, speaking in favor of peace and compassion for others while expressing his love for science and raising awareness about climate change. He also spoke on social issues, at one point calling President Barack Obama’s 2008 election a “clear sign of humans maturing.”
The Dalai Lama’s efforts to preserve Tibet’s autonomy, while noteworthy, have brought forth few changes; negotiations with the Chinese government broke down in 2010. The next year, he relinquished his powers to a democratically-elected Tibetan prime minister — perhaps to ensure that the movement for a sovereign Tibet would carry on after his death. Even as he neared the age of 80, he has shown no sign of stopping, even fostering relationships with other religious leaders. Last month, the Dalai Lama weighed in on global policy matters again when he placed climate change and the global economy as two of his prime concerns and gave a rallying cry for all nations to unite around those issues.
“The 7 billion human beings like us alive today all have a right to be happy. And it’s sad to note that while you are here enjoying yourselves, in other parts of the world like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, people are killing each other. Therefore, we need to promote a greater awareness that we are all human brothers and sisters, that we belong to one human family,” the Dalai Lama told a crowd at the Glastonbury Festival in the United Kingdom in June.