By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
On Tuesday His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with about 2,400 area middle and high school students, including students from the Archdiocese of Louisville, during a program called “Youth Engaging Compassion — A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama.”
The Dalai Lama had a message of compassion and peace for those in attendance at the May 21 event, held at the Kentucky Center for the Arts and hosted by the Drepung Gomang Institute.
He told the students that the act of practicing compassion and forgiveness is often seen as weak.
“That is totally wrong!” he exclaimed in heavily-accented English. The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader spoke in English at some points and relied on an interpreter at other times during his talk.
Practicing compassion, he told the children, requires much inner strength, and people who act aggressively or in anger are the ones who are weak.
Often smiling and sometimes chuckling, the Dalai Lama encouraged the students to take proper care of their minds, just as they would their physical bodies. In doing so, he said, people are less likely to act out in anger and instead will respond with affection and compassion.
He said that when he meets someone who is reserved, he approaches them as “human brothers and sisters” and their attitude begins to change.
“They become happier. That (is the) way to create happy communities and happy families,” he said.
Sharing the stage with the Dalai Lama was recent St. Xavier High School graduate Daniel Varghese. Varghese was one of three students selected to address the audience prior to the Dalai Lama’s message. He spoke about what compassion means to him.
Varghese said people see problems in society and look to place blame on others rather than looking inward to determine the source of the conflict.
“In order to truly bring change to the world, we must recognize that we are part of the issue,” he said. “It is only then that we can begin to show compassion for those in our families, schools, cities, countries and societies.”
Varghese added that compassion is not simply a desire to help another with their problems.
“To be truly compassionate towards all of those around us, we must journey into ourselves and explore all that is flawed within us, looking for ways in which we can make changes,” he said.
In preparation for the event, students attending the discussion were invited to submit questions to the Dalai Lama, said Karen O’Connell, curriculum coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville and a member of the Youth Engaging Compassion committee. The prompt was: “If you could ask the Dalai Lama one question, what would it be?”
Ten questions were selected from hundreds of submissions, O’Connell noted. Two of those were from students in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Frances Macguire, a seventh-grader from St. Martha School, asked the Dalai Lama “Looking back at yourself at age 13 what advice would you give yourself?”
The Dalai Lama responded that he wished he would have been more interested in studying instead of playing. He said it wasn’t until he was 14 or 15 years old that he made an effort to devote time to studying.
Rebecca Sauer, a junior at Presentation Academy, was also selected to ask the Dalai Lama a question. Sauer asked “What is the greatest obstacle you have faced in your journey to pursue peace and preserve the Tibetan culture?”
In reply the exiled leader of Tibet said the real obstacle is the “level of knowledge” and “level of shortsightedness.” He said he tries to educate others about the value of the Tibetan culture. He noted that if people do not understand the culture, they will not be able to appreciate it.
In preparation for the visit with the Dalai Lama, students in the Archdiocese of Louisville have been researching the Dalai Lama and engaging in acts of compassion.
The compassion projects were part of the larger “Youth Engaging Compassion” initiative. The initiative challenged students to find ways to be more compassionate and to document their efforts along the way.
“We really wanted to find ways to include students in the Dalai Lama’s visit,” O’Connell said.
She noted that the Dalai Lama was anxious to speak with students and that “it was our goal to make an event very meaningful for the students,” she said.
Eighth-grade students from Nativity Academy at St. Boniface had a contest to come up with a service project related to compassion, Tami Harbolt, a school administrator, said. The winning idea was to visit Lincoln Elementary School and read to the younger students.
Students at St. Michael School drew pictures of things they do to promote compassion in and out of school, Brittany Cox, the school counselor, noted. Some ideas were to take care of younger students in the cafeteria, donate items to people in need and help teachers prepare for the new school year. Students also wrote acrostic poems about compassion.
At St. Rita School, administrators created bulletin boards throughout the school with information about the Dalai Lama and compassion. The school on Preston Highway also had rotating messages of compassion on their announcement board in front of the school, Dr. Mary Lee Lanning, school principal, said.
“It’s been a five-month process of learning about compassion,” Dr. Lanning said.
Students at St. Andrew Academy connected compassion with their annual May Crowning Mass last week. The students who were selected to attend the discussion with the Dalai Lama, spoke at the Mass about how Mary is the ultimate model of compassion, Jennifer Barz, school principal, said. Students also wrote the Prayers of the Faithful to reflect ways they can be more compassionate.
Numerous schools, including St. Leonard School, John Paul II Academy and St. Aloysius School in Pewee Valley, Ky., held classroom discussions about the Dalai Lama, where they learned about the religious leader and also about his call for compassion.
Additional schools in the archdiocese that were planning to send students to the compassion discussion with the Dalai Lama were: St. Mary, St. Nicholas, St. Andrew, Sacred Heart and Presentation academies; Our Lady of Lourdes, Sacred Heart Model, St. Agnes, St. Albert the Great, St. Ann in Howardstown, Ky., St. Bernard, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Gabriel, St. Joseph, St. Margaret Mary, St. Martha, St. Raphael, St. Rita, St. Stephen Martyr schools and Assumption, DeSales, Holy Cross, St. Xavier and Trinity high schools.