Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, puts on a Middlebury visor Friday at Middlebury College, where he spoke to hundreds of students and faculty. He began by recalling his last visit to Middlebury, in 1990.
MIDDLEBURY — The Dalai Lama came to Vermont on Friday to tell a Middlebury College crowd of 2,800 that education should extend past the head and expand the heart.
“You are our hope. You are the generation of the 21st century. You are people who shape new world,” the Tibetan told students in halting English with help from a translator. “But it seems to me the modern education system is more materialistic oriented. Sometimes educate only brain, create more trouble. Educate heart.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin greeted the 77-year-old spiritual leader upon his flight’s arrival in Burlington on Friday morning, then joined students and faculty inside Middlebury’s Nelson Arena to hear the self-described “simple Buddhist monk” offer the first of a two-day series of talks.
The winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize spoke on the day the newest laureate — the 27-nation European Union — was announced to audible gasps half a world away. For his part, the Dalai Lama drew three standing ovations — the first when he surprised college chaplain Laurie Jordan by walking on stage before she finished introducing him.
“Oh, my gosh!” Jordan exclaimed when she realized who was standing beside her. “That was not in the script!”
The minister gave the monk a blue Middlebury visor, which he wore with his trademark burgundy and orange robes.
Talking on the topic “Educating the Heart,” the Dalai Lama drew from his own life, be it starting his monastic studies at age 6, escaping to India a decade after China took control of his Tibetan homeland in 1949, or traveling to more than 60 countries on six continents, meeting with government and religious leaders and writing 70 books.
“Time always moving — no force can stop,” he said. “It up to us whether time used meaningful way, constructive way, or wasted. That our choice.”
The Dalai Lama has visited the Middlebury campus twice before, first in 1984 for a symposium on Buddhism and Christianity, then in 1990 — the year after he won the Nobel — for a conference on religion, ethics and the environment.
“I’m wondering — 22 years — how much change, my face?” he said before pointing to his scalp. “Perhaps less hair here. Less, less, less.”
He also spoke of gallbladder surgery.
“Same person. Same body. But one important organ missing.”
News of this week’s return sparked concern among some Chinese students who, questioning the visit in the Middlebury Campus newspaper, worried that the Dalai Lama would publicly criticize their country. Instead, the smiling monk asked them to raise their hands before sharing how he once met in “Peking” — the former name of Beijing, capital of the People’s Republic of China — with the late leader Mao Zedong.
“Chairman Mao treated me like son.”
The monk lamented what has changed.
The Dalai Lama leaned heavily on his translator during a question-and-answer period.
One student asked the difference between “academic” and “spiritual” learning.
“I don’t know the exact meaning of these two English words,” the Tibetan replied.
One professor asked about “climate change,” leading the monk to talk less about the planet and more about social stratification.
“Gap — rich and poor — very serious matter. We have to reduce. American lifestyle need to practice more contentment.”
Another student asked if people without a specific faith could achieve the visit’s theme of “Cultivating Hope, Wisdom and Compassion.”
“Oh, yes,” the spiritual leader replied simply.
The Dalai Lama will speak again today at 9:30 a.m. in a sold-out public program. It will be broadcast live online at www.middlebury.edu and at Middlebury’s 272-seat Dana Auditorium and 400-seat McCullough Student Center and, in Burlington, at the University of Vermont’s 300-seat Billings Lecture Hall. Admission is free and first come, first served.
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