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Updated 1:30 PM April 26, 2008
 

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Dalai Lama talks of environmental preservation

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The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet sees a direct connection between sustainability and spirituality.

He tells the story of the king of Shakya, who was born at the foot of a tree, achieved spiritual enlightenment under a tree and eventually died under a tree. From then on monks were trained to nurture trees and see it as a virtuous act.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama says spirituality and environmental sustainability are closely linked. (Photos by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

"Whenever I speak, I always refer to the environment," the Dalai Lama said, during a press conference Friday at Rackham. He delivered a special Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability April 20 at Crisler Arena, during a weekend full of appearances in the Ann Arbor area.

Best known as an outspoken advocate for human rights and global peace, the Dalai Lama turned his wide-ranging intellect to the topic of environmental preservation. The Wege Lecture, sponsored by the Office of the President and the Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) at the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), coincideed with Earth Day activities.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and Buddhist leader last visited Ann Arbor in 1994.

Born to a peasant family in 1935, Tenzin Gyatso was recognized at the age of 2 as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, and began his monastic education at age 6. In 1950 the Dalai Lama, at age 15, assumed full political power in Tibet as head of state and government, and attempted to negotiate a peaceful solution to conflicts with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders. Nine years later, after the Chinese quelled a Tibetan civilian uprising, the Dalai Lama fled to Northern India, where he established the Tibetan government-in-exile.
"Preservation of Tibetan culture is helpful to bring more human value to the people of China," the Dalai Lama says Friday at Rackham.

Since that time he has worked for the restoration of the rights and independence of Tibetan people and for the preservation of their culture.

During the news conference, the Dalai Lama condemned ongoing violence and protests against the Olympic Games, set to begin Aug. 8 in China.

"I am not against the Olympic Games," he said. "From the beginning I have expressed concern about individuals, human rights, religious freedom, in this case in the Republic of China. I'm fully committed to democracy."

Members of the press asked about the viability of Tibet as a people and a culture.

"There is a real danger in Tibet that the community could die out," he said, adding that a cultural oppression is taking place. "Preservation of Tibetan culture is helpful to bring more human value to the people of China."

Speaking directly to students, he said they play an integral role in defining history.

"You are the people who are really shaping the new century," he said. "We need realistic views, holistic views ... accordingly good, right behavior."

Noting Pope Benedict XVI was visiting the United States at the same time, the Dalai Lama said their messages are intertwined.

"Compassion for humans," he said. "We have the same potential to help humanity."

On a lighter note, speaking for a group of Buddhism students, one reporter asked, "How does one achieve enlightenment?"

After a hearty laugh, the Dalai Lama replied, "Oooh, that's not easy."

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