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Originally published April 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 15, 2008 at 9:24 AM


Students get chance to quiz Dalai Lama on everything from AIDS to the green movement

Inside a packed stadium at the University of Washington Monday, the Dalai Lama delighted some 7,500 students by answering questions on everything...

Seattle Times staff reporters

Inside a packed stadium at the University of Washington Monday, the Dalai Lama delighted some 7,500 students by answering questions on everything from AIDS to the green movement.

But outside Edmundson Pavilion before the event, the largest protests against the Dalai Lama's five-day Seattle visit culminated with several hundred people chanting and singing. A plane flew overhead trailing a banner: "Dalai: ur smiles charm, ur actions harm."

The Dalai Lama was presented with an honorary degree at Monday's ceremony, donning a purple gown over his traditional red robes. In his trademark humble-yet-humorous manner, he thanked the gathered academicians for giving him a degree from a great university "without actually having to do any study."

The Dalai Lama told the students, who came from colleges across the state, that they were the new generation and the hope for the future — that it was up to them to face down conflict with dialogue. After all, he said, people from his generation "are now ready to say goodbye."

The Dalai Lama answered questions from students. Asked about AIDS, he said that the continued study of medicine should bring results, and that education remains important in the long-term. He noted that the disease seems to be spread mainly through sexual contact.

"They should make available — rubbers," he said, bringing the biggest laughs and cheers of the afternoon. He added that he didn't really know all the answers because "I'm not an expert."

Asked whether the green movement was something that only wealthier people could afford, the Dalai Lama said he thought it important for all people to take steps to improve the environment every day. He said he had stopped taking baths — now relying on showers — as his own "silly" contribution.

The Tibetan Buddhist leader added that the moon looks nice at night and inspires poems but would make a terrible place to live should we destroy the environment on Earth.

Asked how people could become more compassionate, the Dalai Lama said it begins with a child's upbringing and that patience is crucial. He said on his flight from Tokyo to Seattle there was one mother who stayed up all night consoling a crying child: "If I was in that position, I might not have that sufficient patience," he said.

The preselected questions did not include any about the political situation in China or Tibet, though some students had wanted to address those topics. University officials had decided against including such questions, saying the event should focus on the topic of compassion.

But the pro-China protesters who gathered at Red Square and marched to Edmundson Pavilion before the event were themselves keenly focused on politics. Many carried Chinese and American flags, and banners that criticized the Dalai Lama for everything from inciting the recent violence in Tibet to being a "serf-owner."

UW police put the number of protesters at a little over 400, more than double the number they had expected. The protesters were well-behaved, said Ray Wittmier, the UW's interim police chief.


Once outside Edmundson Pavilion, the protesters showed violent images from Tibet on a large-screen TV, chanted through bullhorns and sang songs in Mandarin, including one that protesters translated as "My Chinese heart," saying that their hearts still belong to China, even though they are far from home.

Protester Shufu Xe, a systems analyst at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said the Dalai Lama's message had been distorted by the Western media.

"I like some of his ideas about nonviolence. But I think he is behind some of the violence in Tibet," Xe said. "I don't like that he's using the Olympics to promote his political agenda."

Xe, like many of the protesters, was born in China. He moved to the U.S. seven years ago.

Students lining up outside Edmundson Pavilion to see the Dalai Lama watched as protesters marched past.

Sophomore Sydney Dale, 20, said she was surprised at the extent of the protest.

"I thought maybe there would be a few students," she said, rather than hundreds chanting, yelling and using bullhorns.

Here and elsewhere, many of the pro-China demonstrators say that Western media coverage doesn't generally cover their view that the Chinese government liberated Tibetans from serfdom.

Tibetans, though, say their culture and religion are being destroyed. The Dalai Lama has characterized what is happening as "cultural genocide."

Earlier in the day, the Dalai Lama spoke on a panel with business and political leaders, including Jeffrey Brotman, chairman of Costco Wholesale, and state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

He also took part in a gathering at KeyArena for schoolchildren. Organizers say about 14,400 students from 266 public, private and parochial schools were bused in from across the state.

Some parents and others have raised questions about whether that violated the separation of church and state. Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Cedar Park Assembly of God in Bothell raised the issue at his church Sunday, saying that public-school leaders are willing to have students go to hear "the head of one religion that is Buddhist and yet deny the reality of having Christianity in the public schools. They don't even see that that is really convoluted."

Event organizers, and a Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman, emphasized that the Dalai Lama is not speaking at the events in his capacity as a religious or political leader.

By the end of the day, some of the students leaving the UW ceremony came out feeling inspired.

"He didn't say anything I had not thought about," said Jon McLees, 23, a student at Green River Community College in Auburn. "But it was enriching and enlightening ... when I go home, I will just feel more peaceful."

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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