Dalai Lama marks 80th birthday with compassion-themed Anaheim summit

A three-day jubilee commemorating the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday kicks off Sunday with the Nobel Peace Prize winner lecturing on creativity and compassion before a sold-out crowd at Anaheim's Honda Center.

The Dalai Lama's public talk, which will be streamed online, will close out the Global Compassion Summit's first day, packed with musical performances and well-wishes from a far-flung group of celebrities and global luminaries.

Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi is among those scheduled to pay tribute to the Dalai Lama on stage Sunday, along with Ann Curry, Julia Ormond, Sharon Stone, Zendaya and George Lopez. Performers include Michael Franti and the avante-garde circus troupe Lucent Dossier Experience. 

In lieu of gifts, organizers have asked supporters around the world to document acts of compassion using social media and share photos, videos and writings with the hashtag #withcompassion.

"The Dalai Lama does not want any physical gifts -- for him, this birthday is just like any other day. However if we can help to create a more compassionate, kind planet -- that would be the most beautiful gift of all," said Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the Dalai Lama's personal emissary for peace.

The birthday bash is not without controversy. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Honda Center, as they have on the Dalai Lama's prior visits to the U.S. They object to his advice not to worship Dorje Shugden, one of hundreds of Tibetan Buddhism's "protector deities" -- so called for their reputed ability to shield and assist their followers.

For decades, the Dalai Lama included Shugden in his daily prayers. But after consulting his personal oracle, a spiritual medium named Nechung, the Dalai Lama renounced the practice in 1975. He said that Shugden was a malevolent spirit that was dividing Tibetans and harming their spiritual health.

Shugden practitioners contend the Dalai Lama is practicing religious discrimination and abusing his power.

Following the large-scale birthday celebration, the Dalai Lama will join Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait to discuss how to instill kindness through local governments and communities. Tait, now in his second mayoral term, launched a program in Anaheim's public schools, the Million Acts of Kindness campaign, which encourages students to perform caring deeds.

The actual birthday of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is Monday, when he will lead two panels on the campus of UC Irvine, the first discussing climate change. In the afternoon, he will lecture on wisdom and experience with fellow Nobel laureates. 

On Tuesday, the final day of the Global Compassion Summit, he will speak on youth leadership and values-based education.

The three-day summit comes at the middle of the Dalai Lama's latest swing through the United States. Before heading to Southern California, he joined President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in Dallas at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times