In his first major public appearance in Los Angeles in more than three years, the Dalai Lama spoke to a crowd of several thousand people Sunday about his hopes for Tibet, the need for dialogue in resolving conflicts and the importance of spurning the material world to cultivate compassion.
People today are "too much concerned with exterior material values and not our inner values," the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said.
Happiness, he said, touching his heart, "ultimately depends on here."
The event was a benefit for Whole Child International, an L.A. nonprofit that trains caregivers in orphanages. It took place at Universal Studios, in the same amphitheater where the Teen Choice Awards are held, and singer Sheryl Crow performed.
Kristen Deem, sitting on a bench outside the theater practicing meditation breathing techniques before the talk began, said she found the juxtaposition strange.
"This place is like Vegas, and here is this spiritual entity," said Deem, 45, who lives in North Hollywood. She gestured to the crowd of people streaming into the auditorium, some clutching sodas and buckets of popcorn. "A lot of these people don't go to meditation centers," Deem said. "They're Hollywood yuppies."
But Lamu Stadler, a Los Alamitos resident who was born in India to parents who were Tibetan exiles, said she didn't find the setting incongruous. The theme park, she said, "is a beautiful, happy-feeling place where families have fun together." The Dalai Lama's message, Stadler said, was similarly upbeat.
"Whenever we are under the same roof, I can feel something very good," said Stadler, 53, who was wearing traditional Tibetan attire.
Tibetans like Stadler consider the Dalai Lama both their spiritual and their political leader. "His Holiness," as they call him, fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
In recent years, the Dalai Lama has scaled back his demands for Tibetan independence and now calls for "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet within China.
Sunday was his first public appearance since a private meeting with President Obama last week that provoked objections from Chinese officials, who accuse the Dalai Lama of trying to orchestrate a rebellion.
Sitting cross-legged in a chair onstage, the Dalai Lama did not discuss that meeting. In a meandering and at times humorous hourlong talk, he spoke about Tibet and his belief that all social change must begin on the individual level.
"External disarmament" first requires "internal disarmament," he said.
"At the fundamental level, we are the same human being," he said. "Mentally, emotionally, physically -- same."
Later, as attendees streamed toward the parking lot, Redondo Beach resident Ralph Cooper walked to his car with a smile.
"Right now, I feel like I'm reconnected to my purpose," Cooper said.
His goal, he said, was to live like the Dalai Lama and to "positively affect as many people as possible."
He put his hand on his heart. "You've got to start right here at the root."