Tenzin Gyatso, formally known as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, is believed by followers to be the reincarnation of a series of spiritual leaders. The Western world, however, generally knows the Dalai Lama for his books that stretch beyond Buddhism, with titles like "The Art of Happiness" and "Toward a True Kinship of Faiths."
He spoke to a sold-out crowd at the campus' Bren Events Center about everything from the economic crisis to climate change. The Dalai Lama had cancelled Southern California appearances earlier in the week due to a sore throat.
After a performance by Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo, Gaden Shartse monks performed a traditional Tibetan horn tribute to welcome the Dalai Lama. He promptly put a UCI visor on, delighting the audience.
He joked about his gallbladder ("hopeless!"), his love of gossip and his childhood.
But between jokes, the Dalai Lama spoke for more than an hour about compassion, peace and religious tolerance. He addressed a 21st-century problem: People who are successful materially but very unhappy.
"No one wants a problem, yet they themselves create a problem," he said. "I think one part is we are lacking to look at things holistically. We focus on one thing."
The Dalai Lama encouraged people to look at emotional situations more objectively. He gave examples from his life and from history, repeatedly stressing the importance of cultivating a calm mind and warm heart.
"Warm-heartedness brings self-confidence, so our mind will be calm," he said. "With a calm mind, we can use human intelligence properly."
The speech was presented in partnership with the Center for Living Peace, an Irvine nonprofit founded by Newport Beach philanthropist Kelly Smith. The Living Peace series previously brought actress Charlize Theron and Sir Richard Branson, the tycoon who founded the Virgin Group, to the campus.
UCI student Angeline Gray is Buddhist, and was thrilled when she heard the Dalai Lama was visiting. She was one of thousands who stood in long security lines for a chance to see the leader up close and personal.
"He seems like a really down-to-earth guy," she said. "I loved that he smiled and laughed a lot."
The event also honored the students involved in the Dalai Lama Scholar program.
Chancellor Michael Drake formally introduced each of the students who have received the scholarship, which started in 2006. All of the students were nominated for promoting ethical concepts, received scholarships ranging from $7,500 to $10,000, and got to meet with the Dalai Lama.
Drake said the scholarship was born after the leader's 2004 visit to UCI sparked much enthusiasm. Beginning this year, the program will branch out from UCI to other schools around the world, he said.
At the end of his speech, the Dalai Lama took students' questions.
One asked: "What is the secret for happiness?"
After a short pause, the Dalai Lama answered with a final joke: "If there is some secret to happiness, I must get it!"