ATLANTA — The Dalai Lama began his “office hours” with Emory University students and faculty Tuesday with his signature move: laughter.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader walked on stage, laughed as he saw the full gymnasium and then bowed to the crowd. The 4,000 students, faculty and staff members responded with more laughter and bows.
“Many students. Good,” he said, settling himself on his low, wide yellow chair.
The Dalai Lama is at Emory as part of a presidential distinguished professorship at the private Atlanta university. He has been on campus since Sunday holding events with researchers, students and spiritual leaders, talking about everything from science classes to meditation.
“One duty a professor has is to open his office doors and when people come in with questions, he does his best to answer those questions,” Emory President Jim Wagner told the crowd.
Through video recordings, students and faculty asked about enlightenment, world affairs, the Dalai Lama’s greatest influence and his biggest fears. They asked about how to deal with stress and obstacles.
One group of students asked the Dalai Lama to become an “immortal spirit” at Emory after his death.
The Dalai Lama didn’t answer all the questions, but he talked about keeping a calm mind, reaching out to others and learning how to be centered.
The aging leader – wearing gold and burgundy robes and a dark red visor that Wagner called his “thinking cap” – told students to work on keeping their minds calm no matter what life throws at them and to recognize the connection between all humans. He said that there is no such thing as “one truth” when it comes to a community.
“My generation … we need to say ‘bye bye’ so you transform the 21st century,” he told the students. “The people who create the new shape of this century is you. You must protect, not only taking care of yourself but you must have responsibility to take care of this planet.”
The Dalai Lama was scheduled to be part of a panel discussion of spirituality and creativity later Tuesday with actor Richard Gere and author Alice Walker.
He last visited campus in 2007 for a weekend-long symposium and a public talk in downtown Atlanta. Emory is the only university appointment accepted by the 1989 Nobel Peace Laureate.
Faculty and students from Emory travel each year to the Dalai Lama’s home of Dharamsala, India, to work with monks and nuns. And a group of monks from Dharamsala are studying at Emory this semester, taking undergraduate science courses so they can become teachers back in India.
The Dalai Lama fled the Himalayan region for India in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains highly popular among Tibetans and is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but China reviles him as a Tibetan separatist.
China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.