National Mall celebrating the Dalai Lama's birthday

Traditional Tibetan dances are preformed on the National Mall celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

Thousands of people attended the 76th birthday celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, DC on July 6. The morning event featured birthday remarks from Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and from Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a close and longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, sent a videotaped message to mark the occasion, and the Chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia presented the Dalai Lama with a proclamation to honor and welcome him. A chorus of young Tibetans opened the celebration and was followed by a procession of representatives of the international Buddhist community offering the Dalai Lama khatas (traditional white silk scarfs). The event concluded with a stadium-wide “Happy Birthday” serenade.

The Dalai Lama is in Washington, DC to deliver the Kalachakra initiation, an advanced philosophical teaching which focuses on the Buddhist tenets of non-violence and compassion. Martin Luther King III, who heads the King Center for Nonviolent Change in Atlanta, Georgia, described the Dalai Lama as a “tireless champion of compassion, human rights and peace.” Arun Gandhi called on the Dalai Lama’s followers to work to end all forms of violence and to respect one another irrespective of religious or philosophical outlook.

The Dalai Lama spoke for some time directly into a camera broadcasting his remarks into Tibet via Voice of America’s Tibetan language program.

He thanked his well-wishers by saying that “the best gift to me is to practice compassion.”

The Dalai Lama arrived at the Verizon Center earlier that morning, and conducted a series of preparatory prayers in front of several hundred early arrivals in the auditorium. In asides to the audience, he explained that this is the 31st Kalachakra initiation he has given – the first two he gave were in the early 1950s when he was still in Tibet, but after fleeing for India in 1959 he didn’t deliver his next one until 1970 at the north Indian hill town of Dharamsala where he now resides and where the Tibetan Government in Exile is based.

The Dalai Lama also related an “interesting dream” he’d had at the end of the 1970 Kalachakra initiation, where he saw himself sitting in the center of Mandala as it was being dismantled. He explained that he interpreted the dream to mean that he would bestow the Kalachakra many more times in the future. (A mandala is an intricately detailed image representing the Buddhist cosmos, created by carefully sprinkling tiny quantities of colored sand into a complex design. Upon completion, a mandala is immediately ‘dismantled’ by being poured into a body of flowing water, a ritual intended to convey the nature of impermanence. A short video showing the process of making a mandala can be seen here:

Following the speeches and performances on stage to mark the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Mr. Kalden Lodoe, President of the Capital Area Tibetan Association – which requested and organized the Kalachakra initiation – announced during his address that there were people from 48 countries across five continents attending the Kalachakra. He added: “It is our fervent belief that the conferment of Kalachakra by His Holiness here in Washington, DC will renew and reinforce the shared basic human values of universal love, compassion and world peace.”