The stage was filled with flowers, monks in saffron-colored robes and dignitaries in suits, but the crowd at the Minneapolis Convention Center had come to see just one man, the Dalai Lama.
About 3,000 people attended the Dalai Lama's appearance Sunday morning to hear him give a short talk and to celebrate the Tibetan New Year. It was the first time the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists had appeared in the Twin Cities since the March 2014 New Year.
There had been health concerns since the Dalai Lama checked into Mayo Clinic in Rochester in January. He told the crowd that he'd been receiving treatment for prostate problems there for 10 years and assured them that he was robust and well.
Dressed in saffron and red robes and seated in an elaborately carved chair, the Dalai Lama didn't directly address the epidemic of gun violence or current politics. He talked instead about the value of education, compassion, humility and the duty of the elders and adult Tibetans to pass on the culture and religion of his homeland to a new generation. He spoke in English and Tibetan.
Many Tibetans in the crowd wore traditional dress, called chupa, and carried infants or wrangled young children. A few, periodically, stepped into the aisles for traditional prayers.
Heidi White of Stillwater, brought her son, Liam, 14, and daughter, Caroline, 8. She wanted to expose the children to different ways of thinking and of worshiping, she said.
Yangzom Yarphel of Minneapolis, seated with her mother and nephew — her husband was outside the ballroom with their child — said her family comes to see the Dalai Lama whenever he is in town.
"He teaches compassion," she said. "His teachings, it's very important to our family."
Namgyal Tsering of Richfield said he watches the Dalai Lama's teachings on YouTube, but "to see his holiness here and alive is a blessing."
Lizzy Berard of Minneapolis, said coming to see the Dalai Lama was a 24th birthday present from her dad, Bill.
"It's a pretty sweet present to see a Nobel Prize winner," she said. "He's a humanitarian, a goofy guy and he's getting older. It would be a mistake not to come."
"I like his energy," said Jigmey Tenzin of Minneapolis.
'Values that we cherish'
The Dalai Lama spoke about how the Minnesota Tibetan community is growing and thriving. Many of the elders were children when they were exiled from Tibet. Now, a new generation born in the United States will "keep up with our own traditional values that we cherish," he said.
"I'm now turning 81 or 82," he said, "and I take this opportunity to thank everyone for keeping up the Tibetan culture and religion."
His message was simple. "Basic human nature is more compassionate, more loving kindness," he said. "So that is the basis of our hope, if we make some effort."
He talked of feeling fear and pity when one human kills another, even in the name of religion, even in war. He talked of nonviolence and said "ultimately, gun control must take place here," as he placed his hand on his heart.
He talked of how education "is the way to build a happy individual, happy family, happy community, happy humanity" and how education builds "more compassionate people."
Large-scale change, he said, "comes not from government but from individuals."
The Dalai Lama roused laughter and applause several times during his appearance.
Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th, and perhaps the last, Dalai Lama. He was born into a farming family in northeastern Tibet, where at age 2 he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lamas are the patron saints of Tibet and are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to save humanity, according to the Dalai Lama's website.
Thousands of Tibetans fled their homeland after the Chinese government occupied Tibet in the 1950s. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 — 57 years ago — where he set up a government in exile. He relinquished his role as political leader some years ago and has focused on work as a spiritual leader and guardian of Tibetan culture.
Minnesota is home to about 2,500 to 3,000 Tibetans, the second-largest group outside New York City. People came from as far away as New York and Michigan for Sunday's appearance.