Wrapping up a two-week visit to the United States, 76-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama spoke Monday to packed crowds in Chicago about overcoming religious intolerance. His visit to the Midwestern city, sponsored by the Theosophical Society, included a panel discussion with several U.S. religious leaders.
As he took the stage next to Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders, the Dalai Lama focused not on their differences, but on the common ground their faiths share, even with non-believers.
"We are part of the humanity, whether there is a creator or not, whether there is next life or a heaven or secondary life - this is personal sort of business," said the Dalai Lama. "But one common thing, everyone wants a happy world. Nobody wants trouble. Nobody wants violence. And everybody wants a more peaceful society, happy society.”
Speaking at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the Dalai Lama stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue. Citing how religious differences fueled violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq, and Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, he suggested looking at one another with a basic human understanding.
“I always look humanly," he said. "I don’t care what’s their position, what is their social background. Some people, when they meet some important people, they behave something different. Then they meet a backer and they have a different attitude. This is totally wrong. They are the same human being.”
That message resonated with Rabbi Michael Lerner, who shared the stage with the Dalai Lama during the panel discussion. Lerner is the founder of the Jewish interfaith magazine "Tikkun." He stressed that generosity and compassion will resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he said puts him at odds with many people of his faith.
“I find in my community that I often have, that since this same division happens in almost every religious community as well as every secular community, that I have more in common with the people who are the love-oriented people in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and secularism than I have with the domination people in my own tradition," said Lerner.
Thousands of people attended the sold-out event, during the Dalai Lama's second day of public events in Chicago, giving him a platform to promote religious tolerance and cooperation among different faiths.
The Theosophical Society, which seeks to advance the spiritual principles related to the search for truth and the unity of humanity, sponsored the Dalai Lama's visit to Chicago.
The Dalai Lama's connection with the organization dates back to 1957, when he visited the Theosophical Society's headquarters in India. He credits the organization with shaping his views on religious pluralism.
An estimated crowd of 9,000 people also took part in the Dalai Lama’s Sunday address at University of Illinois at Chicago, where he praised Illinois Governor Pat Quinn for abolishing the death penalty in the state. Quinn signed legislation in March making Illinois the 16th U.S. state without a death penalty.
The Dalai Lama is scheduled to return to India at the conclusion of his visit to Chicago.