1994, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet

Dalai Lama - photo by Jan Michael Ihl

Nobel laureate, spiritual leader and head of the Tibetan government in exile, His Holiness is an internationally honored proponent of nonviolence, human rights and peace.

His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, Fourteenth Dalai Lama and spiritual and secular leader of the Tibetan people, is revered by Tibetans and Buddhists worldwide. Since 1959 he has lived in exile in India and struggled to resolve his country’s political problems peacefully, while protecting and enhancing the Tibetan culture and language. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On April 21, 1994, despite the busy exam week, many students and faculty mingled with a crowd of over 10,000 entering Crisler Arena for the fourth Wallenberg Lecture, delivered by the Dalai Lama. He spoke to his Ann Arbor audience of the goal for humanity in the twenty-first century, which is “to build a happier world.” However, for this dream to be fulfilled, “efforts must come from the present generation, especially young people, with confidence and hope and activation of our potential.”

The Dalai Lama also spoke about the need for individual compassion, courage and confidence. The focus must be on individuals, rather than on political leaders, he said. “We must work with individual people—then, maybe, the leaders will follow.” He insists that evil is not intrinsic and that no situation is beyond hope. “It is important to not see one’s oppressors as nonhuman—even in the face of inhumane treatment.”

The Dalai Lama remains firmly committed to nonviolence. “It is important to act out of a sense of personal responsibility, to act quietly, behind the scenes,” he said. He has this in common with Raoul Wallenberg, who saved the lives of Budapest’s Jews by using psychological cunning rather than weapons.

“While you are gaining an education, be a nice person, be a compassionate person, be yourself…. The brain and the heart must go together,” he told the students in the audience. “Sometimes in universities not enough attention is paid to the heart. I have the impression that the moral sense is underdeveloped,” he said to enthusiastic applause. “Knowledge is an instrument,” he continued. “Whether [it is] used constructively or destructively depends on spirituality, human feeling and affection.”

Raoul Wallenberg was a good student in Ann Arbor. But his friends did not remark on his academic accomplishments when news of his humanitarian deeds in Budapest reached the United States after the war. Instead, they said they were not surprised, remembering his complete lack of snobbishness and genuine concern for others— his large heart. University of Michigan student Raoul Wallenberg exemplified the Dalai Lama’s ideal student.

The Dalai Lama recalled his visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which displays the hatred and violence of human beings who caused “unmeasurable, unthinkable suffering.” He spoke of the area in the museum that portrays individuals like Raoul Wallenberg “who utilized positive human potential, with compassion, which shows what humanity can achieve.

“If we just say a few words to remember past heroes, that is not a genuine tribute,” the Dalai Lama said as he concluded his speech. He told the students that the best way to honor great humanitarian heroes like Raoul Wallenberg “is to implement with self-confidence and a sense of involvement the ideas of our previous heroes.”

The Dalai Lama made a deep impression on those who met him during his short visit to Ann Arbor. All were touched and warmed by his humbleness, self-effacing humor and infectious laughter. He treated all people he encountered with unassuming informality, whether they were security personnel or the president of the university, grasping the hands of everyone within reach.

“We’ve all become cynical about religious leaders, and we’re often disappointed by important people,” said University of Michigan professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies Donald Lopez of the Dalai Lama’s presence in Ann Arbor. But people “recognized his authenticity,” said Lopez. “His visit was really an extraordinary moment for the U-M.”

The University’s Wallenberg Medal was the second honor accorded to the Dalai Lama in memory of Raoul Wallenberg. In 1989 U.S. Representative Tom Lantos presented him with the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award.