The Dalai Lama celebrating his 80th birthday
About 18,000 attended the Global Compassion Summit Sunday with the Dalai Lama celebrating his 80th birthday at the Honda Center of Anaheim. Steve Zylius / UC Irvine

The man who doesn’t celebrate birthdays got a rockin’ party anyway Sunday at the Honda Center of Anaheim. Approximately 18,000 well-wishers gathered at the Global Compassion Summit to share in music, dancing, a mammoth cake, and words of wisdom in honor of the XIV Dalai Lama’s 80 birthday. The spiritual leader, who says every morning we awaken is a gift and a birth, seemed pleased to participate.

“I sometimes think that peace can come to the world, but not in my lifetime,” he said after two hours of tributes from artists, scientists, social activists and educational leaders. “But if people really are showing such enthusiasm as this in different parts of the world, and they have the deep realization that the ultimate source of peace is within ourselves, then … it may be possible to have peace in the world in my lifetime.”

The main message of the celebration, which continues Monday and Tuesday, July 6-7, with two sessions at UCI’s Bren Events Center, is that world peace and the happiness of humanity begins with inner peace and personal happiness. Among those sharing their understanding of that message were:

  • Thomas Parham, UCI vice chancellor for student affairs: “Today we plant the seed of compassion in fertile soil, and that is the greatest birthday gift of all.”
  • George Lopez, actor, comic and activist: “The purpose of life is to be happy. I just learned that today, but it’s never too late to be a better human being. Relay that message to Donald Trump!”
  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan, oceanographer and participant in Monday’s “Compassion for the Planet” discussion: The solution to climate change issues comes from “a fundamental change toward nature and each other, and then comes the science and technology. That is the message I will take to the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris in December.”
  • Jodie Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work removing landmines from war zones: “Meditation won’t change the world. We need action. The Dalai Lama is my personal favorite action figure in the world.”
  • MC Hammer: Quoting a line from is song, “Can’t Touch This,” he said art that endures and transforms comes from the spirit. “My-my-my-my music hits me so hard makes me say oh my Lord thank you for blessing me with a mind to rhyme and two hyped feet.”

Journalist Ann Curry made introductions and conducted a discussion of compassion in the arts.

Holding the Honda Center crowd in rapt attention, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader talked about the commonalities among all major religions – love, forgiveness and tolerance. The antidote to negativity and unrest in the world, he said, is to reach out in understanding.

“On an intellectual level, take it if necessary. But on a deeper emotional level, keep calm. We can do that. As humans, we can do that.”

The three-day Global Compassion Summit is sponsored by Friends of the Dalai Lama, The Center for Living Peace and UCI. Tickets are still available at the remaining three events in UCI’s Bren Events Center.

Compassionate Planet, 9:30 a.m. Monday, July 6: The Dalai Lama will join a panel of eminent scholars to address melting glaciers, ocean currents and climate policy. He demonstrated his commitment to healing the planet on Monday, June 29, when he spoke in England at the Glastonbury panel on climate change. He said Pope Francis was “very right” to release his recent papal document on taking better care of the Earth and asked fellow religious authorities to “speak out about current affairs which affect the future of mankind.” He also called for governments around the world to stop burning fossil fuels, end deforestation and transition to renewable energy sources.

Wisdom, Vision & Experience, 1:30 p.m. Monday, July 6: The Dalai Lama and a panel of fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureates will take the stage.

Youth Leadership, 9:30 a.m, Tuesday, July 7: The spiritual leader will convene a panel on the significance of education in advancing universal human values.

A free climate action picnic will follow the Monday morning panel presentation. Beginning at 11:30 a.m. in UCI’s Aldrich Park. Open to the public, it will include:

  • A ribbon art installation: Modeled on a similar project in New York, it will ask picnicgoers to write their answers to the question “What do you love and hope never to lose to climate chaos?” on colorful ribbons that will then be hung in the park. The Ribbon installation will become part of the next massive installation of the Climate Ribbon Tree at the UN Climate Summit in Paris in December 2015.
  • Play for Peace: Drop-in activities for adults and children will employ cooperative play to create laughter, compassion and peace in place of competition. In addition, a Play for Peace training session will be held by facilitators from the Philippines, Guatemala, India and around the U.S., as well as staff and youth leaders from HOLA, a Play for Peace club in Los Angeles. It’s an opportunity for teachers, students and community members to learn fresh skills for building peace across differences.
  • Climate action training and dialogue: Participants will tap the momentum from the morning’s “Compassionate Planet” panel and engage on a more specific level about what “compassion in action for climate resilience” looks like in our homes, work sites, places of worship, schools, and local and global communities. Corrina Grace, the UCI Sustainability Initiative’s visiting scholar in sustainability leadership, will guide the discussion.
  • Thoughtful food options: Lunch will be available from food trucks with a social and an environmental twist such as The Lobos Truck with organic, humanely-treated comfort food and the solar-powered Green Truck offering up organic American cuisine.