Dalai Lama Didn’t Have to Say “Can you Hear Me Now?” from Verizon Center

I wrote the following feeling after the recent Kalachakra teachings for the blog of the International Campaign for Tibet.

Dalai Lama Didn’t Have to Say “Can you Hear Me Now?” from Verizon Center

Bhuchung K. Tsering


July 25, 2011

It was an awesome experience of 10 days of spiritual upliftment. I am of course talking about the just completed visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Washington, D.C. during which he lectured on two Buddhist texts on self-improvement and bestowed the sacred Kalachakra Initiations.

Right from His Holiness down, everyone who had some knowledge of the preparation work, commended the outcome despite the very short preparation period that the organizer, Capital Area Tibetan Association, had and the initial apprehension that came with it. Even on the day His Holiness arrived in Washington, D.C. i.e. on July 5, 2011, some of us were at the teaching venue, Verizon Center, and hectic work was still underway. Some of the Center staff were in fact perplexed at how the preparation work was going on for they seem to make no sense of it. Part of their perplexity was because this event was different from any other event that had taken place there and its needs were unique, to say the least. I too wondered then, silently of course, how in the world would the programs begin in this very place the next day.

But programs began on the auspicious day of July 6, 2011 the birthday of His Holiness, and on July 16, 2011 when the last of the sessions was held there, the general opinion was that it was a deeply moving, spiritual experience. As I did my daily frequent rounds of the main concourse (which was bustling with people), the common refrain from people was, “This is awesome!” I should say that there were hiccups but that did not diminish the overall positive outcome. An indication of how others saw the event can be got from the words of a foreigner diplomat who expressed to me his amazement saying his embassy would not have been able to undertake such an event that well.

While the Kalachakra teachings themselves were special, to me the symbolism of the presence of descendants of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on July 6, 2011 to celebrate the birthday of His Holiness was something that will continue to etch in my memory.

In any case, just imagine the magnitude. At an average, around 8000 people may have attended the teachings per day. The people at Verizon Center, the premier sports venue in the Nation’s Capital, said that this would be the second longest period of time any one organization had held events there. Considering the comparatively small size of the Tibetan population in the United States, this says something about people power. One can put this in perspective if we consider that the basic cost for renting the Verizon Center for a day was $ 75,000. An observer put it to me after hearing that the overall income from the events was over $ five million, the fact that the Tibetan community was able to raise this much of an amount is a good indication of the influence and power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the United States. While on this income, many people greatly appreciated the transparency when the organizers presented the financial statement on the final day. The excess of income over expenditure, which amounted to over $ one million, was allocated to international and local charities in the Washington, D.C. area with a portion going to Tibetan community projects. His Holiness has made it mandatory for organizers of his teaching events to publicly present a financial statement at the conclusion so that everyone knows what the income is and how any remainder fund was being utilized.

The business community, big and small, in and around the Verizon Center have benefited from this event. In fact, one enterprising individual, an African American, had become so creative that by the third day, he was selling bottled water outside one of the entrances (6th st. and F) shouting few words in Tibetan, “Gormo Chik” (one dollar) as well as the familiar greeting “Tashi Delek.” I spoke to him briefly one day and he said this was his trick of the trade, adding he could utter few words in Chinese, too.

This event also saw the use of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook in a more assertive way. Just search for the hash tag #DalaiLamaDC to see how the twitter world was chatting about the various goings on. It looks like quite some people were tweeting as they were participating in some of the events.

The telecommunications firm, Verizon, which acquired the rights to name the center, used to have an advertising campaign, in which the catchword was, “Can you hear me now?” or as they say in Chinese, “Ni Ting Jian Wo Ma?” I think the message from the 10-day events by His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been heard loud and clear throughout the world, including in Lhasa, Beijing and Washington, D.C.


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