When the Dalai Lama comes to Louisville, Ky., this spring, he’ll bring his message of peace, understanding and compassion to thousands of people.
He’ll work to inspire people to serve the community and to step forward to support the hungry, the poor and the hurting. And at the center of that mission will be a contingent of Franklin College staff members and students aiming to spread the message.
A group of students, professors and local religious leaders will help with the celebration and events surrounding the arrival of Tibetan Buddhism’s highest authority in Louisville. They will plan local activities and community service projects in advance, cover the Dalai Lama’s presentations and use the appearance as a springboard to motivate others to change their communities.
The hope is the message of compassion advocated by the Dalai Lama will help unite people of all faiths to work together and improve the cities they live in.
Dalai Lama visit
When: May 19-21
Where: Louisville, Ky.
What: A three-day festival called “Engaging Compassion,” which includes music, arts, cultural performances, dialogue and discussions that raise awareness around the topic of compassion and kindness.
May 19: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., “A Public Talk” at the KFC Yum! Center, 1 Arena Plaza, Louisville; open to the public, tickets range from $3 to $96
May 20: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., “A Public Teaching” at the KFC Yum! Center; open to the public, tickets range from $32 to $71.
“Religions disagree on God and ultimate reality. But they’re quite unified in how we should treat one another. If we focus on that, we can get some amazing things done,” said religion professor David Carlson, who is part of the committee bringing the Dalai Lama to Kentucky. “I don’t need a Muslim to become a Christian to be compassionate. I need them to be a better Muslim.”
During the past year, Franklin College has established a close relationship with Buddhist leaders and monks throughout the area. A group of Tibetan Buddhist monks spent a week at the school building a sand mandala, a work of art depicting sacred images made entirely from colored grains of sand.
The display still stands in the college’s student center as a testimony to bridging differences, Carlson said. The mandala also set the stage for the college’s participation in the Dalai Lama’s visit.
The visit is built around Louisville’s declaration as a Compassionate City. The worldwide program organized by the Compassionate Action Network International was founded as a way to inspire people to think more critically about the problems facing people around the world and motivating them to act.
The idea is to encourage communities to come together and improve the quality of services and support for all people.
The Dalai Lama’s visit to Louisville will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for area people of all ages to engage with one of the world’s best-known symbols of compassion, fairness and justice, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said.
The Drepung Gomang Institute, Louisville’s center for Tibetan Buddhist worship, will host the Dalai Lama to celebrate the designation. But leaders want to spread the message far beyond just northern Kentucky, said Lisa Morrison, spokeswoman for the institute.
“Engaging compassion is for everyone. It’s an opportunity to expand your horizons, to grow as an individual on multiple levels,” she said. “By engaging Franklin, we can increase awareness in the community for those opportunities.”
Carlson has been examining compassion and interfaith movements for many years. Since authoring his book, “Peace Be With You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-filled World,” he has become more involved with efforts to get people of all religions to work together.
The book challenged readers of all religions to be better people, regardless of the faith they were part of. His new project encourages people to become more compassionate across religious lines.
During the past two years, Carlson has been instrumental in the formation of a student interfaith house, where the residents focus on community service. He also has been active in multicultural activities and efforts in Indianapolis, Columbus and Franklin.
Carlson contacted Morrison to discuss bringing an interfaith group to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, where Morrison is also active.
They had known each other from Morrison’s time as a student at Franklin College and had worked together in 2011 on the mandala project. Morrison mentioned the Dalai Lama’s visit to Louisville and asked if he’d want to be part of the planning effort.
“I’ve always held David in high regard. The experience in the classroom opened a lot of doors for me and really introduced some new ideas to me,” she said.
Both Morrison and Carlson attended a kickoff event in January to prepare for the Dalai Lama’s visit. Schools, civic groups and government leaders came together to start planning compassion-minded activities leading up to his appearance May 19-21.
Carlson will spearhead the organization of similar events in Indiana.
He is working with David Weatherspoon, the campus minister, as well as philosophy professor David Chandler. They will meet with students living at the interfaith house to gauge their interest in participating.
Franklin College journalism students will cover the Dalai Lama’s appearance.
“This is a unique opportunity for many of our students to see one of the world’s great religious leaders,” Weatherspoon said. “The Dalai Lama’s call for compassion is an important value for all of us, more than just as a nicety that we pay attention to, but as a call to action.”
Carlson is part of the committee marketing the Dalai Lama’s visit, as well as organizing the ways to take advantage of the momentum his appearance brings and carrying it beyond just a three-day event.
He would like to see Indianapolis work toward being a Compassionate City as well.
He is working with local interfaith leaders, such as K.P. Singh, a leader of the central Indiana Sikh community, the Muslim Alliance of Indianapolis and the Center for Interfaith Cooperation to help put such a campaign together.
“We want to make sure the Dalai Lama’s visit pushes us forward, but that we keep it going after that,” Carlson said. “This is not about having a meeting and talking about what compassion is about. There has to be action.”