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updated: 5/14/2013 5:12 PM

Dalai Lama tells Wisconsin legislature to be compassionate

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  • The Dalai Lama talks with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos after speaking to the Wisconsin Assembly on Tuesday in Madison.

    The Dalai Lama talks with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos after speaking to the Wisconsin Assembly on Tuesday in Madison.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. -- The Dalai Lama, speaking on the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly where lawmakers just two years ago hurled expletives at each other while angry protesters screamed insults, said Tuesday that the key to a happy life isn't power or money but compassion.

The Tibetan spiritual leader addressed members of the legislature as part of a four-day visit to Madison. The visit marked the ninth time since 1979 that the Dalai Lama has come to Madison and his fourth trip in six years.

He said he admired the United States and called it "the greatest democratic country and leading nation of the free world."

"Despite some drawbacks and mistakes ... America is truly a democratic country and ruled by law and freedom of expression," he said. "These are great, wonderful things."

The Dalai Lama spoke in halting English, sometimes breaking out into giddy laughter, including during a story about a picture of Queen Elizabeth who he said so concerned about formality she didn't stop to fix her skirt as the wind blew it up. His distaste for formality was one of several themes he touched on during his speech.

He also drew laughter when he joked about a pair of shoes a legislative staff member had tucked under the podium in the Assembly chamber. He said in all the speeches he's given all over the world, he's never seen that before.

The Dalai Lama said people everywhere want the same things out of life: to be happy and successful. Those who receive great affection when they are young have a deeper inner happiness than others, who grow up to be distrustful, he said.

He delivered his speech in the chamber where raucous and often angry debates took place during consideration of Gov. Scott Walker's bill effectively ending collective bargaining rights for public workers.

The Dalai Lama met privately with Walker earlier in the day.

During his speech to the Assembly, the Dalai Lama didn't mention any specific political battles in Wisconsin. Instead, he stressed the importance of humility and being humble.

"The representative or the speaker or even president of the United States, the way they born, die, same," he said. "No differences. Homeless people, same. The way born, the way die, same."

Tenzin Gyatso has served as the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, since 1940. He has lived in a small town in northern India, now considered the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, since he fled Tibet 50 years ago when Chinese troops marched in. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent struggle in protest of Chinese rule of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has several significant connections with Madison.

One is his friendship of more than 60 years with Geshe Lhundub Sopa, the founder of the Deer Park Buddhist Center located near Madison. He's also deeply involved with the research of UW-Madison neuroscience professor Richard Davidson and Jonathan Patz, director of UW-Madison's Global Health Institute.

Their research explores healthy qualities of mind, such as kindness and compassion. Davidson has used brain imaging technology on Buddhist monks and other veteran practitioners of meditation to learn how their training affects mental health.

Both Davidson and Patz were scheduled to participate in panel discussions with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday. On Thursday, his final day in Wisconsin, the Dalai Lama plans to speak to Tibetan college students from Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin at the Deer Park Buddhist Center.

Before his appearance before the Legislature, the Dalai Lama met privately with Walker at the Alliant Energy Center. The Dalai Lama also gave a public teaching to an audience of about 3,500 there.

Walker said he spent most of his time listening to the Dalai Lama talk about his travels and how happy he was to be back in Madison.

"There wasn't a whole lot of dialogue," Walker told reporters of the visit. "It was more or less a greeting. I spent most of the time listening."

The Dalai Lama had a checkup at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Monday before coming to Madison. He is scheduled to travel to New Orleans next for public appearances Friday and Saturday.

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