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Long Life Empowerment and North American Long Life Offering in Gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

New York, USA, 10 July 2015 - As His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove down alongside the Hudson River to the Javits Convention Center this morning, a light aircraft flew in the blue sky overhead trailing a banner wishing him a long life. He lost no time in taking his seat on the throne and beginning the preparatory rituals necessary for the Long-life empowerment he was going to give.

"Today I'm going to follow up on yesterday's text and talk about how to practice," he said. "First we all need to set a good motivation, take refuge in the Three Jewels and generate the awakening mind. In this city of New York there are human beings but there are also other beings invisible to us. All of them wish for happiness and all of them are equal in having Buddha nature. It is the custom for the teacher to include them all in the scope of the teaching.

"We've been engaged here in studying the teaching of the Buddha. Whether we come from traditional Buddhist backgrounds or are relatively new to Buddhism, the Buddha stressed the role of love and compassion in the achievement of happiness. He advocated love and compassion in the context of dependent origination. In the 27th Chapter of his 'Fundamental Wisdom', Nagarjuna pays homage to the Buddha for teaching compassion and right view."

His Holiness remarked that there are many distorted views of reality, but they can only be corrected by cultivating the correct view. In order to overcome the distorted grasping at the inherent existence of all phenomena, we have to generate an understanding of the correct view of emptiness. Nagarjuna taught that the correct view of reality is dependent origination. This is among the causes and conditions for experiencing happiness. All the disturbing emotions are rooted in fundamental ignorance, His Holiness said, there is no instance when this is not so. And the ignorance that pervades all disturbing emotions is stated by Nagarjuna's 'Seventy Stanzas on the Middle Way' to be grasping at inherent existence

His Holiness resumed reading Kamalashila's 'Stages of Meditation'. When he completed it he spoke of the need to become 21st century Buddhists by studying and becoming familiar with the four Buddhist schools of thought.

"Calling yourself a Buddhist just because your parents were Buddhists is not enough. Just as we speak of training a horse, we also have to train our minds. This is what I've been encouraging Tibetans in exile to do and I hope that when we go back to Tibet, we can do the same there too."

His Holiness quoted both Je Tsongkhapa and Dromtonpa on the importance of study and said this is the approach he takes to Buddhist teachings. He said:

"I read a lot, and I keep up an effort to study. I'd like to read more of the great Indian masters. When I read, I ask myself what's the point he's trying to make? What's the reason for what he says? When we were still in Tibet, there was a Mongolian scholar from Gomang, Kaka Tempa, who was known for spending sometimes hours reading one page to really understand it."

His Holiness led the 15,000 strong crowd through a simple ceremony for generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta before beginning to give the White Tara Long Life empowerment. He mentioned that in Tibet Lhatsun Rinpoche was once conducting longevity rituals on his behalf based on White Tara when he had a strong vision of a beam of light emitted from her brow. He told His Holiness joyfully that he felt it was a sign he would live long. His Holiness also reported that a traditional Chinese physician had examined him recently and declared that he thought he could live to be 100.

As he began to give the White Tara empowerment His Holiness said he had received it from Lhatsun Rinpoche, as well as on many occasions from Tagdrag Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche. He said he has done the retreat and recites the sadhana every day. Once the empowerment was complete, monks of Namgyal Monastery conducted the Long Life Offering on behalf of the North American Tibetan Association and the Himalayan Buddhist, Mongolian and Russian communities.

In his words of thanks at the end, Tibetan Deputy for North America, Tashi Namgyal described His Holiness as the focus of respect across the world.

"You have appeared in the world to help others. For nearly 60 years in exile you have encouraged us to raise our standards so that today Tibetan language and culture remain strong." His Holiness responded:

"Today, you have all offered this Long Life ceremony from the depth of your hearts. You have pledged to continue to work hard and I too will make firm my intention to persevere. I feel a strong karmic connection with the Tibetan people, and the well-being of Tibetans is connected with the continuity of the Buddhadharma. India may be where Buddhism arose and flourished, but the places associated with it, like Nalanda University, are now in ruins. Today, the complete range of the Buddhist teachings is only available amongst Tibetans and I am committed to preserving and upholding this tradition.

"I urge you, don't adopt a sincere face in front of me, but behave with hypocrisy behind my back. Of course people are free to have their own opinions, but it should be founded on facts not on a mere whim. In the past, unfortunately, Tibet became politically fragmented, yet people derived a sense of unity and a sense of being a Tibetan from our common language, culture and traditions.

"You've asked me to do something and now I'll ask you to something in return. You alluded to the Shugden problem. This is not a new story. It goes back to the 5th Dalai Lama. Inauspicious events took place then, as they did again during the 13th Dalai Lama's time. The concerned spirit describes itself as the 'perfidious spirit of the Gelugpa'.

"I don't care what these protestors outside say about me, as I've said elsewhere, they are exercising their right to free speech, but I can do that too.

"When I did the practice, I thought of Dolgyal as a special Gelug protector, although Ling Rinpoche had nothing to do with it. But even Trijang Rinpoche and Zemey Rinpoche just regarded it as a mundane spirit. During the 'life-entrustment' ceremony the spirit is supposed to submit to the yogi, not the other way round. The Gelug International Association has produced a book of research about this and you should read it. It will be soon be made available in English.

"I follow an ecumenical non-sectarian approach. I visit churches, synagogues, mosques, gurudwaras and temples. I promote harmony among all religious traditions because we all have to live side by side. Even the Buddha didn't convert everyone to his point of view. We should not harbour strong sectarian feelings between us. If you read about what happened after the 13th Dalai Lama passed away, a lot of sectarian activity took place in connection with Dolgyal, including the desecration of statues of Guru Rinpoche.

"Je Tsongkhapa's tradition is really pure. It doesn't need to be protected by a ghost. His writings stand up next to Nagarjuna and his disciples and his mature view is really impressive. His tradition doesn't need to rely on the protection of a ghost. The 18 volumes of his works speak for themselves.

"Meanwhile these Shugden protestors deserve our compassion. They don't know what theyÙre talking about. They show such angry faces. They don't understand the real situation, but please don't be bothered by them."

His Holiness and the 15,000 members of the audience, the largest gathering of Tibetans outside Tibet or India, broke for lunch. Grand celebrations of His Holiness's birthday began afterwards with a choir of Tibetan children singing the American, Canadian and Tibetan national anthems on a second stage off to the side of the hall. His Holiness was offered an elaborate birthday cake and everyone sang 'Happy Birthday'. In his introduction, Norbu Tsering, Tibetan Deputy for North America, referred to His Holiness as Avalokiteshvara in human form and announced that the CTA had declared this a Year of Gratitude to him on behalf of all Tibetans.

Kaydor Aukatsang, His Holiness's Representative for North America, greeted everyone and told them about the winning entry of an essay competition his office had held. The author, Tashi, described his arrival in India from Tibet and his surprise at finding that His Holiness was not the god his family in Tibet thought him to be, nor the demon portrayed by the Chinese authorities. However, he concluded that nothing can break the bond between His Holiness and the Tibetan people.

Sikyong Lobsang Sangay repeated the Tibetan people's pledge to abide by His Holiness's advice, reminding everyone that these celebrations were a mark of gratitude and that it was important to let young people know how kind His Holiness has been to Tibetans.

On behalf of the Tibetan Parliament, Speaker Penpa Tsering welcomed former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi and Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Richard Gere, Prof Ming Xia and Matteo Mecacci, President of ICT. He said:

"Despite the tragedy that we have undergone, the rest of the world gained an acquaintance with His Holiness. Everyone knows what he has done for us; I'd like to thank him on behalf of all Tibetans. We have a responsibility to preserve our culture and identity. If we remain united, external forces can't do much to us."

Prof Ming Xia, referring to what His Holiness means to the Chinese people and their gratitude at his reaching out to them, wished him a very happy birthday.

Richard Gere, a longstanding friend of Tibet, greeted the audience:

"Tashi Delek, my Tibetan brothers and sisters, Tashi Delek, my Inji brothers and sisters, there are 15,000 of us here, with Valerie and Nancy, a Sangha of Rinpoches and other leaders; let's never forget how fantastic it is to be here with His Holiness. What an opportunity it is to listen to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to be able to see his face. How extraordinary this is for us all. Every day, His Holiness gives of himself for us, thank you."

Gere recalled a private screening of Martin Scorsese's film of His Holiness's life, Kundun, in 1997 and the scene showing His Holiness wistfully watching his bodyguard of Khampa warriors riding back into Tibet as he reached the Indian border. His Holiness told him later that as he looked into India, with almost no friends beside him, he had no idea what was going to happen next.

"And now he has all the friends in the world. Let's make a date to be with him for his 90th, his 100th, his 110th and his 120th birthday." The audience cheered.

Sikyong Lobsang Sangay thanked his brother Richard Gere and introduced his sisters Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama and House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi. Ms Jarrett spoke first.

"His Holiness the Dalai Lama, monks, people of Tibet, dignitaries and guests, good afternoon. What an honour to be among so many friends. I am here on behalf of President Barack Obama to convey the warmth of the American people to His Holiness. Very few other people have made such a positive contribution to humanity as His Holiness with his unwavering message of compassion. We celebrate today an extraordinary leader, a good man, a man with amazing grace. I wish you health and vigour to live to 120." She was met with rousing applause.

Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, was the first woman Speaker of the House and has led the House Democrats for 10 years, while representing California for 28 years.

"Good afternoon everyone," she began. "I was told there would be speeches, with some cultural performances in between. But how wonderful they've been."

Ms Pelosi was showing appreciation of the many groups, including Canadian Tibetans; Mongolians and Mongolians from Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia; Tibetan Americans from Minnesota; the Bhutanese Community of New York; Himalayan Communities of Nepal; Tibetans from New York and New Jersey; and Tibetans from the Capital Area who put on spectacular performances of song and dance, by turns graceful, athletic and alluring. She continued:

"Your Holiness, it is with profound gratitude and humility that we celebrate your 80th birthday. It was President Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, who said that you are such a powerful example, speaking up for compassion and the dignity of all human beings, evoking a great response. President Bush similarly praised His Holiness when he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal."

Ms Pelosi remarked that His Holiness has a long connection with American Presidents going back to Franklin Roosevelt who sent him a watch when he was a young boy as a token of friendship between the US and Tibet. Democrats and Republicans recently voted to celebrate his 80th birthday unanimously. She added:

"In September 28 years ago, His Holiness presented his Five Point Peace Plan to Congress. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize he was the first Peace Laureate to also be recognised for his work to create awareness of the need to protect the environment. When we awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal, we didn't have space for all the people who wanted to attend the ceremony.

"There is no better way to stand with His Holiness on his 80th birthday than to stand with the Tibetan people."

Thanking everyone who had joined the celebrations and everyone who had contributed to them, Tashi Namgyal, Tibetan Parliamentarian from North America, invited His Holiness to speak.

"The small child once called Lhamo Dhondup," he said, "has reached the age of 80. When I look back on my life, I feel I have done what I could for the Buddhadharma. At the age of 13 or 14 I began to teach others and from that time until now, I have been trying to transform myself on the basis of what I know, and I have tried to share that with others. I've been brought up in the Buddhist tradition, but all 7 billion human beings, like me, wish for happiness and donÙt want suffering. We need to make a transformation within ourselves. Whether people have a religious belief or not, love and compassion is the essence of our lives.

"Many of you have gathered here to celebrate my birthday. You've gathered not out of fear and apprehension, but out of joy, as a show of love and compassion for each other. Love and compassion has been the most effective force in my life, they can help you too. Many people have warm-heartedly helped and supported the just cause of Tibet and I'd like to thank all of them now. The Dharma we've upheld in the Land of Snow is the vast and profound tradition of Nalanda, a treasure we can share with the whole world. Preserving that and Tibet's fragile natural environment are what concern me now. And I pray every day to be able to dedicate myself in the service of others."

Responding to Nancy Pelosi's recollection of the watch that President Roosevelt had sent him, His Holiness told the story. He spoke of how eager he was to receive the gift when he heard about it. The watch was what interested him, not the President's letter, a copy of which was presented to him by President Obama. He explained that after the watch, which reveals the date and movements of sun and moon, had been left too close to a magnet it ceased to work. When he came to India in 1956 he brought it with him and asked for it to be sent to Switzerland for repair. In 1959, on his way from Tibet to exile in India, at Siliguri the same official he had earlier entrusted the watch to brought it to him as if the watch had been awaiting his return. Today, he keeps it in the drawer of the table where sits to say his prayers.

His Holiness thanked everyone present for their prayers and good wishes.

A financial statement was read revealing that while more than $1.6 million dollars had been raised for the event from ticket sales and donations, expenses of $1.3 million left a surplus of more than $250,000 which will be disbursed to charitable causes. Tashi Namgyal mentioned that $155,000 had been offered as a gift to His Holiness, who declined to accept it, but requested that it be used to provide scholarships. Namgyal Dorjee closed the event with the following wish:

"May all of His Holiness's aspirations be fulfilled; we bow our heads in gratitude to you for your teaching."