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Dalai Lama: A Spiritual Encounter


As the crowd jostled at the VIP reception, Bonnie Raitt said the guest of honor reminded her of her meeting with Nelson Mandela. "There's the same kind of aura about him."

Lynda Guber saw "a role model--a true spiritual leader of the world."

The focus of their admiration, the Dalai Lama, describes himself as "just a human being and, incidentally, a Tibetan who chooses to be a Buddhist monk."

And pretty much the center of attention wherever he goes. Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile was at the Regent Beverly Wilshire for the San Francisco-based American Himalayan Foundation's first L.A. fund-raiser.

"His Holiness has the gift of connecting with everyone, " said Richard Gere, who co-chaired the event with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.). "He turns no one off."

He also turns no one away. A seemingly inexhaustible line of major donors, celebrities and Tibetans inched along in a friendly queue to meet the smiling, 58-year-old monk his compatriots refer to as Kundun (the Presence).

As the guests came forward, Gere stood to the Dalai Lama's right making introductions whenever possible.

Mariel Hemingway was introduced as "one of our fine actresses." She said the compliment, "made me roll my eyes." But she was elated with the encounter with the Dalai Lama. "He's meeting a billion people in five minutes," she said, "and he's authentic with each one."

Although at the reception he was closer to meeting 150 people in an hour, there were another 600 waiting downstairs for the dinner to begin.

In the ballroom, His Holiness was seated between Gere and Feinstein (whom he calls "my old friend"). Then the program began with a slide show of Tibet, followed by remarks from the senator's husband, American Himalayan Foundation founder Richard Blum.

After dinner, speakers included Tenzin Tethong, the cabinet chairman of the Tibetan government-in-exile, who called the crowd "co-fighters" in his people's battle to regain control of their country from the Chinese.

When it came the Dalai Lama's turn, it was well past his usual 9 p.m. bedtime. (He rises at 3 a.m. to meditate.) His Holiness began by saying, "It's a little late--my brain not function properly."

He then spoke in English for about a half-hour on three subjects: the oneness of humanity, the need for harmony among religions and his "strong determination" to regain Tibet by nonviolent means. "As long as we are on this small planet together," he said, "we need human gentleness, human affection."

Among those listening were author Michael Crichton, Shirley MacLaine, Meg Ryan, State Sen. Tom Hayden, director Roland Joffe, Olivia Newton-John, Gordon and Judi Davidson, Susan Harris, REM's Michael Stipe, Cindy Crawford, Sharon Stone, Douglas Coupland and MGM chairman Frank Mancuso, whose 3-week-old grandson, Giovanni, was blessed by the Dalai Lama at the reception.

"What I get from meeting the Dalai Lama," said meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, "is an inspiration that it's possible we can embody this much love. Sometimes we forget."

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