His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently traveled to Portland to give multiple speeches and participate in an Environmental Summit. Linfield students were given the opportunity to attend events on May 9 and 11. Maitripa College, the first Buddhist College in the Pacific Northwest, hosted the event, along with the University of Portland.
David Fiordalis, associate professor of the Linfield Religious Studies Department, contacted colleagues at Maitripa College and requested the tickets for his classes. He also offered the opportunity to other students not in the Religious Studies Department, allowing junior Robin Fahy to organize a pool of tickets for students who otherwise might not get the chance to go.
“The main reason I chose to see the Dalai Lama is my interest in Buddhist philosophy and thought,” freshman Mariel Pratz-Albert said in an email. “I am also sympathetic toward the Dalai Lama and his advocating of Tibetan autonomy. So I thought the chance to see such a highly regarded individual would be an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”
The Dalai Lama spoke in many sessions, first at the University of Portland on May 9 in an interfaith gathering and an additional session in the afternoon. He spoke about the importance of preserving the environment and the responsibility we all have to the Earth.
On May 11 he participated in a panel alongside Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber; Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council; and scientist David Suzuki, with the theme of “Universal Responsibility and the Global Environment.” The rock band “The Red Hot Chili Peppers” played a 90-minute set, concluding the day with a Q-and-A session.
“I expected the Dalai Lama to speak more on fundamental Buddhist aspects like compassion and impermanence, but I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of subjects he discussed, especially the environment and education,” Pratz-Albert said.
The Dalai Lama interacted with guest speakers and answered questions from audience members. Students were particularly struck by the white silk scarves, or katas, that were handed out to each audience member at the end of the event.
“Inspired by an Indian tradition, white scarves were handed out to the thousands of people in the audience. Everyone held up their scarves in offering to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama then explained how the white of the scarves are symbolic of purity of heart, and the scarves themselves represent connectedness and compassion between people, Pratz-Albert said.
“It was really beautiful to see so many people standing in unison with the white scarves around their necks.”
Fahy said the visual representation was striking, as nearly 11,000 people wore the scarves in “symbolic reverence and solidarity.”
Pratz-Albert said many people mentioned the moment they will remember most was when Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, a Native American spiritual elder, and the Dalai Lama shared a hug.
“It was pretty adorable,” Pratz-Albert said.
Students described the overall feel of the event to be positive and enlightening, some calling it surreal.
“The Dalai Lama has the best laughter, so every time he laughed the entire audience also erupted into laughter, Pratz-Albert said.
“It didn’t matter what the joke was, everyone felt drawn to join in with his joyfulness.
Kelsey Sutton can be reached at