By Published: Sept. 1, 2016

Dalai Lama at CU

Tenzin Gyatso’s status as one of the world’s most revered spiritual leaders didn’t keep him from having fun. 

In June, eight months after canceling a Boulder visit due to ill health, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama appeared in the city for the first time in nearly two decades, gamely donning a bicycle helmet and gold and-black Colorado visor presented to him and responding in kind after a fan flashed the sign-language gesture for love.

“Of course these days I am too old to bike,” he said, chuckling, after receiving the helmet at the first of two CU Boulder appearances in the Coors Events Center. “When I was young I used to bike.”

Helmet in place, the Dalai Lama, then 80 and now 81, posed in his maroon-and-yellow robes for a picture with Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones, who’d offered it. 

Nearly 18,000 people came to campus to behold the well-traveled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, who had recently met with President Obama in Washington and was on the cusp of a meeting with Lady Gaga in Indianapolis. 

More than two years in the making, the highly anticipated Boulder visit, originally scheduled for Oct. 20-21, 2015, gave the Dalai Lama a chance to commune with devoted admirers in a city full of them. It allowed CU affiliates and guests to behold and — for some — to interact with a world- historical figure. 

“She’s talked about how great he is my whole life, so now it’s my turn to see for myself with her,” said Shivani Dixit (MCDBio’19) of Superior, Colo., who attended the event with her mother, Swati Deshpande. 

The visit was arranged by the CU Student Government Association, the CU Boulder Cultural Events Board and the Tibetan Association of Colorado (TAC). 

In remarks at a morning prayer session and afternoon talk the Dalai Lama touched on favored themes of compassion, mindfulness and self-examination, spreading palpable delight throughout the sweltering arena with frequent bursts of his own joyful chuckling. 

“Your wisdom, your compassion is your best friend, best adviser, best protector,” he said. 

Both sessions can be watched at

At lunch the Dalai Lama dined with students, faculty and Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano, and exchanged reminiscences with CU scientist Tom Cech. Both won Nobel Prizes in 1989, in physics and peace, respectively. Dalai Lama at CU

It was in the morning that Mayor Jones presented the helmet. It didn’t take the Dalai Lama long to make a symbol of it: His new headgear represented the armor necessary to get through the difficult journey of life, he said. 

In the afternoon Chancellor DiStefano gave him a gold visor with “Colorado” emblazoned in black letters, which the Dalai Lama wore for much of the session. 

He took many questions from the audience. Few were easy. 

“Could you share with us, ‘What is the purpose of human life?’” one questioner asked. 

“What would you advise a young person to do to spread love and happiness and kindness in the world?” asked another.

“Have you ever achieved ultimate happiness, and, if so, can you tell us what it’s like?” a third wondered.

“When we talk about ultimate happiness,” the Dalai Lama replied through a translator, “there are a lot of steps to go through.”

(Mainly he directly addressed the audience in English.) 

On a blazing hot June day, fans showed out in force — students in T-shirts, parents with small children, monks in robes, executives in suits. 

Geshe Sherab, who wore monk’s robes like the Dalai Lama’s, said he’d seen him many times in Nepal, India and elsewhere, but traveled to Boulder from Santa Fe, N.M., to see him again anyway. 

Matthew Sadeik (Neuro’18) rushed over to Coors after a long morning class, marveling over the spectacle he was about to witness. 

“The guest speaker programs are actually my favorite part about college,” he said. 

Martha Gordge Kenny (EPOBio’94), silver peace sign earrings swinging from her earlobes, came from Louisville, Colo., with her husband and daughter. Some of their extended family performed in traditional Tibetan dances preceding the Dalai Lama’s remarks. 

“Peace is the most important thing we can have!” she said. 

Photos by Glenn Asakawa (top), Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera (right)