More than 50 people gathered at the Institution to celebrate the birthday of a man they have never met but are inspired by every day: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama is a prominent spiritual master, monk, Nobel laureate and leader of the Tibetan people. The celebration, in honor of his 83rd birthday, began at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, July 8, at the Main Gate with a drummed walk to Smith Wilkes Hall. From there, the program consisted of a traditional Tibetan dance performed by students from Snow Lion Dharma Work, a speech on “Compassion in the 21st Century” by Tibetan Lama Khenpo Monlam, a performance by Tenzin Younden from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, as well as a sampling of Tibetan food and music.
The celebration was created and organized by Mateo Mortellaro, president of Snow Lion Dharma Work, a student-led group comprised of Buddhists and non-Buddhists who work to spread the teachings of the Buddha with the world.
“As a Tibetan Buddhist, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of the most important aspects of our religion,” Mortellaro said. “Every year, our family and dharma centers around the world all do some kind of celebration for the Dalai Lama’s birthday, so it was something I always wanted to do.”
Mortellaro’s event was unique as the first-ever birthday commemoration for the Dalai Lama organized entirely by American students. He said the ability to carry out his plan at the Institution made it even more special.
“We are grateful for being allowed this outlet to express authentic Tibetan culture and for allowing this historic event to take place in such a location as special as Chautauqua,” he said.
Although Mortellaro wanted to share Tibetan traditions with Chautauquans who may never experience them otherwise, he said the main goal was to express gratitude to the Dalai Lama for his service to humankind.
“We are here to celebrate the life of an amazing human being who has changed the world for the better,” Mortellaro said. “He claims to be just a simple Buddhist monk, but we know that he is so much more than that. He is, to Buddhists, the Buddha of compassion. He is a promoter of interfaith harmony, a world leader, an inspiration and a continual advocate of nonviolence.”
Mortellaro was impressed with the turnout and engagement of Chautauquans and is already looking at how he can enhance the event in coming seasons.
“I think it turned out really well,” he said. “Whether there are three people or 3,000 people, I think the most important thing is that we have a good motivation, and I think everybody here is very genuine in their appreciation of all the Dalai Lama has done and continues to do for the world.”