World Peace for Free and Pay in Washington

On July 9th, the Dalai Lama appeared on the West Lawn of the US Capitol to talk about world peace. He was in town for the ten-day Kalachakra Ceremony for World Peace, a Tantric initiation rite. His lawn talk was the only Kalachakra-related function that did not require tickets, which ran from $35 to $45 a day.

The Buddhist leader was last on this lawn in 2007, when he accepted a Congressional Gold Medal from George Bush. This time, however, the POTUS was busy fighting over the national debt, so His Holiness had to be content with legislators, at least for the moment. He accepted a Mother Teresa Award from Bob Dole and Tom Daschle. He walked arm-in-arm with John Bohner. John Kerry said hello in Tibetan. Later, the Dalai Lama snapped a photo with Washington’s WNBA team, the Mystics.

Whoopi Goldberg presided over the lawn talk, expressing surprise at having been asked to do so. His Holiness listened to Skylar Grey perform a ballad that the singer wrote for Diddy. Then he made some statements. “Making your face beautiful is good, but in the meantime you must pay more attention about your inner beauty,” he said, among other things. “With inner beauty you will find good companion.” Goldberg did not mention the event on The View the next Monday.

Altogether, about 100,000 people came to Washington for the rite, the 31st that the Dalai Lama has performed in his life. A row of booths sprang up in front of the Verizon Center, where the event was held, selling prayer flags, sacred stones, singing bowls, and dumpling steamers. “You could sort of tell who was in town for the ceremony by their Guatemalan, world-market-type fabrics,” said Coquille Houshour, a New Yorker who attended Kalachakra.

Eminent personalities in attendance included Martin Luther King III, Arun Gandhi, and Drew Carey. “Don’t know chants/prayers,” Carey tweeted on July 10th. “But won’t be first time I faked my way through a service ;)” Many others at the stadium were reportedly also faking their way through the chants.

The initiation began with the “generation of desire for enlightenment” and distribution of kusha grass for dream study. A frenzy broke out during the kusha ceremony, as there were not enough reeds of grass for everyone. Verizon Center security had to restore order. One woman complained of having been trampled.

Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said in a press release that he was “rudely expelled” from the Kalachakra venue by Kalden Lodoe, chairman of the Capital Area Tibetan Association, for selling merchandise that Lodoe deemed too political. Lodoe threatened to call security if Rigzin didn’t leave the Verizon Center. The TYC has demanded that Lodoe apologize to them in public, which he is certain to never do.

The ceremony ended on Saturday. President Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, but not in the Oval Office, a venue reserved for visiting heads of state—and in which His Holiness has never been allowed, even before he relinquished his political power. The Chinese government protested the meeting, saying it “grossly interfered” with its country’s internal affairs and hurt Chinese feelings.

Nathaniel Page is a writer who lives in Brooklyn.