Syracuse University Magazine

Common Ground

The Dalai Lama, international dignitaries, and an all-star musical lineup converge on campus for a two-day summit and a concert for world peace

By Carol L. Boll

When His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama spoke at Syracuse University’s Hendricks Chapel in 1979, he bore a message of peace, compassion, and tolerance based on our common humanity. It was a message that sorely needed to be heard, coming in a year when Iranian militants would storm the American Embassy in Tehran and seize U.S. diplomats as hostages; Saddam Hussein would launch his brutal reign of terror in Iraq; and Israel and Egypt would inflame much of the Arab world over their fledgling steps toward a fragile peace accord.

More than three decades later—with visions of global harmony as elusive as ever—the Dalai Lama, now 77, brought that same message back to SU October 8-9, this time as part of “Common Ground for Peace,” a forum of music and symposia organized and produced by SU Trustee Sam Nappi and his company World Harmony Productions. And while the charismatic spiritual leader of Tibet acknowledged that the 21st century has gotten off to a rather shaky start world-peace wise, he delivered a clear and compelling message to the next generation of citizens and leaders that they have the power to make this century a better, more peaceful one than the last.

It was a message His Holiness would touch on repeatedly over the course of two panel discussions, a press conference, and a public address in the Carrier Dome preceding an all-star concert extravaganza headlined by musicians Dave Matthews and Counting Crows. And it was a message his listeners again hungered to hear, rising to their feet and cheering his entrances on stage, listening raptly as he spoke, and chuckling along with him as he occasionally punctuated his gentle admonitions with self-deprecating asides and a rich belly laugh.

The Dalai Lama may choose to call himself a “simple Buddhist monk,” but for the 2,700 who turned out for the symposia and another 24,000 for the concert, the iconic spiritual leader and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner clearly was the real rock star of the landmark event

The two panel discussions, both moderated by NBC News correspondent Ann Curry and live-streamed over the Internet, opened the peace forum on October 8, with a lineup of human rights activists and international thought leaders joining the Dalai Lama on stage in the Schine Student Center’s Goldstein Auditorium. Dean’s Professor of the Humanities Gregg Lambert, founding director of the SU Humanities Center, which co-hosted the discussions, delivered the opening remarks for the event, and Chancellor Nancy Cantor welcomed the Dalai Lama to the stage. Participants in the morning panel, “The Rise of Democracy in the Middle East,” included Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Laureate, human rights activist, and first woman to achieve chief justice status in Iran; Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Laureate and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Andrew Young, civil rights activist and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Irshad Manji, founder and director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University; and R. James Woolsey, energy and national security specialist and former head of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Focusing on the turmoil rocking the Middle East, panelists discussed the causes of the Arab Spring uprisings and offered their own perspectives on the conditions necessary to foster peace. “Irrespective of where we come from, every human being is seeking dignity, is seeking fairness, is seeking justice,” ElBaradei said. “People now have their freedom, but they do not know how to yet manage their anger or freedom. And it is our responsibility now as a global community to help this Arab Spring. We cannot just continue to say we are one human family while we in our practice don’t really care for each other.”

Several panelists cited social justice as an essential ingredient to achieving global peace. “If a country is not in war, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily at peace,” Ebadi said. “Is there a difference between us being thrown out of our homes by the enemy who attacks us and by being thrown out of our homes by the banks because of our inability to pay our mortgage payments? Peace is a package of conditions where human beings can live with dignity and freedom. Peace is sustainable only where there is social justice and democracy.”  She also expressed reservations about the progress of democracy in those regions touched by uprisings. “Dictators have departed, but we still have to wait and see whether democracy comes along,” she said. “Perhaps the best indicator of democracy is the status of women in the Arab world. And when the time comes, when the Arab Muslim women have gained equal rights, then we can talk of ‘Arab Spring.’”

On the violence spawned by some of the uprisings, Woolsey said, “Like dramas, revolutions often have three acts. Act One is optimistic, it’s hopeful; it’s often young people in the streets overthrowing a symbol of oppression and despotism.” Act Two, he said, “is the creation or attempted creation of rule by the people, with fairness and justice.” Sometimes, as in the American Revolution, order happily resumes after Act Two. In other instances, Woolsey said, it’s followed by an Act Three, “which is often particularly horrible, when there has been bad oppression for a long time and the only groups that have cohesion and can operate successfully are those that are extremely dictatorial.”

Achieving lasting peace requires us to recognize “the oneness of human beings—emotionally, mentally, physically,” the Dalai Lama said. “Even your enemies have a right to achieve their happiness, their goals. So here we have to develop the concept of the entire human being, one family. Others’ happiness is one’s happiness. Others’ suffering is also one’s own suffering.” 

That call for acknowledging our “common humanity” resonated as well through the afternoon panel, “Shifting the Global Consciousness.” In that session, the Dalai Lama, ElBaradei, and Ebadi were joined by Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi, social justice advocate Martin Luther King III, and Indian musician-philanthropist A.R. Rahman. “I believe there is a saying that every human being is a shrine of God,” Rahman said. “And whatever you believe becomes a shrine; you become that shrine. And so, how can you disrespect anybody who is of another religion or another race, or another color? One person’s sorrow is a whole humanity’s sorrow.”

Saberi agreed, citing her 2009 detention by Iranian authorities on false charges of spying. During her imprisonment, she said, “I found out that there were friends and strangers around the world who were calling for my release, and they were signing petitions on the Internet and holding rallies and signing up for hunger strikes. I was greatly humbled. And I was empowered and felt like I’m not alone anymore. I think there are more and more signs that we are becoming more conscious of our connection to humanity, and that we are realizing more and more that each voice can make a difference.”

Young and King also participated in a third panel discussion, “The Past Is Not the Past: The Continuing Quest for Racial Justice and Peace,” sponsored by the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI), a College of Law program dedicated to investigating civil rights-era murders and bringing perpetrators to justice. The panel, held at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications on October 9, also featured law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson, directors of the CCJI, and African American studies professor Linda Carty. The participants addressed the question, “Can there be peace without justice?” specifically within the context of the nation’s history of racial violence and inequality.

Throughout his appearances at the symposia and concert, the Dalai Lama reiterated one central point time and again. Inner peace and warmhearted acceptance of our “oneness of humanity,” he said, will only be achieved through education in those secular ethics—love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance—that find universal acceptance across all faith traditions. “If we put effort into education about moral ethics based on [the] secular way, I think the next generation—people whose age is below 30 or 20—[can build a] peaceful century, a happy century,” he told the Carrier Dome audience. “That’s in your own hands. Our problems are vast, huge. We are just one person out of billions. But I feel we have to do something. So one individual makes an effort, then 10 people, 100 people, 1,000 people, then 100,000 people. That’s the way. The initiative must start from the individual. If we make the effort, I’m quite sure the later part of the 21st century will be a different world—if we make the effort now.”

And as the simple Buddhist monk concluded his two-day message of hope and unity, and moved out of the spotlight to settle in his seat of honor for a few Dave Matthews tunes, audience members—as one—rose to their feet for him one last time and roared their approval.


©2012 Getty Images/ Neilson Barnard


The Dalai Lama greets Shirin Ebadi as Mohamed ElBaradei (left) looks on. All three Nobel Peace Laureates participated in the panel discussions in Goldstein Auditorium. At right is Maxwell School political science professor Mehrzad Boroujerdi, who served as a translator for Ebadi.

Photo by Steve Sartori


The Dalai Lama and Chancellor Nancy Cantor are joined on the Goldstein Auditorium stage by symposia participants and panelists. 

Photo by Steve Sartori


Dave Matthews and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama shake hands at the One World Concert in the Carrier Dome. 

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Syracuse University

One World Harmony

With cameras flickering through the darkened Carrier Dome like fireflies on a summer night, a steady stream of A-listers took to the stage October 9 to add their voices in song to the Dalai Lama’s call for global peace and harmony. Dubbed the One World Concert, it was the culminating event of the two-day “Common Ground for Peace” summit, and the musical acts—more than two dozen of them—spanned genres and generations.

With Whoopi Goldberg as emcee—“I know some of you are here just because the Yankees aren’t playing tonight,” she deadpanned early on—the concert featured a whirlwind lineup ranging from headliners Dave Matthews and Counting Crows to septuagenarian crooner Engelbert Humperdinck and crusty folk-rocker David Crosby. Other crowd favorites included Cyndi Lauper, Natasha Bedingfield, Andy Grammer, Phillip Phillips, Nelly Furtado, and Central New York’s own national treasure, Joanne Shenandoah H’02, who opened the musical program along with sister Diane ’11 and daughter, Leah ’06. And the global theme resonated in the music of TEAL-ONE 97, Voices of Afghanistan, A.R. Rahman, and Israeli-born pop singer Liel Kolet. Kolet also teamed with a group of youngsters—the Voices of Peace—for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and with Iranian singer Andy Madadian for what she declared was the first dual stage performance between an Israeli and an Iranian. And Cyndi Lauper joined with West Africa-born Angelique Kidjo for an inspired—and inspiring—interpretation of Lauper’s “True Colors.” 

Sandwiched between Voices of Afghanistan and a Roberta Flack-led massed rendition of John Lennon’s iconic peace anthem, “Imagine,” His Holiness—who delighted the crowd by donning a Syracuse orange visor—spoke on the virtues of peace, compassion, warmheartedness, and tolerance. “I would like to stay as long as possible,” he confided before settling into his seat of honor at stage left. “But if sleep comes to my upper eyelids, then I will say, ‘Good night.’” While he did, indeed, depart the Carrier Dome soon after, his message would continue to echo over the next several hours in the songs and lyrics of nearly every artist who had come there to share some common ground with the most famous contemporary peace advocate in the world. —Carol L. Boll


The Dalai Lama joins performers on stage after their group rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  

Photo by Steve Sartori

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