The Dalai Lama smiled mischievously and said, "I call myself a feminist. Isn't that what you call someone who fights for women's rights?" The comment was made during his International Freedom Award acceptance speech, which was presented to him by the National Civil Rights Museum.
His Holiness' message is always one of compassion, harmony, warm-heartedness, inner peace and civil rights. During the awards ceremony, which took place in the Peabody Hotel ballroom, he said women are by nature more compassionate because of their biology and ability to nurture and birth children. He therefore called on all women to lead and create a more compassionate world, citing the good works of nurses and mothers. Interestingly enough, there are feminist groups who would claim this kind of biological stance has led to discrimination against women in the workplace.
The Dalai Lama went on to add with his infamous sense of humor that "some feminists have too much emotion, that I don't like." Again, there are some feminist groups that would certainly agree with him on that point as well.
Following the Freedom Award's luncheon, the Dalai Lama gave a public speech on "Developing Peace and Harmony" at Memphis' Cannon Center, one of many events sponsored by the Missing Peace Project.
Many see the Dalai Lama as youngsters may see the Wizard of Oz before lifting the curtain - a fact the Dalai Lama himself addressed. He said some people come to hear him speak out of curiosity, some think he has some kind of miracle power or ability to heal the sick, some think he will bestow a wise and important message. "I have nothing to say that is that special," he said with a laugh. As far as healing power, he said, it's "nonsense." In fact he had complicated surgery last year to remove his gallbladder, which he proclaimed, "Is proof I have no healing power!"
The Dalai Lama's powerful message is common sense. He does not preach religion. "Whether you believe this religion or that religion, we are all the same human beings." He preaches self-awareness and compassion. In broken English he said, "We need to work together. We need to protect the planet. With fear, harmony is impossible. We need trust. Trust is the basis of compassion. Distrust brings fear. Fear brings violence. Fear brings loneliness and depression. We all come from the same place. We are all brothers and sisters."
This year marks the 50th anniversary since the Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet under China's takeover and form a government in exile in India.
When asked if China and the exiled Tibetan government will ever reach a peaceful understanding, the Dalai Lama became quiet for a moment. "The Chinese and the Tibetans, we are the same human beings...our faith in the Chinese people was never shaken...We need more patience, determination. The Tibetan spirit (in Tibet) among the young is strong. The problem is (Chinese) government censorship and misinformation."
Grammy winner Natalie Cole was on hand to introduce his Holiness prior to the public speech. "Deep down inside us, all we want is inner peace," she said. Cole later gave a headlining performance during the Missing Peace Concert honoring the Dalai Lama, which also featured the Memphis Symphony, Tibetan musicians, and special guests singer songwriter Matt Nathanson and country artist Joe Nicols.
Rebekah Alperin, who produced the Missing Peace Concert along with Chantel Sausedo, and Missing Peace Project founder Darlene Markovich, organized the Dalai Lama's visit to Memphis. Alperin is also working on a worldwide documentary capturing the Dalia Lama's mission of peace, which will be released in 2010.
"We all come from the same mother," the Dalai Lama said. "That creates the basis for compassion."
Follow Tamara Conniff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tamarastar