The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and Nobel Peace Prize winner known worldwide for his activism for an autonomous Tibet and a more peaceful world, will speak at Comcast Center May 7 in a free campuswide lecture officials hope will lay out a compassionate path to peace.

The Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development lecture series has been sending out invitations to global leaders from its small university office since 1997. The chair’s goal is to provide a platform for world peace advocacy leaders to reflect on divisions and paths to peace, said Shibley Telhami, lecture organizing chair.

“He is an inspiration and a new voice for the campus community, sending a message of nonviolence and compassion from a revered world leader with millions of followers,” Telhami said. “The campus community has much to learn from this extraordinary figure.”

The Dalai Lama is the latest in a long line of world-renowned peace leaders to take the stage at the university, including former South African President Nelson Mandela, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former President Jimmy Carter and – in 2010 – former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“In this day and age, when there’s so much conflict between different faiths and ethnic groups and strife, he represents what we all aspire to as a civilized society, and I think that’s why he is recognized around the world,” university President Wallace Loh said. “It’s quite different reading about his speeches and actually seeing and hearing him in person, so to have him on campus is, I think, a very special opportunity that I think we are honored to have him.”

In spirit with leaders’ talks about peace and conflict resolution — whether it’s former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s 2000 speech or former Israeli President Ezer Weizman’s in 1997 — the Sadat lectures have never charged for tickets or lecturers because the events are a service to the campus community, Telhami said.

“Leaders come to provide a service,” he said. “Even the most prestigious and in-demand leaders come to our platform just to speak.”

Telhami’s office crafted the Dalai Lama’s invitation letter three years before the speaker’s confirmation. But like a majority of all letters — including Mandela’s invitation more than a decade ago — a spokesperson originally responded with a warm, appreciative but regretful response.

The office has used years of cultivating personal connections in the peace and civil rights world as what Telhami calls a reputation for providing leaders with a local platform to advocate to its advantage.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born on July 6, 1935, in northeastern Tibet, according to his official website. When he was 2 years old, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, his site states, and he began his monastic education at 6 years old.

After China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949, he assumed full political power and has since worked to peacefully advocate for a free state. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and has traveled to more than 62 countries in six continents, according to his website.

Lisa Mar, Asian American studies and history professor, hopes the Dalai Lama will use his experience fighting for religious rights for Tibetans to address other challenges in peace and conflict resolution.

“The question of peaceful, nonviolent resolution to ethnic and religious strife stands as a critical issue both for citizens of China’s diverse society, and for many comparable conflicts around the globe,” Mar said.

The Dalai Lama will travel from India to the University of Maryland and will head straight to the West Coast, Telhami said.

And Telhami hopes the lecture will lead to another topic of discussion: “How does he see a compassionate path to peace in a world with so many different faiths?”