Global Compassion Summit: A Celebration of the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday (2015)

The Global Compassion Summit was held in Anaheim, California on July 5-7, 2015 in celebration of the 80th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The event was organized by Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the Personal Emissary for Peace to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Friends of the Dalai Lama, University of California, Irvine, and the Center for Living Peace. The summit and birthday celebration featured dialogue between friends of the Dalai Lama, world leaders, Nobel Laureates, scientists, celebrity guests, and performers. Consisting of four panel sessions, the summit featured discussions on the importance of taking action on climate change, attaining wisdom, and encouraging youth leadership. Approximately 30,000 people attended the event over the course of the three days.[1]

On Transformative Power of Creativity and Art

The first day of the Global Compassion Summit was held at the Honda Center in Anaheim to a sold-out crowd. The Dalai Lama began his talk by expressing his gratitude to the city of Anaheim by labeling it “the city of compassion.” He proceeded to talk about how we can achieve a more compassionate world. Emphasizing love, forgiveness, and tolerance as the commonalities among all major religions, he urged people to reach out to one another with a spirit of understanding. The Dalai Lama’s talk was followed by tributes from various leaders, artists, scientists, celebrities and social activists. Actor and comedian George Lopez said, “the purpose of life is to be happy. I just learned that today.”

On Creating a Compassionate Planet

The events of the Global Compassion Summit continued at the University of California, Irvine’s Bren Events Center. Over the course of the second and third days, the Dalai Lama spoke about climate change, wisdom, and youth leadership. The morning session on the second day was introduced by UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman followed by remarks from UCI Regent Richard Blum. Ann Curry moderated the panel discussion that followed and panelists included environmental activist Miya Yoshitani, oceanographer Dr. Walter Munk, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, and Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a distinguished professor at UC San Diego who discovered the super greenhouse effect of linking CFC’s to global warming. The Dalai Lama invited Walter Munk to sit next to him, deferring to Munk’s seniority at age 97.

Yoshitani emphasized equality stating, “we need a new relationship with the planet that puts equity at the center.” Munk said that when it comes to climate change, “compassion is the answer,” arguing we must have compassion for people in other countries, especially those who are more vulnerable to climate change. Ramanathan then outlined simple steps people can take to help the climate crisis, steps such as buying locally produced products and installing rooftop solar panels.

The Dalai Lama then began his talk by framing climate change as an issue of common interest of all humanity. “This is a matter of our survival,” he said. He highlighted global responsibility and emphasized the need for everyone to implement lasting transformations in their lifestyles saying, “we have to make an effort, so that even if we fail we have no regret.”  The Dalai Lama concluded that global issues should precede our national priorities, explaining that all nations should focus on a shared common humanity, and embrace the opportunity and the ability to change for the betterment of all.

After the panel discussion, it was announced that a new marine species will be named in honor of the Dalai Lama, to be called Sirsoe dalailamai. Then, in keeping with the tradition, the Dalai Lama honored all the panelists by placing white silken scarves around their necks.

 On Attaining Wisdom

The afternoon session was inaugurated by television and radio host Larry King. Following his remarks, many gave tributes to the Dalai Lama including Rajiv Mehrotra, a student of the Dalai Lama for 30 years, who praised the Dalai Lama’s deep passion and commitment to interreligious dialogue During his talk, the Dalai Lama explained that wisdom is attained through experience and human intellect. Curry then introduced the panelists including Nobel Peace Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams, professor Bob Thurman, labor leader Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta, actress Julia Ormond, and singer Gloria Estefan.

Shirin Ebadi told the panel that “any loss can lead to a victory. It all depends on how we look at our loss.” She recalls how she lost her job as a judge in Iran because she is a woman and explained that this loss ultimately led her to more success because she wanted to prove herself worthy of the position.

Julia Ormond spoke passionately about issues of fair trade and the enslavement of people who work in the garment industry. “Being equal is not an aspiration, being equal is what we are,” she said.

At the end of the panel discussion, Bob Thurman suggested all audience members to do something to help the Tibetan people as a birthday gift to the Dalai Lama. The audience received Thurman’s suggestion with a warm applause.

 Youth Leadership and Values-based Education

The last day of the summit continued with discussions on the significance of education for furthering universal human values. Panelists included UCI alumnus and Dalai Lama scholar Armaan Rowther, Google Ideas director Jared Cohen, actress and singer Zendaya, UCI’s Dalai Lama Scholars’ program director Karina Hamilton, Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, teen ambassador of STOMP Out Bullying Danielle Nisim, actress Regina King, film producer Justin Nappi, and Kids EcoClub co-founder Max Guinn.

The Dalai Lama spoke about the importance of education by linking it to human progress. “Education gives us the ability to uncover deeper human values such as compassion,” he said. The Dalai Lama went on to express his deep admiration for various religious traditions. He recalled his interactions with Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, who first revealed Christianity to him. He also expressed his respect for Muslims and pointed out that the word jihad simply refers to an internal struggle within oneself.[2]

Following this, Nainoa Thompson, a navigator and native Hawaiian, offered a leaf garland to the Dalai Lama. The final session came to an end with the audience chanting “long life to the Dalai Lama.”

— Faezeh Fathizadeh, Pluralism Project Summer Intern


[1] “Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday Party Draws 18,000 Guests United Behind Compassion.” UCI News. 2 July 2015. http://news.uci.edu/features/youre-invited-to-the-dalai-lamas-birthday-party/. Accessed 28 September 2015.

[2] “Youth Leadership Panel Focusing on Education and Meeting the Tibetan Community. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. 8 July 2015. http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/1296-youth-leadership-panel-focusing-on-education-and-meeting-the-tibetan-community. Accessed 28 September 2015.