The Dalai Lama was wrong, in just one respect: He underestimated the power of music, even as he served as the opening act for 26 musical artists from around the world and across three generations at the One World Concert. Smiling and nodding from the grand stage mounted at the basketball end of the Carrier Dome on Tuesday, Oct. 9, His Holiness confessed that he doesn’t know or even care that much about music. He prizes rest more than rhythm; during his pre-show press conference he recounted a night of sleep disrupted by the sound of musical revelers in a Berlin nightclub.
After conceding that music could give us a few moments of happiness and tranquility, he turned over the stage to Dave Matthews and an array of Lama-loving artists who set out to prove him wrong. The One World Concert held at the Dome was a mini-Woodstock for the new millennium, absent the weed and the rain, with a helping of ancient wisdom thrown into the mix.
Dave Matthews took the baton from the Dalai Lama and talked about learning about the Tibetan Buddhist leader-in-exile from his Quaker mother. Whoopi Goldberg spoke of herself as a “nasty old woman” who doesn’t feel worthy of introducing a man she called “the spiritual leader of the world,” but who tries to do one thing every day to make life better for somebody. Exiled Iranian singer Andy Maladian shared the stage with Israeli singer Liel Kolet for what they said was the first time a public duet had been performed by artists from these two countries on the brink of war.
Andy Grammer, whether he knew it or not, summarized the yin and the yang of the two-day mega-event sponsored by World Harmony Productions with his crowd-pleasing pop hit, “Keep Your Head Up.”
Both Monday, Oct. 8, and the following day, panel discussions on heavy topics with big names from the world of politics, civil rights and diplomacy were designed to feed the head. And the One World Concert was a chance for the wider community to let its hair down.
The concert did have its discordant moments, like the wave started by a group of students in the lower level that rippled through the crowd seven times—right in the middle of Roberta Flack’s solemn and brooding version of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.”
The panel discussions that preceded the concert included some characters whose credentials as peacemakers were suspect at best. Let’s start with James Woolsey, Bill Clinton’s CIA chief who was advocating for an invasion of Iraq long before 9/11.
The Dome crowd hummed with a desire to believe the simple message of a quiet, bespectacled monk whose most potent weapon is laughter: mesmerizing, contagious laughter. “The seed of compassion is within us,” said the 14th Dalai Lama, who arrived at a tightly guarded entrance to the Carrier Dome in a caravan of four limousines escorted by at least a dozen police cruisers and five police motorcycles and four decoy lamas (he’s gotta keep his head up).
He spoke not just as a Buddhist but as a great fan of science, which he believes holds the answer to many of our modern problems. He wouldn’t get drawn into political controversy, explicitly rejecting an offer to provide advice to the next U.S. president.
Last year he gave up his political role as leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, leaving a secular prime minister to carry on the struggle for his homeland’s rights that he has been identified with for more than 50 years. He now lives in Dharamsala, India, and has not set foot in his native country since the 1950s.
The Dalai Lama, 77, packed the Dome with students and residents who treated him like a rock star, hung on his every word with a level of attention that most politicians would envy, and then turned the stage over to an exotic blend of performers from around the globe.
In the end, I like the formula. Think hard, study hard, but don’t forget to laugh, don’t forget to sing, to dance. Don’t forget that we are the same, and we all can dream ourselves young again. Head up, hair down.
So I’ve decided to do two things after seeing the Dalai Lama. From now on, each time I get stuck in traffic or at a red light, I’m going to laugh my ass off. It’s free; wanna give it a try?
Second, I’m going to hope that somewhere in the mind of at least one young person in that swinging, swaying crowd, a seed is growing. Compassion nourished by knowledge and encouraged by a smile just might one day change this world we love. Keep your head up.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.