In a city of people not exactly known for having formal religious ties, some 7,400 cheered Tuesday morning as they welcomed the Dalai Lama...

Share story

In a city of people not exactly known for having formal religious ties, some 7,400 cheered Tuesday morning as they welcomed the Dalai Lama, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and about a half dozen other religious leaders.

On the last day of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle for a gathering on compassion, he joined Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other Buddhist representatives — along with some young people — for a panel discussion on spiritual connection.

Moderator Joan Halifax Roshi, a Zen Buddhist master, began the morning by asking everyone to “come into collective silence and pray in whatever way is appropriate to us” for the best outcome for the situation in Tibet.

It seemed a fitting moment for a region with the country’s lowest levels of religious ties, where many describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

The young people asked — and took part in answering — questions about overcoming anger, not being hard on yourself if you make a mistake and keeping a loving heart in the face of destruction.

Tutu said anger was not necessarily a bad thing. “It’d be awful if we didn’t get angry when you see someone, for instance, violating a child. … If you were to be indifferent if you heard children are being killed in Darfur, I would get worried about you.”

He said he gets angry with God sometimes. “I mean — mmmmgh,” he said, shaking his fists. “How can you? How can you let this, that and the other thing happen?”

But God is incredible, he said, and has given people freedom so they can choose their own way.

When people mess up, God “picks you up, dusts you off and says: ‘Try again,’ ” Tutu said.

Tutu spoke of his experiences on a fact-finding commission looking into apartheid-era violence in South Africa. The stories he heard were devastating, he said: people who shot others, then burned the bodies while drinking beer and having a good time.

“How could anyone sink so low?” he said.

But he said it was exhilarating to hear from people who had suffered greatly and ought to have been consumed by bitterness and lust for revenge instead expressing generosity and forgiveness.

“We do have this awful capacity for evil, but we also have an extraordinary capacity for good,” Tutu said.

Rob Bell, an evangelical Christian, said those who have been wronged can choose to act in revenge or they can choose to bear the pain and forgive. Bell is founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich. (which is not affiliated with Seattle’s Mars Hill Church).

It will feel like a heavy burden at first, he said. “But then a resurrection will come. … You will inevitably become a better person on the other side. This is what changes the world.”

Belief systems that are used for violent purposes are a betrayal of spirituality, said Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.

But he sees evidence of more religious organizations doing good and working together, including in the Holy Land.

“We have to find a way to galvanize this potential and bring the message of healing to the world,” he said.

The Dalai Lama said he believed that different religions and philosophies exist so people can find the one that best suits them. “I think everyone, ultimately, deep inside [has] some kind of goodness,” he said.

Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, called interfaith discussions like this “the Olympics of the spirit.” But “we can’t just go on feeling,” she said. Acting on compassion requires figuring out ways to end systematic injustice — work that “is not as exciting … but necessary if we’re going to be serious about our compassion.”

Esther Dille-McCoy, 62, a teacher at Visitation Catholic School in Tacoma, said the discussion emphasized a point she tries to teach in her class on social justice.

“It’s one world, and we need to care about each other and the world,” she said.

The large turnout might be because many Seattleites don’t have formal religious ties, Dille-McCoy said. “People are more likely to want to hear the best of the various traditions.”

The five-day Seeds of Compassion gathering drew about 144,000 attendees — less than the 153,000 expected. All the tickets were given out, said Seeds spokeswoman Pamela Eakes, but “there is a challenge to ensure [people] do attend.”

Sponsorships, including in-kind contributions, covered the event’s cost of $5 million, Eakes said. Speakers — including the Dalai Lama — did not receive fees or honoraria, though their travel and expenses were paid for.

Seeds organizers said they were very pleased with the attendance. The collective energy of 144,000 here for a “movement to nurture kindness and compassion will be everlasting,” Eakes said.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272