The Dalai Lama arrived in the United States on Thursday for the first time since the recent turmoil in Tibet, serenaded by fellow Tibetans as he prepared to anchor an ambitious conference on compassion.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader came to Seattle a day after demonstrators disrupted the Olympic torch run in San Francisco in a protest of China’s treatment of his people. The Dalai Lama will be attending a five-day conference that begins Friday.
With the Dalai Lama in town, some community leaders said they expected counter-demonstrations from pro-China groups.
But all was peaceful when he arrived at a downtown hotel Thursday, telling local Tibetans who sang to him that he supports nonviolent demonstrations but was saddened by the protests in San Francisco.
In Tibet, the recent protests against five decades of Chinese rule have been the largest and most sustained in almost two decades. China has accused the Dalai Lama of being involved in the uprising. The Tibetan leader has said that he wants greater autonomy for the remote mountain region but is not seeking independence.
Earlier Thursday, during a stopover in Japan, the Dalai Lama said he has always supported China’s hosting of the Olympic Games this summer, but said Beijing cannot suppress protests in Tibet with violence or tell those calling for more freedom in his homeland “to shut up.”
He strongly denied Chinese allegations he and his followers have used the run-up to the Olympics to foment unrest.
“Right from the beginning, we supported the Olympic Games,” he told reporters near the airport outside Tokyo. “I really feel very sad the government demonizes me. I am just a human; I am not a demon.”
Organizers of the five-day Seeds of Compassion conference in Seattle say the Dalai Lama’s visit is expected to draw more than 150,000 people.
The Chinese community in Seattle has been split by the Tibetan situation, said Assunta Ng, publisher of the Northwest Asian Weekly, a local Asian-American community newspaper. Ng said she wouldn’t be surprised if pro-China demonstrators show up at some of the events, and added that some Chinese students plan to protest the politicization of the Olympics.
The conference will feature dozens of workshops on various subjects, beginning with a panel discussion Friday with the Dalai Lama on “The Scientific Basis for Compassion: What We Know Now.”
Tickets for events involving the Dalai Lama have already sold out, according to the conference Web site.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels will present the key to the city to the Tibetan leader and the University of Washington will present him an honorary degree.
The Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet, but remains the religious and cultural leader of many Tibetans. He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1989.
He was determined to attend the Seattle conference because of his commitment to global peace, organizers said.
“He wants compassion for both sides, for the Tibetans, for the Chinese brothers,” said Lama Tenzin Dhonden, a Tibetan monk who spearheaded the development of the conference.
After Seattle, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on April 19 and 20, then at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., on April 22.