dali_lama_web.jpgU/Miami News Service

Dressed in his customary red and yellow robe, the Dalai Lama walked onto the stage at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami amid thunderous applause and camera flashes.

In respectful silence, thousands in the sold-out audience awaited the first words from the world renowned and exiled spiritual leader.

From his seat, the Dalai Lama smiled simply and said: “So, hello, everybody. How are you?”

The unexpected, casual greeting brought laughter from the audience that represented a variety of ethnicities, religious backgrounds and professions – from students and faculty to invited community guests and celebrities, including entertainers Emilio and Gloria Estefan.

But the Dalai Lama brought a sober message. In a speech titled, “The Quest for Happiness in Challenging Times,” he said each person helps to contribute to the welfare and the survival of the collective “we.”

“We are all just the same type human being and we are all from this small blue planet,” he said. “No single person, no matter how powerful or wealthy, can survive without another. Our individual survival depends on the rest of humanity.”

His  words touched Renée O’Connor, 37, a Jamaican-American exotic dance instructor in Miami Beach.

“These days in the United States, in the Western world, we have a skewed perspective on what happiness is. For us, happiness is based on success—money, jobs, shoes, clothes and material wealth. I think his message of true happiness is especially appropriate in this school and in these difficult times,” O’Connor said. “It is a reality check on what happiness really is.”

The Dalai Lama — Tenzin Gyatso — is spiritual leader of millions of Tibetan Buddhists. His followers, including other Buddhists worldwide, say they believe he is a reincarnation of a long line of spiritual leaders who are reborn to enlighten others. He fled Tibet in 1959 following a Communist Chinese takeover of the country and has lived in India since then and traveled around the world to speak.

The Dalai Lama’s Oct. 26 presentation at UM was one of three appearances he made last week in South Florida. The day before, he attended a Miami Beach fundraiser for the Religious Studies department of Florida International University. Prior to his speech at UM, he spoke at Temple Emanu-El in Miami Beach on the “Significance of World Religions.”

In this second visit to UM – the first was in 2004 – he shared his thoughts on religious diversity.

“Because all religions are human religions, they therefore emphasize the same human values: love, compassion, understanding,” he said. Words such as those resonated with Glenda Hutson, an African-American physician with a family practice in Overtown.

“It is important in times such as these that we meditate on love, peace and joy,” she said.

“The cause of this global economic crisis is greed and self-centered thinking. If we are more honest,  truthful, transparent, I think the world would be better,” the Dalai Lama said.

And on the prospect of peace, he emphasized the importance of communication:  “In order to create a peaceful century, we must promote spiritual dialogue so that this century is a century of dialogue, not of fear but of respect.”