His Holiness the Dalai Lama Keynotes Symposium on Tibetan Art and Culture, Hosted by the Aspen Institute and the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture

July 26, 2008  • Institute Contributor

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Keynotes Symposium on Tibetan Art and Culture, Hosted by the Aspen Institute and the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture

Aspen, Colorado (July 26, 2008) — His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke about the relationship between Tibet and China, meditation’s effects on the brain, science and faith, the legacy of the institution of the Dalai Lama, and what Tibetan Buddhism can both offer and learn from the world in a keynote conversation as a part of a symposium on Tibetan art and culture. The symposium is hosted by the Aspen Institute and co-chairs Margot Pritzker and Richard Blum, in collaboration with the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture.

In this candid conversation with journalist and author Pico Iyer and Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, the Dalai Lama also commented on American society and what the American people should look for in their next leader. “[The next American President] should have compassion, motivation, think of others rather than self-centered, gratitude, must have a vision, should be honest, truthful, transparent — of course, easy to say,” he joked. When asked how the next Dalai Lama should be chosen, he commented: “Up to Tibetan people. If Tibetan people believe Dalai Lama institution should continue, then it will,” he said.

His Holiness also addressed China in the conversation. “At present, you know, we are not seeking separation,” he said. “At moment, we want more modernization [in Tibet]. So Tibet will stay within People’s Republic of China. It is in our best interest, provided we can retain our culture, our heritage, our religion … But heavy-handed suppression, use of force, is destroying Tibetan trust in China. People of China, in order to become a superpower, need moral authority. But with use of force, that is impossible.”

The three-day program — featuring His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the keynote speaker — brings together an extraordinary number of eminent scholars, teachers, practitioners, and ordained Tibetan Buddhist monks and tradition-bearers from around the globe to shed light on the rich historical and philosophical significance of Tibet and its impact on global issues today — with programming on Tibetan and Himalayan art, culture, science, medicine, spiritual practice, and history.

On the second day, attendees partook in panel discussions, presentations, and breakout sessions on Tibet’s unique Buddhist heritage, happiness and Buddhist meditation, the meaning and significance of the mandala in Tibetan culture, life and death as viewed through the Tibetan lens, and the riches of Tibetan poetry.

Participants witnessed monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery constructing an elaborate sand mandala on campus and Tibetan artist Sonam Dhargye sculpting, in ancient Tibetan Buddhist method and tradition, vibrant and stunning works made out of colorful yak butter.

Traditional Tibetan prayer flags decorate the campus, and throughout the week, interactive demonstrations of ancient Tibetan and Himalayan arts will continue to provide opportunities for tradition-bearers and program participants to meet in an intimate environment.


  • “If you transform your mind into patience, you will find there is no enemy, no anger …. Wherever you are in the world, in the East or West, your mind will become positive, healthy. Change your mind, change your world. With this good heart, change others.” Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader
  • “Whether someone is my friend, a stranger, an enemy, they too have the same aspirations: to be happy. And if we can connect with that …”Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, founder and spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery
  • “Anger is a seductive emotion, in that you feel that you are so right.”Daniel Goleman, world-renowned psychologist and author
  • “The basic energy of anger is the strong clarity that comes to mind… if we want to deal skillfully with emotions, especially when we want to use antidotes … we must also have a very nuanced understanding of the shades of a particular emotion.”Matthieu Ricard, author and Buddhist monk
  • “When this last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, left the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1924 … this ended almost 700 years of royal patronage of Tibetan Buddhism.” — Gray Tuttle, Leila Hadley Luce Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University
  • “Of course knowledge about what is going on is very important. In order to have realistic approach, we have to know the reality; in order to know the reality, people need a whole investigation. One dimension cannot show the reality — three, four, six dimensions are needed … So we need support from people. This is very important. I feel it’s extremely important that Chinese people know what is going on. The Chinese government makes ignorant Chinese people. This is immoral! People’s government put their own people ignorant.” — His Holiness the Dalai Lama


  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived at the Aspen Institute’s campus, received by a long line of rinpoches, monks, lamas, event co-chairs Margot Pritzker and Richard Blum, and Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson and board chairman Bill Mayer, all of whom the Dalai Lama greeted.
  • A panel of Buddhist leaders who have been at the forefront of research collaborations between meditation practitioners and neuroscientists and renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman explored the intricate connections between the body and the mind — and how Buddhist meditation is able to provide interesting insight into the science of the brain and body.
  • World famous Tibetan flutist and Grammy nominee Nawang Khechog preceded the Dalai Lama’s conversation with a performance of the wood flute and another instrument that he invented. Before he played, Khechog, who is considered the most important Tibetan flutist, spoke the words: “May peace prevail, may we all be kind to each other, may we all be kind to each other, may we all be kind to each other.” He also recited a poem that he wrote to honor the Dalai Lama last year after surviving a near-fatal car accident and life-threatening heart attack. It began: “My heart may be attacked/ My brain may be injured/ My bones may be damaged/ But for as long as there is breath in me/ As long as there is warmth in my body/ I will follow in the great footsteps of my guide … ”
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama joking, “I gave responsibility, much decision-making to [Special Envoy] Lodi Gyari, but Chinese government always blame me. Poor Dalai Lama.”


  • Just after dawn, a group of Tibetan rinpoches, lamas, and Drepung Loseling Monks performed a ceremonial “Mountain Smoke Offering,” in ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition. While burning incense and other fragrant substances such as juniper branches, sending billowing clouds of smoke into the sky above the Institute’s Aspen campus, the tradition-bearers prayed aloud. In conclusion of the ceremony, all attendees gathered in a semi-circle and threw handfuls of barley in the air, chanting “Ki Ki, So So, Lha Gyal Lo!” meaning, “divine victory” or “may the Gods prevail!”
  • In another keynote conversation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks candidly with symposium co-chair and Institute trustee Margot Pritzker, whose collection of prized Tibetan artworks constitutes one of the world’s foremost collections of South Asian art.
  • A panel featuring columnist Isabel Hilton, conservationist Michael Zhao, and sinologist Orville Schell discuss the Tibetan Plateau’s fragile environment and the effects of climate change on it.
  • The monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery perform a collection of ancient Tibetan dances, chants, and an incense offering, demonstrating the mystical arts of Tibet for an audience of 2,200. 
  • The sand mandala created by Tibetan Buddhist monks is dismantled in a ceremony on campus, demonstrating the impermanence of life. His Holiness the Dalai Lama will bless the mandala before its dismantling. Half of the blessed sand will be distributed to the audience, and half will be carried in a ritual procession to the nearby Roaring Fork River, where it will be poured into the water as prayers are recited.

For video highlights and clips from sessions, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/tibet.


This event is sold out. For those who cannot attend, the Dalai Lama’s talk on July 26 at 11:00am MDT (1:00pm EDT) will be made available via satellite feed and will be webcast live at www.aspeninstitute.org.

The Conservancy for Tibetan Art & Culture is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1997 under the patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. CTAC supports activities dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan culture through teachings, exhibitions, symposia, and cultural research. Collaborating with Tibet Fund, Tibet House, and other experts and scholars, CTAC aims to increase awareness of Tibet‘s living cultural heritage among the Tibetan communities and the general public.

The Aspen Institute, founded in 1950, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue. Through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives, the Institute and its international partners seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and an appreciation for timeless values. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, DC, and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Its international network includes partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Bucharest, and leadership initiatives in Africa, Central America, and India.


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