Teens to get time off to see the Dalai Lama
By Frank Stirk | Friday, August 21, 2009
The Dalai Lama (left) with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
COQUITLAM, BCChristian educator Steve Bailey has no problem with the Dalai Lama's upcoming peace summit in Vancouver. Nor does it bother him that it will probably attract thousands of people, including many Christians, eager to sit at the feet of the world's best-known Buddhist. But Bailey does object that 18,000 high school students will be given a break from classes so they can be there as well.
"Outside of the context of a world religions course or some kind of specific educational context, that to me is dangerous," says Bailey, an education instructor at Trinity Western University and a deacon at an Anglican church in Coquitlam. "It leaves one open to all kinds of accusations, all kinds of people wanting to look for hidden agendas."
The September 26 to 29 summit will bring together Tibet's spiritual and political leader-in-exile and six of his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu. They and others will discuss how to achieve world peace and what people can do to make a difference.
The students will attend a free-admission event produced by Craig and Marc Kielburger's Free the Children Foundation called We Day, a youth-oriented day of high-energy music and dialogue that includes an appearance by the Dalai Lama. Its goal is to empower young people to serve the global community.
"About 2,500 of them will be coming from 89 different Vancouver schools," says Vancouver School Board spokesman David Weir. "The schools themselves will decide how students are selected."
Weir believes this is all above-board, despite a provision in the B.C. School Act that schools conduct themselves "on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles" and that "no religious dogma or creed is to be taught." "The focus of the event," he says, "is on global citizenship, not on religion."
But Bailey says no matter how worthy the cause, the fact remains that the Dalai Lama and his religion are indivisible. "That's who he is. We can respect him for that, and we can respect the work that he does for that, but that's who he is," he says.
Bailey also doubts school officials would let 18,000 teenagers travel at taxpayers' expense to hear a famous Christianeven one who helped to bring about a peaceful end to South African apartheid. "I couldn't see them taking students to see Desmond Tutu."
The entire summit is being promoted as a forum for the Dalai Lama's "secular" teachings on compassion, forgiveness and universal responsibility.
"Surely they would be of quite significant general interest, because those kinds of themes are very universal and everybody has an interest in these themes," says Victor Chan, founding director of the Vancouver-based Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, which is hosting the event.
"Also, our charter doesn't allow us to be religious or political."
For Christians like television host and producer Randall Mark, what makes the Dalai Lama so attractive is not his Buddhist label but what he stands forideas that reveal him to be "operating in the stream of God."
"I'm interested," he says, "in how…in the midst of being kicked out of his own country, up against a massive empire [China] that could crush his home country, in exile his entire life, he has advocated for the ideas of peace and love and virtue."
James Beverley, a professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, says Christians can still "celebrate everything good about someone like the Dalai Lama" without compromising their faith.
"I believe he's a wonderful human being of goodwill and there's no hidden agenda to make the world go Buddhistalthough he's a great advertisement for Buddhism."
Buddhism already enjoys a broad acceptance in Canadian culture. A recent Angus Reid survey found 57 per cent of Canadians say they "generally approve" of Buddhism, second only to Christianity at 72 per cent.