What's the Dalai Lama's secret? He's got over two million Twitter followers, people buy his books in droves, his speeches sell out stadiums. In a highly cynical age, he's held the public's attention for over two decades with some pretty elementary ideas: the essence of human nature is to be happy, human beings are happiest when they help others attain happiness, all major religions nurture the most basic ingredient of happiness, namely compassion, but you don't have to be religious to be compassionate, you just have to live up to the basic goodness of your human nature.
Like Socrates saying "I know that I know nothing", it's not just the simplicity of the message that attracts people, it's the remarkable journey of the man who is articulating it. The story of his escape from Tibet into India, his successful establishment of a government in exile, his continual advocacy for peaceful negotiations with his Chinese occupiers even while the culture and lives of his people are crushed day after day -- these things are well known, and more than enough to command admiration and attention.
But what is astounding about the Dalai Lama is how much more he is than the spiritual, symbolic and political (although he's stepping down from that role) leader of the Tibetan people. For those of us who believe religion is a source of inspiration and a bridge of cooperation, at a time when people presenting religion as a bomb of destruction are ruling the airwaves, the Dalai Lama is our single most powerful example. It is this part of his mission -- Dalai Lama as interfaith leader, which is also the subject of his most recent book, "Towards a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together" -- that has brought him to Chicago for a set of presentations sponsored by the Theosophical Society.