Hundreds of protesters failed to deter the Dalai Lama from delivering a few choice pearls of wisdom during his second visit to Aldershot on Monday (June 29).
The Dalai Lama, the recognised leader of the Buddhist faith, was in Aldershot primarily to open the long-awaited new Buddhist Community Centre in High Street.
His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, took to the stage at around 1pm - almost three years to the day since he last appeared at Aldershot Town FC's ESS Stadium.
But spirits around the ESS Stadium were nonetheless dampened by the vociferous protests outside the ground, as well as a feeble PA system which left many people struggling to hear.
His address to thousands of supporters and intrigued guests packed into the stadium was marred by cries of ‘false Dalai Lama!’ from the protesters outside the ground.
The din was briefly drowned out though by a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, with His Holiness getting ready to celebrate his 80th birthday next week on July 6.
He was given a similarly rapturous welcome on Sunday (June 28) when he made an impromptu appearance at Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, meeting with children, addressing revellers in the Stone Cirle, and joining punk legend Patti Smith on the festival’s fabled Pyramid Stage.
Monday’s visit in Aldershot was organised by the Buddhist Community Centre UK (BCCUK), which was delighted to welcome the Dalai Lama to officially open the group’s new centre next door to the ESS Stadium.
'Tolerance and respect'
Among the crowds was Tom Stevens, 54, from Farnham, who said: “I came a couple of years ago and I was really inspired by how humble he was - especially when you consider how big a role he plays in the Buddhist faith.
"I’m not a Buddhist myself, but many of its teachings really resonate with me and with other people. I also think it’s a really nice gesture for the Dalai Lama to come and see the Nepalese community here in Aldershot.
"It’s not been an easy time for them or for the town so events like this can really being the two communities closer."
Naran Gurung, 23, from Farnborough, said: "This is an important event for the Nepalese people in Rushmoor. We are very honoured to welcome the Dalai Lama for the second time in just a few years.
"He is a world renowned religious leader, not just in Buddhism, but among other religions too. He speaks of tolerance and respect. He is respected among other faiths.
"I think it’s great to see so many people from so many different communities here today to welcome him to Aldershot and show him this is a tolerant community."
Healthy mind, healthy body
During a speech lasting around half an hour, the Dalai Lama reflected on the myriad similarities between all faiths which, at their core, encourage people to live happy and fulfilling lives.
"I consider myself one human being of several billion human beings,” he said. “Mentally, physically and emotionally, we are the same. We all have desire to have happy lives - and a right to achieve that desire.
“But it is quite clear that to achieve a healthy body, we must first achieve a healthy mind.”
However, Valerie Morris, 75, who travelled up from Biggin Hill in Kent, and Vincent Charles, 50, of Reading, both said they were disappointed by just how little of the Dalai Lama’s speech they could actually hear.
“I’ve never been more disappointed," said Ms Morris. "I came here to learn something, but we just weren’t able to hear.
"It was disrespectful to us and the Dalai Lama.”
Mr Charles, fresh from seeing the Dalai Lama at Glastonbury, added he was also similarly disappointed by the sound.
“It was just really, really bad,” he said. “It’s a shame as the spirit in the ground was really positive.”
Outside the ground, supporters of the International Shugden Community gave out leaflets encouraging people to at least take a moment to consider arguments against the Dalai Lama.
One such leaflet described the Dalai Lama as first and foremost ‘a politician’ rather than a spiritual leader, who used his ‘celebrity status’ to further his own personal and political ambitions.
Kate Saunders, spokesman for the International Campaign for Tibet, said despite that the protest, the Dalai Lama’s messages of ‘tolerance and compassion’ was the defining feature of the visit.
“The Tibetan community welcomed the Dalai Lama with joyful song and dance, despite the noisy chanting of New Kadampa Tradition and/or International Shugden Community protesters,” she said.
“In focusing their anger on the Tibetan exiled religious leader, the protestors align themselves with the Chinese government’s political campaign to undermine the Dalai Lama.
"It was notable they continued their frenzied chanting during the singing of the Nepalese and British national anthems.
“Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama’s message of tolerance and compassion shone through - he has a soft power the Chinese government can only dream of, and it was wonderful he was welcomed by Aldershot today.”