The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the smiling human face of Eastern spirituality for many in the West, brought his message of compassion and peace yesterday to Philadelphia.

He began his daylong visit at the Kalmyk Buddhist Temple in the Feltonville section, praying solemnly with monks, and ended it by blowing out a candle on a birthday cake at the Kimmel Center as the audience sang "Happy Birthday."

"Thank you. Thank you," he said, laughing and clasping his hands in a bow to the sold-out crowd. He turned 73 on July 6.

He was in the region at the invitation of the area's Kalmyk community, a population of immigrants of Mongolian Buddhist heritage who sent him word two years ago that they needed his help in reacquainting their young people with their religious and ethnic roots.

His core message to the Kalmyks - and everyone else in his audiences - was that ritual observance alone does not make a person a good Buddhist. "It is very, very essential to study Buddhist philosophy," he said, and to practice kindness and compassion.

The Dalai Lama arrived at Northeast Airport by helicopter from Bethlehem, Pa., where he had given five days of lectures at Lehigh University, and was greeted by a crowd of about 300 shortly after 9 a.m. outside the modest Kalmyk temple on East Courtland Street.

He acknowledged them with bows and smiles as he emerged from his limousine, and he accepted several traditional offerings of Buddhist images - which he returned - before entering the temple's lavishly decorated interior.

There, about two dozen monks in maroon-and-gold robes awaited him.

After prostrating himself three times before an image of the Buddha, he sat down on a mat surrounded by the monks and led them in prayer for about 10 minutes.

With their low voices filling the room, images of Buddhas gazing down from the red-and-gold walls, incense wafting through the air, and prayer wheels and mandalas and little bronze pagodas crowding the altar and tabletops, it was a timeless scene that could have been Tibet centuries ago.

After prayers, the Dalai Lama sat atop a high, cushioned seat and greeted the monks in Tibetan, asking them questions for about 10 more minutes and making jokes that sent them into bursts of laughter.

He then walked out of the temple and into the adjacent Kalmyk community center, where he greeted about 150 people.

The Buddhism practiced in Mongolia "is the same Tibetan Buddhism," he assured them, and told them that some of his finest teachers growing up in Tibet had been Mongols or Kalmyks. The latter are ethnic Mongols who migrated to Southern Russia about 400 years ago. About 2,000 live in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.

"Now it is very, very important to transmit our culture to the younger generation," he told them, but cautioned that traditional dance and music and participation in occasional Buddhist festivals were not enough.

He urged them to study the texts of Buddhism and practice meditation, and to "keep in close contact" with one another. "Cooperation is essential," he said.

He then shook hands with members in the front row and clasped shoulders as he exited the room. He even yanked playfully on the beard of a middle-aged Hindu Brahman from Center City, who gave his name as V. Sharad. "He pulled hard," said Sharad, who laughed.

The Dalai Lama then stood under a yellow canopy outside the temple and answered prepared questions for about 20 minutes before saying "thank you" in English and Russian and climbing into his limousine.

"He's awesome," said a 20-year-old woman from South Jersey who gave her name only as Olesya.

"It's an honor to be in his presence," said Zandan Urusow, 63, from Harleysville. "That's why we're here."

Although widely esteemed as one of the world's great spiritual leaders, the Dalai Lama - who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 - is not without enemies.

His efforts to regain autonomy for his native Tibet, which he fled in 1959 after Chinese communist troops took control, have incensed Chinese leaders.

And his refusal to recognize a splinter sect of Tibetan Buddhism known as the Western Shugden Society has provoked angry demonstrations and pickets outside his public appearances.

About 50 pickets from the Shugden Society, some with bullhorns and signs that read "Dalai Lama, don't be a hypocrite," were waiting for him outside the Kimmel Center.

The program at the center began with about a half-hour of Mongolian songs and dances and Tibetan Buddhist chanting before he appeared on stage.

"Hello. Hello, everybody. I am very happy to be here once more in this famous city," he said, and recalled the last time he had been to Philadelphia, in 1990.

He had been taken to see "the Bell of Liberty," which had "some crack" in it, he said with a laugh.

He touched on some of the more esoteric features of Tibetan Buddhism, including the notion of "interdependence," or multiple factors, as the causes for events.

To illustrate his point, he chided President Bush for attacking Iraq because Saddam Hussein was pure evil "when, in reality, it was not that simple."

"The Buddhist view is interdependence," he said. "The Buddhist practice is compassion."

After some morning meetings today, he is scheduled to travel to New York and leave tomorrow for a festival in Colorado.

By David O’Reilly

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