Albany - Because of the 14th Dalai Lama's heavy Tibetan accent and soft-spoken voice, and the lower volume at the back of the Palace Theatre, it was often hard to hear what the renowned spiritual leader was saying during his public talk here Wednesday. Several patrons used binoculars to try to read his lips.
The Dalai Lama's message of practicing compassion and tolerance was understood nonetheless by a rapt audience. Palace General Manager Chris Gould estimated the event was about 200 tickets short of a sellout of the 2,600 available seats.
"You pick up what you're supposed to hear, you'll get it," said Julie Grove, who came from Los Angeles to visit family and hear the Dalai Lama's talk on compassionate ethics in difficult times.
To make sure she got it and remembered it, Rain Muhammed, 68, of Guilderland, took hand-written notes, three pages in all.
The Dalai Lama, wearing his signature maroon-and-saffron robes and a red sun visor, sat on a leather armchair with legs crossed, his shoes set on a large red rug, as he shared wit and wisdom. To his left sat Bishop Howard Hubbard; event organizers Sara and Clare Bronfman; and Mayor Jerry Jennings. The Dalai Lama presented each with a khata, a ceremonial scarf. To his right was his translator; the Dalai Lama speaks English, but a translator occasionally helps with meaning.
"My English dangerous," the Dalai Lama said, eliciting laughs.
He addressed why he rescheduled a visit to Albany after a delegation from event organizer the World Ethical Foundations Consortium visited him in India, following the cancellation of his previously scheduled April 18-22 visit because of negative publicity connected to the WEFC. The Dalai Lama said after observing and speaking to the delegation he concluded they care about ethics.
"It is my moral responsibility to support any movement" that cares about ethics, he said.
One can't believe everything presented by the media, the Dalai Lama said, gesturing as if his nose were growing like Pinocchio's.
"Where there be doubt, make clear," the Dalai Lama said, referring to the WEFC, whose conceptual founder, Keith Raniere, is the founder of NXIVM. "All your work must be transparent."
Detractors say NXIVM (pronounced NEX-ee-um) is a cultlike organization that employs psychologically damaging mind-control techniques. Raniere's supporters say those accusations are unfounded. Raniere came on stage to receive a khata from the Dalai Lama near the event's end.
Clare Bronfman, co-founder of the WEFC along with her sister, Sara - the Seagram Liquor heiresses who are involved with NXIVM - told the audience the WEFC lost $142,749 on the event because of the earlier cancellation.
"I apologize we have no gifts in that way," Clare Bronfman told the Dalai Lama on stage. The Dalai Lama replied he doesn't accept nor want money for public talks or teachings.
Attendees questioned why finances were a point of emphasis. Dave LaPointe, 44, of Fort Ann, said a financial accounting was done the three other times he saw the Dalai Lama speak, though not as overtly as at this event.
"I find the ending rather embarrassing. I'm not sure that's the time for the accounting of this event," said Jo Raney, of East Chatham.