When the Dalai Lama comes to Louisville as part of his 2013 United States tour, expect the world to be listening.
"The significance is huge for us," said Will LeStrange, vice president of Louisville's Drepung Gomang Institute, a Buddhist center that is hosting the Dalai Lama's visit. "The invitation to come to Louisville was to do a blessing at our center ... and he extended the possibility for us to expand this to do a three-day event, which is serendipitous also, because in November 2011 (Louisville mayor) Greg Fischer made a commitment to compassionate cities."
The Compassionate Cities Campaign requires cities to commit to addressing the unmet needs of their citizens and to engage in change that brings positive results. The Jefferson County public school system has made a similar commitment to become a compassionate school system, he said, which means that there's a curriculum for compassionate living now available for the schools.
On the compassionate cities' website, Compassionateaction.org, there's a quote from the Dalai Lama: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
LeStrange described Louisville as "a city that's well-prepared and ready to receive the message."
The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, made his first visit to Kentucky when he came to Berea, which welcomed nine Tibetan students in the early '90s. He received an honorary doctorate from the college.
Reviewing the Dalai Lama's second autobiography, Freedom in Exile, in 1990, the late Berea College president John Stephenson commented on the link between the Dalai Lama and the Kentucky monk Thomas Merton based on their meeting in 1968.
"Merton's influence is cited in these new pages from the Dalai Lama's life," Stephenson wrote. "He (the Dalai Lama) tells of never having met anyone with such strong spirituality who professed to be a Christian (meaning Merton).
"'It was Merton who introduced me to the real meaning of the word 'Christian,"' Stephenson quoted the autobiography saying.
LeStrange described the 77-year-old Dalai Lama — the 14th Dalai Lama, believed to be the reincarnation of Chenrezig, the Buddhist deity of compassion — as "one of the most important world leaders that we have at this time, who is the master of compassion."
The Dalai Lama in 2011 retired from his formal governmental role in the Tibetan government in exile. While he has indicated that the office of Dalai Lama may be changed after his death, the Chinese government, which claims Tibet, has indicated that only it has the authority to name the next Dalai Lama. China has controlled Tibet since 1950.
LeStrange said that the Dalai Lama's general message is "not how to become a Buddhist, but how to become a better human being" no matter what the cultural background.
During his 16-day 2013 United States tour, the Dalai Lama told Wisconsin legislators that democracy is the best form of government. At College Park, Md., he donned a Maryland visor and was introduced by University President Wallace Loh as one who "walks softly on the world stage yet leaves a deep impression."
At the Tibetan Freedom Concert at the Brown Theatre on Monday evening, Lexington native cellist, singer-songwriter and composer Ben Sollee will headline the event with Kunga Norbu, nephew of the Dalai Lama, who will serve as master of ceremonies at the concert.
Sollee, whose songs and cello playing include Appalachian, R&B and classical influences, describes the concert as a "curated program of performance and education" that will include the story of the Dalai Lama's family along with the parallels between the mountains of Appalachia and those of Tibet.
"With this concert we are hoping to educate folks about the struggles there in Tibet and to inspire them to get active" and to emphasize the Dalai Lama's key value of compassion, Sollee said.
Other musicians and singers will participate, as will Silas House, writer and the National Endowment for the Humanities chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College.
LeStrange said that the Dalai Lama's visit will emphasize nonviolent resolution to conflict, caring for the needs of others before your own and alleviating the suffering of others.
"We've got that right in the heartland of America, that message, and Louisville is right behind that vision," LeStrange said.
The Dalai Lama in Louisville
■ 1 p.m., May 19 speech at the Yum center. Tickets at Ticketmaster.com.
■ 9 a.m., May 20 teaching at the Yum center on the subject "Attisha's Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment." Tickets at Ticketmaster.com.
Tibetan Freedom Concert featuring cellist, singer-songwriter and composer Ben Sollee, Grammy award-nominee flutist Nawang Khechog, writer Silas House
When: 8 p.m. May 20
Where: Brown Theatre at the Kentucky Center for the Public Arts, 501 W. Main Street, Louisville
Tickets: $25, $40 and $75.
Call: 502-562-0144 or visit: Kentuckycenter.org.
Web sites: Dalailamalouisville.org; Drepung Gomang Institute: Drepunggomang.org
Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.