The Ven. Lama Tenzin Dhonden & Kelly Thornton Smith

Ven. Lama Tenzin Dhonden, Founder and Chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Dalai Lama, and Kelly Thornton Smith, the Founder and Board Chair for the Center for Living Peace discuss the coming visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is turning 80 this year.

The Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden is the Founder and Board Chair of the nonprofit, Friends of the Dalai Lama. Since the year 2000, Lama Tenzin has personally overseen the creation and planning of large-scale and elite events held at public and private venues throughout the United States for His Holiness. He has developed a specific protocol to ensure the proper arrangements for the participation of His Holiness in a variety of events. Based on his extraordinary experience and to fulfill the need for transparent organization of special events, Lama Tenzin has founded Friends of the Dalai Lama to be fully dedicated to assisting His Holiness in sharing his vision and message of peace and compassion with the world.

Kelly Thornton Smith the Founder and Board Chair for the Center for Living Peace. an organization she started in 2010, that encourages local community members to find their inner peace and unique talents, and share them with their neighbors. Her community involvement extends as a member of the Orange County Community Foundation Board of Directors and the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Program Ubuntu Council. Kelly is a mother of two.


Tavis: His Holiness the Dalai Lama will turn 80 years old July 6, and in honor of the spiritual leader’s birthday, a Global Compassion Summit will take place in Orange County from July 5 through 7 featuring world leaders, Nobel Laureates and other special guests.

Joining us tonight are the ones who are staging the major event. The Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden, Personal Emissary for Peace for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Kelly Thornton Smith, the founder of the Center for Living Peace.

Honored to have you both on this program. I mentioned at the top of this program that on July 6, in case you just tuned in, on July 6 on his 80th birthday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will appear as a guest on this program.

We’re honored to have him as a guest for that exclusive conversation. We look forward to seeing him on this program in just a matter of weeks as he celebrates that 80th birthday. What does it mean that the Dalai Lama is turning 80? How will he celebrate his 80th birthday?

Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden: It’s just 80 decades of compassionate actions for the global community. And His Holiness Dalai Lama is the living proof that compassion can be transformative.

Tavis: For those who don’t know the traditions, what happens when the Dalai Lama turns 80? I mean, there was a huge conversation, Kelly, as you know, a few years ago when Pope Benedict decided to step down and we hadn’t gotten accustomed to a Pope sort of retiring. So what happens traditionally when the Dalai Lama turns 80?

Kelly Thornton Smith: Well, it’s never happened outside of Tibet before, so this is a first. He’s actually the first Dalai Lama to come out of Tibet to bring that message of the values that we all share here to the U.S. So this is a brand new groundbreaking event that will be really fun and exciting and informative and, hopefully, transformational.

Tavis: But there’s no reason to believe, there’ve been no signs or indications that he steps down, that he begins to do something else. I guess I’m asking whether or not he will continue in the role that he’s always been in.

Dhonden: This is a very special moment for everyone, you know, whom he has touched, the millions of hearts. And everyone, not only just from the Southern California, everyone around the world, you know, will focus on that moment on July 6.

Smith: And he certainly shows no signs of slowing down [laugh].

Tavis: What would be the best way, the most appropriate way for people, on Lama Tenzin’s point, Kelly, for people around the globe who want to honor his life ongoing, his legacy ongoing? What’s the most appropriate way? Everybody will talk about this wonderful gathering that’s going to take place here in Southern California.

Everybody around the world, obviously, can’t come to Southern California. So for those, I think of Dr. King now who we honor in this country and around the world on his birthday every year. What’s the most appropriate way for people to honor the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday?

Smith: Well, I believe His Holiness has asked that the best gift he could receive would be people doing acts of compassion around the world. They will be able to watch the event live feed to get the messages and to be a part of it. But the real message behind the event is to continue that acts of service, acts of compassion, acts of kindness on and on from here until the rest of his life and the rest of everyone’s lives.

Tavis: So tell me more about this event here in Southern California. I’m curious as to how we got to be so lucky, so blessed, to host this in Southern California.

Dhonden: Yes. Because of Kelly Smith, you know, I’ve known a long time. Then she introduced me UC Irvine, the University of California Irvine and Mayor Tom Tait. Mayor Tom Tait like a [inaudible] of kindness, you know, and that is very much aligned with the value that His Holiness promotes globally. So I told Anaheim and the Honda Center in which the best locations to celebrate His Holiness Dalai Lama’s landmark 80th birthday.

Tavis: How fortunate should we feel, Kelly, that it’s happening here in Southern California?

Smith: It’s amazing and it’s a real honor. I mean, he’s turning 80 once. He’s never had a birthday cake from what I understand, so…[laugh].

Tavis: He will this year, I’m sure [laugh].

Smith: It’s quite an event and we are very thankful to Lama Tenzin and to His Holiness for selecting us to be a partner and UC Irvine also. I know the city of Anaheim is thrilled to be a part of this too.

Tavis: Tell me more about the event itself, this three-day gathering.

Smith: Yes. July 5 will be the biggest celebration because that’s actually the date that His Holiness will be turning 80 in India. His actual birthday is the 6th, so that day will be a day of arts and culture and artists, and you can talk a little bit to that too.

The next day on the 6th, we have two different public talks at UC Irvine and then, on the 7th, there’s one talk in the morning. And the talks relate to topics that Lama Tenzin has dreamed of for years. He’s dreamed of this event and honoring His Holiness for quite some time. You might want to speak to the topics.

Tavis: These topics are what?

Dhonden: On July 4, there will be artists and Nobel Laureates from all over. And they will be speaking on the topic of the transformative power of creativity and arts, and this is one of its kind. It never happened before. The artists will have a dialog with The Holiness. The deeper meaning of art and music, you know, connects to the power of compassions.

Tavis: Have we announced as yet, Kelly, any of the names of the artists or other Nobel Laureates who’ll be…

Smith: That’s upcoming, but there’ll be lots of Nobel Laureates, global leaders, musicians, environmental scientists, a lot of leaders that will have amazing topics to discuss in connection with His Holiness on how we can all better serve the planet and each other.

Tavis: So His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he’ll be speaking publicly at these events or one of these events?

Smith: At all four events.

Tavis: All four, he’ll be speaking.

Smith: Yes, and people can buy tickets at They can buy the separate events. They don’t have to buy to all three days. The tickets are as low as $10. So there will be four different public events that he will be speaking in each one.

Tavis: For those who’ve never seen the Dalai Lama speak, His Holiness speak in person, what’s the experience like? What’s his speaking style, his approach like when you see him in person?

Dhonden: Oh, he’s very informal, very friendly. And whenever he speaks to the global audience, he start his conversations from the universal level, you know. Even though he’s a Buddhist, he do not promote Buddhism. He never say, oh, you should be Buddhist because I am Buddhist. He’s more of like international, more of universal.

Tavis: I was about to ask whether or not persons who are not Buddhist will feel welcome.

Dhonden: You are welcome, yes.

Tavis: And enjoy the experience as well.

Dhonden: Yes.

Smith: We look at this as a real celebration and fun. His Holiness likes to have a lot of fun.

Tavis: He does, yeah.

Dhonden: And this is the first time that he’s coming to Anaheim, yes. Never been to Anaheim.

Tavis: Yeah, first time in Anaheim. How does he typically spend his birthdays? Does he do the same thing every year, something different?

Dhonden: No. 80th birthday comes once in a lifetime [laugh]. So that makes it very unique.

Tavis: But is there something that he does every year or does he do something typically on his birthday?

Dhonden: Yes, back in India, you know, we have our Tibetan traditional. But every year, it’s small, but it’s really traditional. There will be like Tibetan unique. You know, the art performance, and there will be the Lamas and Monks, you know, get together on the stage and chanting. And at the end of that performance, you know, culture performance, His Holiness will conduct the talks to [inaudible].

Tavis: So this one is a little bit different then than typical. It should be for 80. Let me turn the subject right quick. We all have, I think, have had our hearts broken by this massive earthquake in Nepal and the lives that that have been lost. Has His Holiness commented about that? What’s his feeling about this horrible earthquake in Nepal? It’s so close to…

Dhonden: Personally, no. The tragedy in Nepal is very sad indeed, but there’s a different way to look at it, you know. From the positive perspective, it help us focus and remind us of our own [inaudible], you know. It remind us that we do believe in the one humanity, one single global community.

And it is at times like this that our own sense of compassion demonstrate to be more stronger than our bias, our boundaries and our politics. And as is the case with every large national disaster, that brings with it a tremendous potential for positive outlook. So I think Holiness pray and send a lot of light to those victims in Nepal.

And the tragedy and the victim reminds the preciousness of all life and the survival we see on the media will remind and teach us the resilience of humanity. So there’s a positive way to look at it and, if you try to look at it in positive way, then you see the many people come together and share their hands in support.

Tavis: Kelly, I want to come back to you and close. This is, as I mentioned earlier, a rare opportunity for those of us in Southern California at least or for those who are going to be flying in, I guess, around the country to celebrate with His Holiness his 80th birthday, a rare opportunity for us to see him in public and to hear him speak at least four times here in Southern California.

For those who happen not to be Buddhist, what do you hope or believe the takeaway will be for them from getting a chance to participate and share in this experience?

Smith: I think that His Holiness speaks to people of all religions because he speaks about values and compassion and kindness. That’s something that all religions share, that all people share. So I look at his message as a universal message that everyone can be touched by and that everyone can learn from. As well as learning, they can share their gifts of learning.

Tavis: Kelly, thank you for coming on. Good to talk to you.

Smith: Thank you.

Tavis: Lama Tenzin, good to have you on this program. Thank you for coming. In case you tuned in late to this program, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is turning 80 on July 6 and we are honored to host him as a guest on this program. He’s never been here before, but it’s his first visit to this program, hopefully not his last.

But on Monday, July 6, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, he will be a guest on this program, exclusive conversation here on PBS. Look forward to seeing you then.

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Last modified: May 6, 2015 at 3:02 pm