His wide-reaching message includes the condemnation of profit, but whether he likes it or not, the Dalai Lama has become a lucrative brand.
The ascetic, however, doesn’t see any windfall.
The Dalai Lama’s appeal was evident Thursday – the first of the 74-year-old’s four-day New York visit – when thousands lined up to hear him speak at Radio City Music Hall, on the same stage the Rockettes share at Christmastime.
“Here’s a guy whose country and people are devastated and stripped away from him, and he’s still happy and he’s still preaching peace,” said Nick Lashaw, 30, of Harlem. “He has no animosity toward anyone.”
Lashaw was one of many who planned to attend three days’ worth of the spiritual leader’s lectures. Tickets for the series were selling for as much as $400, and followers Thursday clutched books by the Dalai Lama and surveyed T-shirts being sold with his image.
On Sunday, the Tibetan leader is to host a sold-out interfaith public talk at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
“This is up to organizer. I have no connection,” the Dalai Lama said Thursday in response to how he feels about people paying to hear him speak. He accepts no fees and added that he asks organizers worldwide to make his appearances “cheap.” Much of the proceeds go to charities.
The jolly Dalai Lama also joked that after events such as his New York visit, some connected organizations “look a little wealthier.”
Local Tibet-associated groups raised millions annually for humanitarian needs; the Kips Bay-based Tibet Fund, as an example, received $1.9 million in individual and foundation donations in 2008 and $3.3 million in U.S. government grants.
But the Dalai Lama’s message is priceless, followers said Thursday.
“It’s not about the money,” said Christine Dzialo, 32, of midtown. “He serves as one of the only non-violent political heads. … He is the Gandhi of now.”
The AP contributed to this story.