Louisville, KY -- The Dalai Lama spoke for about 40 minutes and then took questions from the audience of about 15,000 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville Sunday afternoon.
The Dalai Lama kicked off his long-anticipated visit to Louisville by blessing the temple at the Drepung Gomang Institute in St. Matthews Sunday morning.
"In an unfamiliar place here in the United States to see a small center of Gomang established is wonderful news," the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists told those gathered for the ceremony. It is his first visit here in nearly two decades.
The Dalai Lama handed out prayer scarves and told the crowd, "The temple should be known more as place of learning than of chanting."
At the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville, a line started forming around the arena and along main street to the Clark Memorial Bridge hours before the Dalai Lama's scheduled 2 p.m. speech.
Hours before the Dalai Lama's expected arrival, a small group of temple members, guests and security personnel gathered at the Drepung Gomang temple, its grounds decorated with festoons of flags with traditional Tibetan colors and symbols.
"We've just worked a lot on it for the last six months," said temple member Dianne Archer. "We're excited about the energy the Dalai Lama will bring to Louisville" promoting his message of compassion.
Among those eager for the Dalai Alma's arrival was Thich Hang Dat, abbott of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Summit Monastery in Corydon, Ind. He has met several times with the Dalai Lama in past years and translated one of his books into Vietnamese.
Although there are differences between Vietnamese and Tibetan Buddhist leadership and practices, "we consider him as one of the Buddhist popes," Dat said.
He said Vietnamese from around the country and the world plan to come to Louisville for the Dalai Lama's visit.
"This is one of the lifetime opportunities," he said.
Federal security authorities and local police were at the temple, inspecting and searching each person as they entered. The police presence was part of the extensive security arrangements put in place in anticipation of the Dalai Lama's visit.
The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, is considered the most visible symbol and spokesman for human rights and Tibetan autonomy and has been vilified by authorities and the media in China.