NJ's biggest city hosts Dalai Lama at peace summit

May 13, 2011 - 3:44 PM
Newark Peace Summit

Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, gestures as he sits on a panel at the Newark Peace Education Summit early Friday, May 13, 2011, in Newark, N.J. The three-day summit on the power of nonviolence will include Nobel laureates, international leaders, local anti-violence activists and the Dalai Lama. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A revered Tibetan spiritual leader, a man who served more than 12 years imprisoned on Louisiana's death row and a Nobel laureate from Vermont shared the stage Friday at the start of a three-day summit on peace issues held in New Jersey's largest city.

The keynote speaker at the Newark Peace Education Summit, the Dalai Lama, urged participants to work on inner peace as a key prerequisite to making positive change in the world.

"The change in human society, the initiative, must start with the individual," he said.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 1,000 interfaith leaders, peace activists, educators and community leaders at The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark, the Dalai Lama said it was time to set a new world paradigm for peace.

"The 20th century was the century of bloodshed," he said. "The 21st century should be the century of dialogue."

The Buddhist spiritual leader, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, was joined by two other Nobel laureates, American Jody Williams, a peace activist who shared the 1997 prize for her work on banning land mines, and Iranian-born Shirin Ebadi, a human rights activist who won the prize in 2003.

The panel featured several other speakers, including Deepak Chopra, the wellness author, and Wilbert Rideau, who served more than 12 years on death row for a murder conviction. Rideau was granted three retrials and was convicted of manslaughter, then was freed after 44 years in prison and became an award-winning journalist and author.

In a discussion that touched on the many incarnations of violence and the meaning of democracy, Williams, of Brattleboro, Vt., said the United States isn't necessarily a healthy example for the rest of the world.

"We need to look at where we are in the continuum of violence," Williams said. "The violence of tax cuts for the wealthy while ripping apart the middle class ... the violence of a nation that spends more than 50 percent of our budget on defense."

The Dalai Lama countered that despite America's problems he believed democracy to be the best structure for working toward peace.

"I really feel America is the real champion of democracy and freedom, so America has a moral responsibility," he said.

He added that people change systems, not the other way around.

"The world belongs to over 6 billion human beings, not governments or religious leaders," he said. "The world belongs to people."

The conference is being organized by New York-based Tibet House U.S. and a foundation run by Drew Katz, a philanthropist and longtime supporter of anti-crime efforts in Newark, which is just west of New York City and is often scarred by violence.

Newark once was booming, with its 1940s population of about 430,000 working in good-paying jobs in the teeming textile and manufacturing industries. But after World War II, the city began a postwar descent into racial unrest, white flight, crime and corruption. Its population suffered, dwindling to around 275,000 now.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat who has gained a national profile for his efforts to transform a city once viewed as a symbol of urban decay into a national model of urban renewal, said Friday the city was honored to play host to the event.

The summit features 100 speakers during three days of panel discussions on peace.

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