The Dalai Lama arrives for three-day visit to Seattle on October 3, 1979.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 5/14/2001
  • Essay 3275
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On October 3, 1979, the Dalai Lama arrives in Seattle during the first United States visit by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. The historic three-day event includes meetings with local Tibetan exiles and lectures at Seattle University and the University of Washington.

Great Circle Route?

The Dalai Lama's Seattle visit was the idea of Jigmie Yuthok, a former Tibetan government official who fled Chinese occupation in 1959 and eventually settled in Seattle, where he later joined the staff of Seattle University's Connolly Center. Although the local Tibetan community then consisted of barely 40 people, including children, Yuthok secured the support of Seattle University scholar Fr. Richard Sherburne, SJ, to invite the Dalai Lama to Seattle. Significantly, Jesuit missionaries were the first Europeans to encounter and describe both Buddhism and Tibet for the Western world.

University of Washington president William Gerberding joined SU president Fr. William J. Sullivan, SJ, in sponsoring Seattle's inclusion on the Dalai Lama's U.S. itinerary. The Dalai Lama's visit featured public lectures at the UW and SU, where he received an honorary doctorate and the gift of a telescope. The Dalai Lama also blessed a ceremonial scarf that Fr. Sullivan later presented to Pope John Paul II.

The Dalai Lama is accepted by members of his Buddhist order as the reincarnation of his predecessor and hereditary ruler of Tibet. He was born in 1936 and fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against occupation by the People's Republic of China. He established his exile residence in Dharmsala, India, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.


The Seattle Times, September 19 and 29, October 3, 4, 5 and 6, 1979; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 14, 2001; Walt Crowley, Seattle University, A Century of Jesuit Education (Seattle University, 1991).

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