As UCSB counts down to the Dalai Lama’s visit, two scholars will pave the way for his arrival as they unpack the global icon’s political and religious philosophies tonight in Campbell Hall.

The event, entitled “Why the Dalai Lama Matters,” will feature author Pico Iyer and Buddhist academic and political activist Robert Thurman’s thoughts on the life and nonviolent policies of the Dalai Lama. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. event are available through Arts & Lectures – admission is $10 for UCSB students and $20 for the general public.

Iyer is a well-known scholar of Asia and Buddhism and is the author of several books including The Global Soul and The Open Road. He is also a part-time Santa Barbara resident.

Thurman, the Jey Tsong Khapa professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Dept. of Religion at Columbia University, said the Dalai Lama matters for people around the world because he serves as a symbol of hope.

“I think people rush to see him because he says the simple things about kindness and love in a way that rouses people from their cynicisms,” Thurman said. “People are panicked about having nothing to look forward to but a collapsing climate, a casual employer with no pension and fighting for a hopeless oil war, so it’s easy to feel despaired. Something about his cheerful, friendly persona makes him very good at rekindling hope, and Obama does that too. The Dalai Lama cheers people up – he’s like Prozac.”

Thurman said his presentation will focus on the Dalai Lama’s agenda for political and environmental relations between China and Tibet, noting that nearly four billion Chinese citizens receive their water from Tibetan glaciers.

“The presentation has three sections. In the first, we will discuss who is the Dalai Lama and how has he come to be the most-respected leader on the planet,” Thurman said. “Second is what he has said in his speeches and his nonviolent efforts to settle with the Chinese. Then, third, is how easy it will be for China to adapt to his ideas while they’re in their rut.”

Furthermore, Thurman said he will discuss how militarism paralyzes humane activism and individual agency, rendering the world’s contemporary crises unsolvable.

“The reason the Dalai Lama is so important to the world is because the greatest problem making us unable to face planet change and economic turbulence is military force,” Thurman said. “Twenty-first century war is obsolete and we need to resolve problems in a nonviolent way. So, the Dalai Lama represents the people actually standing up and saying you can’t really win wars with weapons anymore because civilians will always want revenge.”

Thurman said nonviolent, positive activism is the key to peace between and within the world’s nations.

“Nowadays, the most realistic people are actually the idealistic people who want fair treatment and sanity and free media,” Thurman said. “We need a kind of activism where people don’t just hate bad guys. We need a cool revolution of cool heroes who are happy, but resist causes of violence by democratic means.”

Although Thurman said that he is not strictly religious, he considers himself Buddhist by education and moral practice.

“I’m a pretty lazy Buddhist,” Thurman said. “I’m a Buddhist scholar and I’ve tried to practice for 40 years now, but I’m a regular person with a family who has an occasional glass of wine or beer. I’m not really very holy, but I will always find it important to be less selfish, more compassionate and more ethical.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama will come to UCSB for a two-part lecture on Friday, April 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.