To honor Dalai Lama, a Day of Kindness planned for Philadelphia

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"There is a need for kindness," says J Nathan Bazzel, head of A Day of Kindness. It happens Oct. 27, to honor the Dalai Lama and the anniversary of Philadelphia's founding. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

It sounds straight from the Department of Irony, but the organizers insist they're serious.

They want Philadelphia - long known as the scourge of Santa Claus, lately as the wrecker of traveling robots - to embrace an unusual endeavor to welcome the Dalai Lama and celebrate the visit of Pope Francis:

A day of kindness.

A day in which Philadelphians, despite their city's reputation, would for 24 hours treat each other with nothing less than caring affection.

Maybe they slide a quarter into an expiring parking meter. Or give a hug to someone who needs it. Or just let the other guy go first.

"Everyone could tell you stories of how they've been treated unkindly," said J Nathan Bazzel, executive director of the fledgling Day of Kindness. "There is a need for kindness."

The idea flows from the teachings of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who arrives in Philadelphia for a two-day visit beginning Oct. 26. He's coming to accept the 2015 Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center, and will speak during separate events at La Salle and Temple Universities.

"My religion," he has said, "is kindness."

Then again, the Dalai Lama never had to fight for a parking spot in South Philly.

The Day of Kindness is set for Oct. 27, the day after the Dalai Lama receives the Liberty Medal, and a month after Francis visits at the end of the World Meeting of Families. It's also the date Philadelphia was founded, in 1682.

"His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness the Dalai Lama are our inspiration," says the Day of Kindness website, which just went live, "but this day is about how we can create a kinder city and perhaps a kinder world."

Plans are still being developed. But organizers say the day might begin with bell-ringing, to encourage people to pause and reflect. People may be asked to tweet a message of kindness. Schoolchildren might write essays on the topic.

It would have been easy, said organizer Elazar Aslan, to have the city proclaim a Day of Kindness and leave it at that.

"But the reality of this is not the words," he said. "The reality of this is the actions."

Aslan, a board member at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia and the CEO of Caterfly Solutions, noted that even Charles Darwin, whose name has become synonymous with unforgiving struggle, identified compassion as a primary human need.

"We're opening the space for people to walk in, to be who they always wanted to be," Aslan said. "We all have this longing for people to be kinder to us, to not be afraid to be kinder to others."

City government supports the event and its message, said City Representative Desiree Peterkin Bell.

"There's no better city in the country to host both world leaders, amazing international figures, and both messages," she said.

The organizers said that if backing grows quickly, the day could expand to include having people volunteer at local organizations, similar to the work that goes on during the annual celebration of Martin Luther King's Birthday.

The idea for a Day of Kindness developed from discussions among local Buddhists, including Losang Samten, spiritual director of the Tibetan Buddhist Center and a friend of the Dalai Lama's, and the representatives of the Dalai Lama who were coordinating his visit.

"We asked, 'What would his holiness like?' " said Ken Klein, a Philadelphia grocer and Buddhist involved in the planning.

The answer: something that would make an impact. Something that would touch people who were unable to see the Dalai Lama in person.

The spiritual leader, who turned 80 last month, often talks about the need for universal kindness - even toward the Chinese government, which drove him into exile and occupies Tibet.

"Love and kindness are the very basis of society," he has said.

Sponsors intend to bring that sentiment to city streets.

"It's unique," Bazzel said. "What is kindness? People must define it for themselves."


More information: www.adayofkindness.org.

jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906@JeffGammage