Dalai Lama fans pack Sparta Prague basketball stadium

Dalai Lama, photo: CTK

Among the special guests at Vaclav Havel's Forum 2000 conference earlier this week was the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. But he didn't leave the Czech capital straight after the event. On Wednesday Czechs got a rare chance to see one of the world's most famous religious leaders in the flesh, when the Dalai Lama made an appearance at Sparta Prague basketball stadium. Emily Udell met some of the thousands who turned out for this unusual event.

Dalai Lama,  photo: CTK
During Wednesday's event, a film about Tibet was shown and the Dalai Lama gave a talk titled "Road of the Open Mind." The speech was delivered in English and translated into Czech.

The 250-crown tickets sold out early on, and people hoping to buy last-minute tickets swarmed in front of the hall's entrance before the speech.

Dalai Lama,  photo: CTK
Otto Hejnic didn't have a ticket, but came to give the monks a CD of a song he made about Tibet with his Tomas Sky Slansky band.

"I love people who have some message with love to people, and Dalai Lama is one of those people," he said. "And the same like Vaclav Havel in our country."

"There are many of these people, but they are living in mountains," Hejnic said. "If they are in towns, they have a lot of problems. They are not so clear. Dali Lama is special because he has a big soul and I think everything is about that."

The Dalai Lama's friendship with former president Vaclav Havel is one of the reasons the Dalai Lama has visited the Czech Republic six times since 1990.

Musician Tomas Sky Slansky did manage to get in to the event, his guitar in tow.

Dalai Lama and Vaclav Havel,  photo: CTK
"I think the message is about how to create a more passionate society," he said. "Myself, I am a Buddhist already 20 years and I am practicing meditation. So for me it was a repetition of things I knew, but I also like his presence. I think it has to do with the friendship between Vaclav Havel and himself. The Czech Republic right now is still a very free place and is not so pressured by China, for example."

Radek Stavarcik emerged from the hall with a big smile on his face. He agreed that there is something uplifting about seeing the Dalai Lama speak in person.

"I like it very much," he said. "It was very interesting, very open-hearted. I feel very good after this."

"It's very important for me to meet him personally because there's really something special about him, about the atmosphere, about meeting here in this place," Stavarcik said. "So this is important for me and also for others."