The 32nd Annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert took place at Carnegie Hall in New York City on 7 February. Guests and performers included comedian and TV personality Stephen Colbert and numerous musicians, including Jon Batiste, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and famed composer and Buddhist practitioner Philip Glass.
Tibet House US was founded in 1987 at the request of the Dalai Lama as a cultural institution. Early and ongoing supporters include actor Richard Gere and writer Melissa Matheson, as well as Robert Thurman, a professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University who holds the first-ever endowed chair in Buddhist studies in the West. Located in Manhattan, Tibet House US hosts a library, art gallery, shrine room, and lecture spaces.
Rolling Stone magazine described the benefit concert as a “New York City musical tradition,” continuing, “One of best things about the Tibet House shows is how they encourage artists to do the unusual. For some, that involved covers. Patti Smith played a pair of ecological protest songs: her poignant reading of Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush,’ and a roaring new take on Midnight Oil’s 1987 ‘Beds Are Burning.” Her wingman Lenny Kaye led the band in a cover of the [Rolling] Stones’ ‘I’m Free,’ with bassist Tony Shanahan segueing into the first verse of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ in a graceful nod to the transgender rights battle.” (Rolling Stone)
Christopher Kelley, who earned a PhD at Columbia under Thurman and currently teaches at the New School in New York City, told Buddhistdoor Global, “There is a profound and oft overlooked connection between the arts and Buddhism. And I think we can see this connection in the Tibet House concerts, but also in the larger cultural history and practice of Buddhism in America.”
“In the early 1950s it was the teachings of D. T. Suzuki that inspired artists such as John Cage to find representations of Zen Buddhism in sound (or the lack thereof). Similarly, poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg looked to words to express Buddhism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the arrival of Tibetan Buddhism impacted the work of artists such as Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and even David Bowie. Many of these names, not surprisingly, appear in the annals of past Tibet House concert lineups.”
On a personal note, Kelley continued: “This year’s concert was particularly special for me because I was able to help book rock musicians Chris Robinson and Neal Casal for the show. Chris and Neal are members of the avant-garde, psychedelic rock band The Chris Robinson Brotherhood.”
“It was personally very heartwarming that Chris Robinson accepted my invitation to play in this year’s concert, and that he was clearly moved by his encounter with Tibetan Buddhism. I am looking forward to seeing how Buddhism might influence his next album!”
Proceeds from the event will support Tibet House US in its mission to protect, preserve, and empower Tibetan culture in the US and beyond. Upcoming activities at the center include daily lunchtime meditations, courses on topics ranging from an introduction to meditation and cultivating wise compassion, to lucid waking and dream yoga, and a talk and demonstration of sutra transcription and Buddhist painting. The list of teachers who have spent time at Tibet House is extensive and includes many well-known Buddhist teachers in the West today, such as Stephen Batchelor, Sharon Salzberg, and Joan Halifax, environmentalists Thomas Berry and Rev. John Dear, broadcaster Amy Goodman, and photographer Thomas Laird.