Why so many people in the United States flock to hear the Dalai Lama has sometimes puzzled me.

He’s not our typical hero. He isn’t macho enough to be a movie star. He isn’t tall enough to be elected president. He isn’t brawny or young enough to be an athlete.

The attraction isn’t his religion. Relatively few people in this country are Tibetan Buddhists.

I doubt that most Americans believe Tenzin Gyhatso is the latest in a line of reincarnated Dalai Lamas.

Listening to him last weekend, I also confirmed that he’s not a great orator.

Still, I came to understand why he attracts adoring crowds. A combination of the man and his message draws people.

He exudes compassion, sincerity and happiness.

As he spoke, I imagined an intimate chat with him.

He seems the kind of person who would listen to another’s ideas. He might challenge, but not ridicule. He would present his own thoughts without hesitation, but wouldn’t twist a conversation into an intellectual contest.

I don’t think he would try to convert me to Buddhism.

The Dalai Lama’s message is simple, powerful and usable by people of practically any faith. The message is that we need compassion. We need not just a seed of it, but the whole, fruit-bearing tree.

It’s not a new message. People heard it 2,000 years ago. They heard it prior to that and have heard it since.

Religions have been built around the idea of compassion, though they often have branched from that strong tree into weak stems of rules and rituals and into thorns of fanaticism.

The heart of the Dalai Lama’s message is that people need to deal compassionately with others. They need not just to accept the concept, but to incorporate it in their daily dealings with people.

His philosophy is to show compassion to family, to friends, to strangers. It’s even to love those who make themselves his enemies.

Compassion, he contends, creates happiness in those who feel it.

The Dali Lama paints anger as a poison that not only harms others, but withers our own spirits.

He doesn’t draw battle lines between science and his philosophy. Instead he shows the compatibility of his beliefs with what is known about the brain, childhood development and human psychological needs.

He doesn’t spew deadly disdain that creates barriers between cultures, faiths, races or nationalities. He uses his message as a battering ram against such barriers.

Masses are drawn to the Dalai Lama because they sense he is wise, tolerant and caring. They sense that his message of compassion is one that fosters peace and happiness.

It’s hardly a new message, but it is one about which we need to be reminded.

Advocate Florida Parishes bureau chief Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to banderson@