"The world’s most famous Buddhist preaches peace and compassion in Indiana

Stranger things have happened. When the Dalai Lama received a Congressional Medal of Honor last week, George W. Bush made much of the moment, despite the verbal backlash from China. The President reminded reporters he had forewarned Chinese President Hu Jintao of the visit, telling him, “They will find this good man to be a man of peace and reconciliation.”

The irony goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway: Bush’s war in Iraq, the Dalai Lama’s tireless peace mantra. But the Dalai Lama is also tirelessly nonjudgmental: Despite his position on war and peace, he accepted the President’s warm welcome in Washington with his characteristic jovial graciousness. (The publicity value of such a moment was certainly not lost on him.)

Still making the rounds on behalf of peace and compassion, this week the exiled spiritual leader is in Indiana, hosted by the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, to deliver the Buddhist teaching Atisha’s “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” at IU Auditorium. In conjunction with the three-day lesson, which focuses on selflessness and compassion — tenets of Tibetan Buddhism — several events are planned in Bloomington throughout the week, culminating in a public talk in Bloomington on Saturday.

Performances by Tibetan and Mongolian artists, culturally related community events and exhibits, public talks featuring prominent guest speakers such as Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, and a VIP lunch hosted by Elaine Irwin Mellencamp are among the events planned around the Dalai Lama’s visit, which will also include a talk in West Lafayette, at Purdue University.

Following his public talk in Bloomington on Saturday, the Dalai Lama will respond to questions sent via email and screened prior to the event. (Those interested in posing a question should write to HYPERLINK "mailto:compassionquestion@yahoo.com"compassionquestion@yahoo.com.) His talk will focus on peace and compassion — offering the simple but powerful truth that compassion goes a long way towards understanding, and the elimination of ignorance allows for peace.

Several screenings last weekend of the film 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama — now out on DVD — in anticipation of his visit, are testament to the staying power of the Dalai Lama’s message: He’s become both cult hero and media icon for compassion, with high-profile support from celebrities as diverse as Richard Gere and Muhammad Ali. While some view him as a sort of Pope of Buddhism, his position is far more complicated. He’s both spiritual and political leader of Tibet, now occupied by China, and leads only one Buddhist sect of many. And then there’s the issue of exile.

The Dalai Lama and countless others fled Tibet after the Chinese invasion in 1959 left hundreds of thousands dead and thousands of Buddhist temples destroyed. The plight of Tibet has become popularized by the Dalai Lama’s world travels on behalf of peace, compassion, and interfaith dialogue, and numerous activist groups still work towards Tibetan independence — including the International Tibet Independence Movement, based here in Indianapolis.

The Dalai Lama continues to make it known that, rather than seeking independence for Tibet, he seeks autonomy as a means of preserving Tibetan culture, the environment and freedom of religion. Tibetans continue to be imprisoned and tortured for speaking out against the Chinese government, and the Dalai Lama, considered a Chinese separatist by the Chinese government, is still forbidden from returning.

The Tibetan Cultural Center, in Bloomington, is a locus of support for Tibet and a learning institution for Tibetan Buddhism. The TCC was founded in 1979 by the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubten J. Norbu (Tagster Rinpoche), a former abbot of Kumbum Monastery in Amdo, Tibet. Considered Tibet’s first political refugee, Norbu taught at Indiana University for many years. After suffering a series of strokes in 2002, Norbu was no longer able to lead the TCC. Two years ago, the Dalai Lama stepped in to rescue the center from foreclosure, resolving its debt and appointing a new director and board of directors.

The Dalai Lama has visited the TCC on four occasions since 1987, most recently in 2003, when he dedicated the Kumbum Chamtse Ling temple. The continued mission of the TCC is to nurture the Tibetan and Mongolian cultures in the U.S. and to promote interfaith peace and harmony.

The TCC’s new director, Arjia Rinpoche, also a former abbot of Kumbum Monastery, left China more recently, after trying to work within the system for Tibetan sovereignty. Before he left China he was vice president of the Chinese Buddhist association and held many political positions there, but “In 1998 I escaped from China to the West,” he told me in a phone interview. “There were lots of religious and political issues and I couldn’t compromise. I was in California and His Holiness invited me here to Bloomington.

“When [the Dalai Lama appointed me] he said that this is the future Kumbum, which is the biggest monastery in Eastern Tibet, which is his birthplace.” The Dalai Lama’s vision for the TCC is that it becomes a “little university or college” that focuses on Tibetan and Mongolian cultures. Because of political changes in Mongolia, it has become more difficult to practice Buddhism there — so the Tibetan Cultural Center hopes to help preserve Mongolian culture in addition to Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

The situation in Tibet is “getting better and easier,” Arjia Rinpoche added, “but it still has lots of issues going on; religious freedom, human rights, preserving the culture and environmental issues…the biggest problem is His Holiness wants to go back to return to his home, but he can’t because the Chinese government considers His Holiness a separatist, a cultural revolutionary. They consider [that] Tibet belongs to China.”

Rinpoche was in attendance at the Dalai Lama’s Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Washington, D.C. last week. “That was a very, very tremendous, wonderful moment I will never ever forget,” he recalled. “I saw the U.S. government very much supporting him…[they] gave him [the medal] because of his contribution of world peace, promoting compassion and harmony and nonviolence.” Ironic indeed.

For general ticket information on this week’s visit of the Dalai Lama and related events, visit HYPERLINK "http://www.tibetancc.com/"www.tibetancc.com or call 812-855-1103. Tickets for the public talk, “Compassion: the Source for Peace,” at IU Assembly Hall on Oct. 27, from 2 to 4 p.m., are $30 for general admission and $15 for students. Single session tickets for teachings on Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment at IU Auditorium (Oct. 24, 25 and 26) are $50 or $25 for students. Subscription tickets are also available for the three-day event. Ticket information is online at HYPERLINK "http://www.IUAuditorium.com/"www.IUAuditorium.com.




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