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Tibetan Monks Carve Out New Home in US Heartland

May 29, 2008

May 22, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana - In the rolling hills of Indiana, Tibetan monks
pray for their homeland. They have little hope of returning.

While their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, tours Western nations
in hope of drumming up support for Tibetan autonomy, these ten monks
work to keep their culture alive in exile.

They tend the lush grounds dotted with two stunning stupas and a
scattering of Mongolian yurts, teach meditation, hold regular prayer
services and introduce curious locals and tourists to the art,
architecture and music of their homeland.

Founded by the Dalai Lama's brother, the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist
Cultural Center is now run by the most senior religious leader to
leave Tibet in decades.

Arjia Thubten Lobsang Rinpoche was the abbot of the influential
Kumbum Monastery and spent years publicly defending the Chinese
government's policies.

That ended in 1998 when he was told to tutor the Panchen Lama
selected by Beijing to replace the child chosen by the Dalai Lama.

Rinpoche, 58, fled to the United States where his is free to air his
true feelings about the Chinese rulers.

"His holiness, the Dalai Lama, the Chinese people need a leader just
like him," Rinpoche told AFP.

"The Chinese government, the communist government, is very much
afraid of that," he said as he sat in the center's colorful temple.

"The fear is the Tibetan movement can inspire the whole of China ...
(and be) the fuel that can start the fire and inspire the whole of
China to democracy."

Rinpoche denounced the March crackdown on Tibetan demonstrators and
the government's attempt to cast it as an ethnic conflict rather than
a struggle for democracy.

China's reaction to the Tibet unrest drew international condemnation
and heaped pressure on Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing
in August, with activists disrupting the global relay of the Olympic torch.

Beijing says Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" killed 21 people and
accused the Dalai Lama of being behind the violence and fomenting
trouble ahead of the Olympics.

Representatives of the Dalai Lama held talks this month with China to
try to defuse tensions and the exiled spiritual leader on Wednesday
urged Tibetans not to disrupt the Olympic torch relay when it passes
through Tibet on its way to Beijing.

Rinpoche said he is grateful for the pressure from the international
community, but has little hope that the talks will lead to lasting change.

"Maybe in the future - 10, 20 years," he said. "Before the Olympics I
don't think they're going to do anything."

In the meantime, Rinpoche will focus on the center, which had fallen
into disrepair and debt after its founder, the Dalai Lama's brother
Thubten Jigme Norbu, had a series of strokes in 2002.

Norbu still lives at the center but rarely meets with visitors or
gets involved in activities because he has been so weakened by the strokes.

Norbu had taken a more hard-line attitude towards Chinese rule than
his brother, who is careful to demand only greater autonomy rather
than independence.

After working for years as a representative for the Dalai Lama and
the Tibetan government in exile, Norbu founded the cultural center in
1979 on donated land near Indiana University, where he taught Tibetan studies.

In 1995, he co-founded the International Tibet Independence Movement
outside of nearby Indianapolis, which is how Tenzin Namgyal, 35,
became involved with the cultural center.

Born in Bhutan, Namgyal immigrated to the United States to study
human rights and international law in the hopes of working towards
freeing his homeland.

Now, he works as the center's translator, office manager, program
director and occasional cook.

Mindful of the center's non-profit tax status, Namgyal is careful to
keep politics outside his official duties, especially since Rinpoche
also follows the Dalai Lama's middleway approach of pressing for
autonomy rather than complete independence.

However, he regularly leaves the center to sit on panels and raise
awareness about the situation in his homeland.

"It's really frustrating and sad because the Chinese people
themselves don't have access to all the information they should
have," Namgyal said over a cup of tea.

The Chinese students he meets in the United States often have
distorted views of Tibetan Buddhism - some even say the monks kill
innocent people to use their bones in ceremonies.

Sometimes Namgyal is able to change their minds. He hopes they will
bring that new understanding home to their families.
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