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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Dalai Lama draws flock to Indiana

October 30, 2007

Buddhist leader has special link to Bloomington center
By Rosa Salter Rodriguez
The Journal Gazette

Believed by followers to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, the current Dalai Lama became leader of Tibet when he was 15 and went into exile in India in 1959.

The Chinese government considers him a Tibetan separatist.

The Mahayana Buddhist tradition , which the Dalai Lama practices, is different from the Theravada tradition, practiced by many Burmese Buddhists in Fort Wayne. Still, he is respected as a monk.

When Tenzin Gyatso comes to Indiana, he's not just another tourist.

But the visit by Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, to Bloomington and West Lafayette surely boosted this week's visitation to the Hoosier state.

Thousands from around the nation and abroad flocked to Bloomington to hear the Dalai Lama speak at Indiana University and attend teaching sessions at the newly renamed Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. More than 6,000 were expected to attend a talk at 2 p.m. Friday at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

"We have people come for these teachings from all over – Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the East Coast, the West Coast and everywhere in between," says Sandy Belth, assistant to the director of the center, which had its elaborate entrance arch dedicated by the Dalai Lama on Tuesday.

According to Belth, the visit highlights a special connection between the international spiritual leader and the center. This is the fifth time the man called His Holiness by followers of Tibetan Buddhism has visited the center, which was founded by the Dalai Lama's oldest brother, Thubten Jigme Norbu.

Norbu founded the center in 1979 after coming to teach at Indiana University. He left Tibet in 1950 rather than continue to live under Communist Chinese rule.

In recent years, Norbu has suffered a series of strokes, and he is no longer active in the center. But he still lives there, "devotedly tended by the monks," Belth says.

The center's new director, Arjia Rinpoche, who was appointed by the Dalai Lama, invited the 72-year-old monk to visit this time to celebrate the center's new direction, she says.

The organization is expanding to include Mongolian culture as Buddhism revives in formerly Communist Mongolia. The revival has been often aided by the Tibetan community led by the Dalai Lama.

In 2005, the center was salvaged from the brink of foreclosure by donations after it was found to be $1.7 million in debt. Norbu's son and other family members were asked to leave, according to news reports.

"His Holiness feels strongly about Buddhism in Mongolia as well as in Tibet. He wants to call attention that there are, and have been, places in the world where people have not been able to practice their religion," Belth says.
"The Buddhist teachings in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism are almost exactly the same," she adds. "He wants to honor both cultures."

Belth says "quite a few" Mongolian immigrants live in the Bloomington area and there is a large and growing population of Mongolians in Chicago.

During the dedication ceremonies, she says, the street near the center was lined with traditional Mongolian dancers wearing huge masks known as Khuree Tsam. The maroon and gold-robed Dalai Lama rubbed buttery ghee on his forehead, tossed flower petals and snipped colorful ribbons at the new arch, painted in red, blue, green and gold.

"We have been working for a long time to build a traditional entrance gate like at (Tibetan) monasteries," Belth says.

Security has been tight during the Dalai Lama's visit, so some center facilities have been off-limits, she says.

But center officials hope to attract continuing visitation with classes on Buddhism on Sundays, new Tibetan and Mongolian art classes, yoga and cooking instruction, cooking and retreats.

With an advance notice of a month, visitors can enjoy a Tibetan meal, traditional Tibetan throat singers and a night in a ger, a tent used to create a temporary sacred space in Mongolian Buddhism.

Visitors can also call ahead for a guided 90-minute tour of the center's temple, cultural buildings, monuments and grounds, or follow a self-guided walking tour.

Today, the Dalai Lama will have an audience for the Tibetan and Mongolian communities at 10:30 a.m. at the center. He will speak at Indiana University at 2 p.m. Both events are sold out.
This week he took part in an interfaith worship service in a Bloomington Catholic church.

The Dalai Lama, whose followers believe to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, became leader of Tibet when he was 15 and went into exile in India in 1959 when the Tibetan resistance movement collapsed.
He is still viewed as a Tibetan separatist by the Chinese government, which lashed out last week when he was in Washington to meet privately with President Bush and to receive the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian award given by Congress.

The Dalai Lama will stay in Bloomington until Sunday, when he goes to Canada.

Belth says the Bloomington center is the only one in the nation to be dedicated to both Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism and culture.

"His Holiness is very much involved in this particular center," she says. "He feels very close to it."
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