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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."

The Dalai Lama's Appeal Transcends Religion, Politics

April 6, 2008

The Seattle Times
Saturday, April 5, 2008

TENZIN GYATSO, the 14th Dalai Lama, is expected to speak before 153,000
people in the Seattle area next week with a message of compassion. The
Tibetan spiritual and political leader's popularity reaches beyond Buddhism.

SEATTLE | On his first visit to Seattle 30 years ago, the Dalai Lama
drew a couple of thousand people. On his second, the crowds totaled more
than 10,000.

When the leader of the world's Tibetan Buddhists again visits Seattle
for a gathering next week on compassion, more than 153,000 people are
expected at speeches and workshops to be held over five days at some of
the city's largest venues.

The Dalai Lama's popularity - here and worldwide - reflects his rise
during the past half century from a relatively obscure spiritual and
political leader to a prominent global figure with transcendent star power.

His five-day visit, scheduled to begin Friday, is part of a series of
events and workshops being organized by Seeds of Compassion, which is
dedicated to nurturing compassion, especially in children.

The visit comes against the backdrop of recent volatile protests against
Chinese rule over Tibet. The Dalai Lama, who leads the movement to
preserve Tibetan culture and push for greater autonomy, has condemned
violence on both sides.

But his appeal, for many who hope to see him in Seattle, goes far beyond
the Tibetan cause.

"Just the name, Dalai Lama, alone, made me curious," said Sam Sussman,
18, a Mercer Island High School senior who plans to hear him speak.
"I've heard so much about the name."

Organizers emphasize that the Seattle event is neither religious nor
political in nature, and that despite the unrest in his homeland, he is
committed to attending.


The Dalai Lama's increased prominence in recent decades can be
attributed to several factors - including the spread of Buddhism
worldwide, his Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the many books written by or
about him, movies and stories on Tibet, and his own charisma.

"His thought has reached far and wide, and deep into the culture," said
Anne Carolyn Klein, professor of religious studies at Rice University in

In the Pacific Northwest, where many people do not have formal religious
ties, the Dalai Lama can be particularly appealing.

He draws people as an ethical leader, rather than strictly as a
religious leader, said Paul Ingram, professor emeritus of the history of
religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. "They see him as a
very gentle spirit whose values don't contradict their own."

With his emphasis on compassion and interest in science, the Dalai Lama
was a natural fit to headline the Seattle event, organizers said.

He will be speaking at some of the biggest venues in town, including
Qwest Field and KeyArena. About 10 million people worldwide are expected
to watch his speeches and other Seeds events - translated into 28
languages - streamed on the organization's Web site.

The current - 14th - Dalai Lama, named Tenzin Gyatso, was born in Tibet
in 1935 and, according to Tibetan tradition, was recognized at age 2 as
the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama.


He is considered to be a manifestation of the bodhisattva of compassion.
A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who chooses to remain in this
world to serve others.

For centuries, Tibet and China have had a complex relationship. Many
times in history, Tibetans have acknowledged the Chinese emperor as a
kind of overlord, while administering their own affairs with almost no
interference, said Stevan Harrell, a University of Washington
anthropology professor specializing in China and ethnic relations.

Their language, culture, religion and political systems were completely
separate from those of China, Harrell said.

In 1950, Chinese Communist troops invaded Tibet and established direct
control, but allowed the Dalai Lama to remain as spiritual leader.

In 1959, after an unsuccessful Tibetan revolt and subsequent crackdown
by the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet with about 85,000
followers. They eventually established the Tibetan government-in-exile
in Dharamsala, India.

While the Chinese government has improved schooling, health care and
infrastructure in Tibet, Harrell said, it has also placed enormous
restrictions on the practice of religion, which is immensely important
to most Tibetans.


Perhaps causing the most resentment over the past decade, he said, is
the Chinese government's requirement that monks undergo "political
education," which includes renouncing the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama has characterized what is happening in Tibet as cultural
genocide. But he did not call for the protests, Thurman said, and he
remains open to talking with Chinese leaders.

Tenzin Wangyal, a lab assistant in Seattle who is Tibetan, says he
disapproves of violent protests, and that the Dalai Lama's approach is
noble. But "we're also tired of not seeing any results from this" -
especially from the Chinese side, he said.
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