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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dalai Lama’s message resonates

July 21, 2008

By TOM HEINEN
The Journal Sentinel
July 19, 2008

Madison - Seated cross-legged onstage in a large upholstered chair, one
of the world's best-known religious leaders delivered his trademark
messages of compassion, peace and unity with typical humor, verve and
humility Saturday afternoon.

In response to a written question from the audience about Tibetan
culture being strong enough to still mount widespread demonstrations
against Chinese rule this year, he also ventured into the political arena.

“I want to make clear. We always respect the Chinese people, not the
Chinese government,” he said, to loud applause, adding that the
uprisings were pro-freedom, not anti-Chinese.

For the more than 7,000 people in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum who
gave him standing ovations, he was, of course, His Holiness the Dalai
Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet.

He also was the same man Chinese authorities have labeled a wolf in
monk’s clothing, accusing him, among other things, of having a hand
earlier this year in the strongest uprisings against Chinese rule in
Tibet in decades. And then there were attempts by demonstrators to
disrupt the Olympic torch run in Europe and the United States as China
prepared to host the Summer Olympics next month.

The Dalai Lama has disavowed having anything to do with the uprisings
and protests.

In his response to questions Saturday, he stressed that Tibetan culture
is stronger than Chinese culture. He jested at one point that some
Chinese have taken to the Western practice of dyeing their hair. But he
also praised the Chinese for their food, their work ethic and other
qualities.

Introduced by Gov. Jim Doyle and Wisconsin Public Radio show host and
physician Zorba Paster, the Dalai Lama was making his seventh visit to
Madison. The Buddhist leader told the crowd he had a genuine feeling of
friendship in Madison, and well he might.

Madison has been a seat of Buddhist learning since Tibetan monk Geshe
Sopa came here in 1967 to teach Buddhist studies and became the first
Tibetan tenured professor in the U.S. Under Sopa’s guidance, the Deer
Park Buddhist Center south of Madison, near Oregon, grew into a major
Buddhist teaching center, monastery and repository for sacred Tibetan texts.

On Saturday morning, the Dalai Lama consecrated the center’s new $6.1
million Tibetan-style temple.

Four upcoming days of public teachings by the 73-year-old Dalai Lama at
the Coliseum, and other activities, will culminate on Thursday with an
elaborate ceremony in which Tibetans will wish him a long life. This
will be the first time that the ritual, called a tenshug, has been
performed in the West.

Sometimes difficult to understand because of his accent and lilting
tones, he and his persona are as much of the appeal at general public
talks as his words. Maybe more so.

“I’m actually kind of glad that his English is not as polished because I
think that the message then is more easily understood by more people,”
said Kat Lui, 49, of Elk Mound, who acknowledged that she couldn’t catch
all of the talk. “And so, when he says things like good sleep and good
food (are the source of his strength), we understand that.”

Seated next to her, Michelle Hamilton, 52, of Menomonie added, “he
brings the concepts down to a more rudimentary level.”

For Lobsang Khechok, 41, an electrical engineer from Calgary, Alberta,
the medium was the message.

“It’s my third time seeing him (this year),” said Khechok, who heard him
speak earlier in London and Seattle. “And every time I see him, to be
honest, the public talks are almost all similar messages. But the main
reason we come here is to be in his presence and to feel a part of his
blessing. We consider him the political head and the spiritual leader.”

There also are strong cultural reasons why Khechok flew to Madison with
his mother, his wife, their son, 8, daughter, 12, and extended family
members.

Tibetans have a long history and a deep spiritual tradition, and they
want to protect them, especially with “the onslaught of the Chinese
government,” Khechok said.

“Tibetans would consider the Dalai Lama a living god, although he would
definitely shy away from that. But Tibetans love him.

“That relationship is in a way passed down through my generation. And
that’s why I bring my kids, even though I was born in exile and grew up
and was educated in the West,” he said. “I still want to keep that
cultural identity in the Tibetan diaspora, so that, whether Tibet
becomes free or not, at least within my family, Tibetanness stays strong.”
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