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Dalai Lama plans Montreal visit

October 1, 2008

Expresses support for new religion classes in Québec schools

Andrew Haig
The Concordian
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Dalai Lama will be in Montreal next October. The Tibetan spiritual
leader announced his plans after hearing about a new religion and ethics
class being taught in Quebec schools, said Thubten Samdup, head of the
Dalai Lama Foundation - Canada.

The new class, which launched last week, is mandatory for students in
both elementary and secondary school. Previously the parents of Quebec's
school children had a choice between protestant and catholic education
classes or a general ethics class. The new classes take a
non-denominational approach, teaching children about world religions and
secular ethics.

"We live in a very multiracial society and it's very important that we
understand each other's culture and tradition, and respect each other
and that's all," said Samdup. "One of the things [the Dalai Lama] tries
to do is promote religious harmony."

He thinks the class could help demystify religious traditions that
children may find strange. "For example, why do Tibetan Buddhists
prostrate? Why do Hindus walk around a fire three times when they get
married? Why do Jews break a glass when they get married? You know that
kind of tradition. Many of our kids, they sit next to each other and
they look at it and say 'wow this is a weird tradition,' but it's not
really."

While the class has the support of Tibetan Buddhists, it also has drawn
criticism from some religious groups. "What worries us is that before
the child has an opportunity to become established in their parents'
religion, they're going to be exposed to too many other religions
creating confusion for the child," said Msgr. Pierre Gaudette, general
secretary for the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops.

Although he sympathizes with Gaudette's concerns, Samdup thinks
Gaudette's view doesn't take into account the realities of the modern world.

"Unlike 50 or 60 years ago, the reality today is such that many parents
are not really capable to pass on some of these traditions. And
sometimes, perhaps, it wouldn't hurt if it's delivered in such a manner,
if the teachers receive proper training," said Samdup. "It's very
important that the government take care in properly training the
teachers so they don't overstep, you have to be very sensitive."

While Gaudette said he does see some positive aspects of the new
program, he doesn't like the fact that it's taking the emphasis off his
religion. "What worries the assembly is that it's replacing a program
that focused on Catholicism."

But this isn't a problem for followers of the Dalai Lama.

"The Dalai Lama is one of the few religious leaders in the world that
says, 'don't convert to Buddhism, stay true to your own religion,
because your religion is wonderful. If you see something nice in
Buddhism, take it. If you see something nice in Islam, take it. But you
don't have to change because you were born in certain traditions and
that's wonderful,'" said Samdup, who has high hopes for the new
program's possibilities.

"We want to create a society where there is real tolerance, real
understanding. I'd love to see my city, my Quebec, take a leading role
and set an example for the rest of the country and the continent. This
is where you start. We can talk about peace and environmental protection
all we want, but until we start instilling these fundamental values at a
young age it's empty talk, nothing is going to change."

Calls to the Quebec ministry of education, leisure and sport were not
returned.

The Dalai Lama last visited Montreal in 1993.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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