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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Peace and cake: Admirers celebrate Dalai Lama's 75th birthday

July 12, 2010

By JAMIE KELLY
The Missoulian (Montana)
July 7, 2010

One day soon, the Dalai Lama will bless the 1,000
Buddhas currently being forged for the Ewam Buddhist Center near Arlee.

But on Tuesday evening, two very special guests
of the center joined nearly 100 western Montanans
- many of them Buddhist, some not - to give their
birthday blessings to the Tibetan spiritual leader, who turned 75 on Tuesday.

Taking time out from their environmental work in
Montana were Buddhist monks Amarbold Dondog of
Mongolia and Tashi Galay of Bhutan, who are in
the state on an exchange program fostered by the
Tributary Fund based in Bozeman. The nonprofit
group joins spiritual leaders of all traditions
with environmental scientists, and works to
inspire communitywide support for environmental
protection wherever those leaders live.

Neither are monks from the Gelug sect of Tibetan
Buddhism of which the Dalai Lama is spiritual
leader, but both have deep admiration for his teachings and leadership.

"I have a lot of respect for the Dalai Lama,"
said Dondog, who works on environmental
protection in Mongolia and is on his second trip
to Montana. "I regard him as a symbol of peace in the world."

Galay also works for environmental protection in
his home country, Bhutan, located in southern
Asia and bordered by China and India.

Vajrayana Buddhism does not celebrate the Dalai
Lama's birthday, he said. But Galay was happy to
on Tuesday because "he is a towering intellectual and I respect him."

As do the others who assembled in the house
located on the north end of the 60-acre Ewan
Buddhist Center, which seeks to be a place of
spiritual pilgrimage for people of all faiths - or none.

So how is the Dalai Lama's birthday celebrated?

With cake, of course. And lots of food, revelry,
conversation, hugs. The celebration was preceded
by a devotional of chants and meditation to the
Green Tara, one of Buddhism's female deities.

No need to be Buddhist to grab piece of cake, or join in the devotional.

"Why not" join the celebration, said Louise
Forrest, a Dalai Lama admirer who traveled from
Bozeman to finally see the center she'd heard so
much about. "What a great man he is."

Joining her on the trip was Deidre Combs, a
conflict-resolution specialist and expert on
world religions who also works with the Tributary Fund.

Combs is the author of "The Way of Conflict,"
which explores the common elements of peace and
conflict resolution in all the world's faiths, both major and minor.

She has profound respect for the Dalai Lama.

"Anyone who can hold great joy and compassion for
his enemies should be celebrated on his
birthday," said Combs. "Talk about a man who
knows about conflict and how to resolve it."

***

Both the visiting monks also worked a bit on
helping forge one of the 1,000 Buddha statues
that will soon find their home at the center, and
will then be blessed by the Dalai Lama himself.

Already, hundreds of the 65-pound concrete
creations have been made in the center's "Buddha
barn" and in Missoula. But the work is proceeding
at an especially frantic pace now that the Dalai
Lama has accepted an invitation to bless the
Garden of 1,000 Buddhas, once the statues and
other projects are complete. The center hopes to
finish them by the fall of 2011.

"There is a huge impetus to finish the garden
now," said Luke Hanley, having just poured liquid
cement into a mold, the first of many steps that
will, weeks later, end up as a finished Buddha.

Hanley, the barn manager, first began work on the
statues in 2006, but moved here from Park City,
Utah, to work on them full time in January.

He became a Buddhist at age 15, having met an
order of monks in high school and being stricken by their serenity.

"Seeing the peace and kindness in them left an
indelible impression in my mind," he said.

As it did in Konchog Norbu, a New Jersey native
who first heard the Dalai Lama speak in Philadelphia two decades ago.

"He just knocked me out," said Norbu, now the
media and communications coordinator for the Ewam
Buddhist Center. "He is a towering figure of virtue and kindness and ethics."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

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