Dalai Lama to visit Bloomington

By Ronald Hawkins, Reporter Times, October 7, 2007

Visit by Buddhist spiritual leader fulfills promise to director of Tibetan Cultural Center

Bloomington, IN (USA) -- The Oct. 23-27 visit by the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan Cultural Center is a fulfillment of a promise his holiness made when he designated Arja Rinpoche as the director of the center.

<< Arja Rinpoche

Rinpoche escaped Tibet eight years ago. He formerly was the abbot of Kumbum Monastery, one of Tibet’s six monastic universities. In 2005, Rinpoche was in Mill Valley, Calif., where he had started a Tibetan center, when he received a new assignment.

“His holiness asked me to go to Bloomington,” Rinpoche said.

“When his holiness handed the center over to me, I had one request,” Rinpoche said. “Can you visit the center again?’”

The Dalai Lama’s schedule is extremely busy, Rinpoche said, but he agreed to come to the center that was established by his brother, who fled Tibet in 1950.

Part of the mission of the Tibetan Cultural Center is to maintain Tibetan and Mongolian culture. As part of that in the future, Rinpoche would like to see a Buddhist school established at the center that would teach medicine, art and astrology.

The Tibetan Cultural Center was facing economic difficulty in part because forms required for it retain its nonprofit status hadn’t been returned. Additionally, several buildings were getting older and needed repairs.

“The first year was tough,” Rinpoche said. “Now the center is totally different.”

That includes paved roads on the property connecting the temple and the other buildings. Crews have been busy for weeks painting and building in preparation for the Dalai Lama’s arrival.

The path that led Rinpoche to Bloomington started in Tibet, where he was born in 1950. It has been an experience that some might seek in riveting fiction. Rinpoche says he is writing his memoirs and hopes to find a publisher.

As a 2-year-old, Rinpoche was invited to a Buddhist monastery.

“At that time in Tibet, it had tradition and religion,” Rinpoche said.

On Sept. 9, 1951, thousands of Chinese troops marched into Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, completing an invasion that began in 1949.

In the late 1950s and during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government stepped up its destruction of Buddhist monasteries and the Tibetan culture, Rinpoche said. In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India.

With the Chinese cultural revolution in 1966, the suffering increased. At one point, Rinpoche was forced to work as a slave laborer on Chinese farms.

“Monasteries and traditions were destroyed,” Rinpoche said.

There had been 3,000 to 4,000 monasteries in Tibet before the Cultural Revolution, Rinpoche said. Now, there are 30 to 50 left.

In May 1995, the Dalai Lama designated a new Panchen Lama, the second highest lama in Tibetan Buddhism. Two days later, the new Panchen Lama disappeared. The Chinese government wanted to control the Panchen Lama, Rinpoche said.

The Chinese government has added schools, clinics and housing in Tibet, but that is just part of the story, Rinpoche said. The Chinese government has been destroying the cultural and religious life of Tibet, he said.

“In the schools, they can’t study Tibetan, but they study Chinese,” Rinpoche said. “The government looks fine, but for the individual farmers, workers and nomads in some places, it is worse.”

The environment is being destroyed and the once perpetually snow-covered Himalayas are sometimes bare, he said.

The effort by the Chinese government to control Tibetan Buddhism led Rinpoche to escape. He left in 1998, first going to Guatemala and then to the United States.

“My life is better here,” Rinpoche said. “When I was there I had a high comfortable life. However, I didn’t have the freedom.”

The Dalai Lama’s visit

The Dalai Lama’s visit to the Tibetan Cultural Center and Bloomington will be Oct. 23 to 28. During his visit, he will teach from “Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment.” These teachings will be Oct. 24, 25 and 26 at Indiana University Auditorium. Subscription tickets for the three-day event are available by contacting the IU Auditorium box office at 812-855-1103, tickets@indiana.edu or by going to its Web site at www.IUAuditorium.com.

The Dalai Lama will have a question-and-answer period following his teachings. To submit a question, e-mail it to atishaquestion@yahoo.com.

The Dalai Lama will give a public talk on “Compassion: the Source of Peace” from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 at IU Assembly Hall. For ticket information, contact IU Assembly Hall, Ticket Master or visit the Tibetan Cultural Center’s Web site at www.tibetancc.com.

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