University of Northern Iowa set to welcome Dalai Lama

By LEE ROOD, Desmoine Register, May 9, 2010

Desmoine, Iowa (USA) -- He was recognized as the 14th dalai lama at age 2. He assumed leadership of Tibet at age 15. Since then, the exiled leader has traveled over six continents, authored more than 70 books, won the Nobel Peace Prize and become a cultural icon.

On Facebook, His Holiness posts gentle teachings to about a half million followers: "The interesting thing about greed is ... even after obtaining the object of one's desire, one is still not satisfied."

In a recent Internet poll, he trailed only President Barack Obama as a world leader in terms of popularity. And yet many Iowans still don't know much about the man coming to the University of Northern Iowa on May 18 other than his broad smile and message of compassion.

James Robinson, a UNI professor who specializes in Tibetan Buddhism, says the Dalai Lama "walks it the way he talks it, and I think that's what people respond to."

Robinson says the Dalai Lama "often describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk, but he has made himself a worldwide figure."

Ahead of the visit next week, here are some basics about one of the world's leading spiritual leaders:

WHO HE IS: Now 74, the Dalai Lama was born to a strict father and gentle mother in a poor village in Taktser, Amdo, in northeastern Tibet. His parents were farmers, had 16 children and never had a clue one would be tapped by a team looking for Tibet's next spiritual leader.

He is believed to be the reincarnation of each of the previous 13 dalai lamas of Tibet. He has been asked often whether he truly believes that.

"The answer is not simple to give," he has written. "But ... when I consider my experience during this present life, and given my Buddhist beliefs, I have no difficulty accepting that I am spiritually connected both to the 13 previous dalai lamas ... and to the Buddha himself."

HOW HE WAS CHOSEN: A search team appointed by the Tibetan government followed a number of clues they believed guided them to a home in a village near a monastery. The group asked to spend the night at the family's home, but did not reveal the purpose of the visit. The young Dalai Lama recognized the leader of the party, who was posing as a servant, as a spiritual teacher. Later, he recognized several items belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama as his own.

"This more or less convinced the search party that they had found the new incarnation," he wrote.

HOW HE WAS EXILED: The Dalai Lama fled Tibet more than five decades ago.

He assumed political leadership in 1950, after China's invasion of Tibet in 1949. In 1954, he went to Beijing for peace talks with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders.

In 1959, he was forced to escape into exile. Since then he has been living in Dharamsala, in northern India.

Robinson said the Dalai Lama has three commitments: "to humanity; as a Buddhist to help increase spiritual dialogue and understanding; and, as the leader of the Tibetan community, to work nonviolently for a peaceful understanding with the Chinese."

In old age, he has left leadership of the movement largely to an elected parliament in exile. But he still advocates publicly for the Tibetan cause.

Last week, he told the Associated Press he believes the Tibetan movement must press forward with diplomacy talks with the Chinese government despite years of negotiations. He has repeatedly said he accepts Beijing's rule and is seeking only "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE: In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He also was the first Nobel laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.

WHY UNI: In many of his public talks, the Dalai Lama stresses the importance of learning. In 1994, UNI began working with the Tibet Fund to provide scholarships for Tibetan students to study there.

Tibet Fund staff members encouraged the university to pursue the opportunity, and UNI's president invited the Dalai Lama to discuss education and the value of learning and teaching.

Robinson, who has served on the steering committee for the visit, said, "We have done everything possible to make sure he reaches as many people as possible, so we hope everyone will be able to see him and benefit from his presence."

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