Dalai Lama visits Bloomington; speech Friday at Conseco

By Robert King, Indiana Star, May 11, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana (USA) -- The Dalai Lama arrived in Indiana this afternoon, greeted by a plume of incense, a troupe of Tibetans performing a “good luck” dance and more than 100 well-wishers.

His arrival at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center near Bloomington presaged three days of public appearances, including two days of religious teachings at Indiana University and a public speech Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Following a police escort, the Dalai Lama — leader of Tibetan Buddhists and head of the Tibetan government in exile — stepped out on the center grounds to offer blessings and inspect a sand mandala, a painstakingly detailed tabletop mural that took a team of monks eight days to create using colored sand.

From there, he visited a colorful new structure housing a series of prayer wheels — ornately decorated copper drums that contain thousands of written prayers. He gave the wheels a spin, which Tibetans believe unleashes the powers of the prayers.

He made no public remarks before heading off to a private reception at the Buddhist temple here on the grounds.

Tenzin Nordon, a 19-year-old college student from Chicago, was among the dancers who welcomed the Dalai Lama at the traditional Tibetan archway guarding the entrance to the cultural center grounds. Her parents fled Tibet about the same time as the Dalai Lama was exiled in 1959, after a crackdown by the Chinese government on demonstrators seeking liberation of the Himalayan region.

Though she is a U.S. citizen who has lived most of her life in the Midwest, Nordon said she still felt like a Tibetan. Learning the traditional dances and speaking the Tibetan language, she says, are ways she keeps Tibet alive.

“We’re a culture that is diminishing away,” she said. “It’s important for us to preserve our culture.”

The visit of the Dalai Lama is important, she said, because he remains the spiritual leader for Tibetan people no matter where they live.

“We look upon him for guidance,” she said.

The Dalai Lama was accompanied from a local airport by Elaine Mellencamp — the fashion model, cultural center supporter and wife of rocker John Mellencamp. His stay in Indiana is the opening leg of a two-week stay in the United States.