Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dalai Lama coming to Michigan to uplift

"Michiganders need some upliftment" in the midst of their economic suffering, said Rimpoche Nawang Gelek, the man who invited the Dalai Lama for this week's visit to Ann Arbor.

Gelek Rimpoche, the founder of Jewel Heart, a Buddhist organization headquartered in Ann Arbor, told Michigan Messenger that he invited the Dalai Lama to Michigan "to lift the sadness in the air over the state" and to bring "a little something bright, a little happiness inside so we can take a second look at our economic situation." A startling and generous thought, given the world's attention on the controversy surrounding China's summer Olympics and last month's deadly violence in Tibet.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama will visit Ann Arbor April 19 and 20 to teach on "Engaging Wisdom and Compassion." His visit to the United States this month comes amid increased tension in Tibet over Chinese rule and worldwide calls for a boycott of this summer's Beijing Olympics. The Dalai Lama said Friday that he does not support a boycott of the Olympic games and has repeatedly called for an end to violence in Tibet. He also said in Seattle last week that he is not seeking the separation of Tibet from China.

Describing himself as "an independent Michigander," Gelek Rimpoche is a 69-year-old Buddhist teacher and former Tibetan monk who fled Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese takeover. He plans to make a statewide "post-Dalai Lama tour." "Whatever message he gives I will repeat," he said. "I have not the capacity of the Dalai Lama to uplift people, but still the message has a blessing."

He did not speculate about any particular resolution to the crisis in Tibet, but said rather "my concern is to stop the suffering."

"China wants Tibet. Alright, China, you can have it, if you treat people like human beings just like themselves," Gelek Rimpoche said. He pointed out that China has actually made political and social progress since the time of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. "Compared with that, they have come a long way."

As for Chinese presence in Tibet, he said that even after 50 years, China has failed to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans. And, with vast economic and military power and "beautiful public relations," China has the "complete upper hand on everything except the sympathy of the world."

While Gelek Rimpoche hopes that the Dalai Lama's visit will be uplifting, he allows for the possibility of protesters and cautions supporters to practice "non-engagement." His concerns seem apt. Monday, in Seattle, hundreds of pro-China demonstrators picketed at the University of Washington, where the Dalai Lama was receiving an honorary degree.

His advice to people attending the Dalai Lama's presentations in Ann Arbor, should there be anti-Dalai Lama protest: "You can listen, you can think and make your mind by your own intelligence, but don't try talk to them and try to convince them they're wrong. That is my main point. That can create trouble, and I hope that will not happen."