Marking his seventh visit to Wisconsin, in and around Madison. He arrived on Friday, and started his visit with a consecration of a new temple at the Deer Park Buddhist Center in the town of Oregon on Saturday morning.
The region has long enjoyed a close relationship with the Tibetan Buddhist community. Geshe Lhundub Sopa, a tenured professor at the UW-Madison, has been instrumental in growing the community not only in Madison, but around the United States as well. Originally sent by the Dalai Lama in 1962 to help bring Tibetan Buddhism to the US, Sopa went on to found the Deer Park center in 1975. Between activities there and the arrival of several exiled Tibetan families to Wisconsin in 1992, the area has been visited regularly by the Dalai Lama ever since.
As the most revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama's message is one of compassion and peace, particularly since the occupation of Tibet by China in 1950, just before Tenzin Gyatso was enthroned in the position. This situation has been brought back to the forefront of global politics once again with the approach of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, set to begin in less than three weeks. But the Dalai Lama emphasized that the International Tibet Independence Movement makes in important distinction: "We love and respect the Chinese people as a hard-working, cultured people. We like the Chinese people. We do not like their government."
During his talk on Saturday, the Dalai Lama also emphasized the importance of finding the positives in otherwise tragic situations. He noted that the exile from his home country has allowed him to travel the world and learn about many different religious and cultural traditions. He is particularly interested in the sciences and has developed relationships with several researchers, insisting that there are many similarities between the discoveries of science and the teachings of Buddhism, and that science and religion in general should never be mutually exclusive.
During a short question and answer session after his talk, the Dalai Lama was asked what the source of his strength was in the face of trouble. His honest and straight-forward answer of "Good food, good sleep," was met with many laughs and applause. This simple sense of humor was present throughout his entire speech, with several light-hearted remarks and playful gestures punctuating the two-hour-long session.
The crowd assembled for the talk was diverse, with everyone from the Tibetan American community to curious onlookers and even several people from other states and nations gathering to take in the wisdom of this self-described "simple peasant" who has led a most extraordinary life.
There was a small contingent of protestors gathered outside of the Coliseum, but their objections weren't about the dispute with China. Instead, they represented a small splinter sect within Tibetan Buddhism that worships a spirit called Dolgyal (or Shugden). The Dalai Lama has issued advice concerning this practice, warning that it could "degenerate into a form of spirit worship" and that it has "strong sectarian overtones." Believing that Tibetan Buddhism was founded on and should continue to embody true non-sectarianism, inter-religious understanding and harmony, he has come out strongly against this practice. He did not, however, address this issue during his talk on Saturday.
The Dalai Lama's central message was one of compassion and trust. He emphasized the importance of giving children a nurturing environment in which to be raised, the need for everyone to have patience, and to always work hard to be more understanding of others. He called for forgiveness of those who do one wrong, but added "forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting, or accepting one's wrong-doings. In some cases, you need confrontation to stop the wrong-doing, but it should include concern and compassion for the wrong-doer."
Perhaps now more than ever, this message becomes particularly important -- certainly for those working toward Tibetan autonomy or independence, but also for a world torn by conflict at all corners.
The Dalai Lama's visit to Madison continues with several teaching sessions throughout week, culminating with a Long Life Prayer Offering known as Tenshug and a public celebration on Thursday, July 24 back at the Coliseum.