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VIP list to greet Dalai Lama

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Spiritual leader’s visit to Ulster County will be for private audiences only


ALBANY – Coming to a monastery near you: one of the most inspirational, peaceful and holy figures in the world.

But you’ll be hard-pressed to see him. There is no public schedule.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyats — head of the Tibetan state in exile, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize — will be in Woodstock on Sept. 22.

The Ulster County community also is the home of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist monastery, atop Mead’s Mountain.

There, in the heart of the Catskills, the renowned spiritual leader will teach and break bread a day after participating in a meeting at the Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center in Phoenicia.

Both events will follow a teach-in scheduled from Sept. 18-20 at the University at Buffalo, where he will receive an honorary doctorate and spend time with students and faculty. A speaking engagement in the school’s 30,000-seat stadium will wrap up with an interfaith religious service.

After leaving Woodstock, the Dalai Lama will head to New York City to teach at Tibet House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Tibetan civilization, its wisdom and special art of freedom. Tibet House New York is part of a worldwide network of Tibetan institutions “committed to ensuring that the light of the Tibetan spirit never disappears from the face of the Earth.”

The Buffalo stop is sold out, and the events in Woodstock and Phoenecia are private.

Some Woodstock residents have objected to the expansion of the monastery and sued the town for issuing permits to build its accompanying residence, which they say is too tall and harms nearby Overlook Mountain. An appeals court ruled against the protest in December.

A few local people have expressed concern that the fragile mountain roads can’t handle the potential volume of rubbernecks who may drive for miles to catch a glimpse of the holy man.

Others, like longtime resident and businesswoman Rita Sands, of Jarita Florist on Tinker Street, are open to the possibilities, despite the fact that there is no official public opportunity to participate. “I’m thrilled the Dalai Lama is coming,” Sands said. “The issue of the building aside, it’s exciting. He is a world leader. A man of peace.”

Besides, Sands joked, “The Rolling Stones were here years ago in a private place, and I managed to crash that.”

The Dalai Lama has 500 million followers. Born in 1935 as Lhamo Dhondrub in a village in northeastern Tibet, he was recognized at 2, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama, and thus an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion.

He has lived in India since 1959, when the Chinese occupation of Tibet forced him to seek asylum.

The Buddhist retreat in Phoenicia was founded by Robert Thurman, a religion scholar at Columbia University.

“We brought the Dalai Lama here because we wanted him to see our new facilities and we knew KTD did, too,” said Ganden Thurman, executive director of Tibet House in Manhattan. “We wanted him here. They wanted him here. So we could kill two birds with one stone.”

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