A steady drizzle greeted the Dalai Lama on Tuesday in Bloomington as he started his Indiana visit. (DANESE KENON / The Star)
BLOOMINGTON, October 24: For Tibetan Buddhists, rain is a great blessing.
So when the Dalai Lama returned to Indiana on Tuesday under a steady downpour, it was deemed an auspicious start to his six-day visit.
The Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhists worldwide, charmed an audience of 1,000 people at an interfaith prayer service, where he decried wars in the name of God and urged unity among people of different faiths.
Then he stepped out into a drizzle to offer blessings of scattered rice and flower petals under a colorful new Tibetan archway entrance to the 108-acre Tibetan Cultural Center his brother founded here in 1979.
Security provided by the FBI, the State Department and local police was tight. Guests at the prayer service were scanned with metal detectors. A Mongolian journalist was escorted out of the room for moving up to a better seat. The cultural center, normally open dawn to dusk, was locked down.
Dalai Lama visits always prompt tight security, said Tibetan Cultural Center spokeswoman Lisa Morrison. But she said it would be tighter this week because of the controversy about China’s strong objections to his state visit.
Concerns about safety were an ironic counterpoint to the message the Dalai Lama brought at the prayer service.
In his sometimes broken English, the Dalai Lama questioned the role of violence in society: “When you look from space at this small planet, there is hardly a justification to fight.”
Economic problems, environmental issues and overpopulation may plague the world, but they can be overcome, he said, when people think of the “whole group” as one entity.
“In that new reality, the concept of ‘we’ or ‘they’ is no longer there.”
The Dalai Lama, 72, is scheduled to deliver 12 hours of teachings and two public speeches this week. His 15-minute chat Tuesday was a teaser he used to talk about the world’s religious diversity.
It was an appropriate topic for an interfaith service that featured a procession of Buddhist monks and Dominican friars, recitations from Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Sikh scriptures and a prayer from a pipe-smoking Shoshone sun dance chief.
“There are differences. But these differences have the same purpose — to strengthen and educate us on the importance of compassion,” he said. “All religions use different methods and different ways of approach. But they have the same end.”
The concept of war in the name of faith, he said, brings sadness to God. “True followers of God must express compassion.
“The concept of war is out of date,” he said. “Killing your neighbor is not your victory but your mutual self destruction.”
Kathleen Hannah, 15, was one of 20 students from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis who made the trip. She was amazed by the diversity of faiths on display and inspired by the Dalai Lama’s words.
“In the midst of everything that is happening in the world, we really do need to remember that compassion and peace should be in the center of our hearts,” she said.
Ben Ellerin, a 23-year-old music student at Indiana University, offered up a Jewish prayer for peace in Hebrew to the audience. The Dalai Lama gave him a bow of appreciation for his work.
“As a leader himself, I was impressed by the incredible reverence for the other faith presenters,” he said.
The Dalai Lama’s arrival came just a week after he met with President Bush and received the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award.
That America’s leaders recognized Tibet’s exiled leader and its struggle for religious and cultural freedom meant a great deal to Richen Gelek, a 43-year-old Tibetan immigrant who traveled from California for the Dalai Lama’s teachings this week.
“It is important for the entire world, especially Tibetans and the Chinese people, that they get his message of peace.”
For Julie Crow DeMao, an Indianapolis native now living in Florida, the sight of the Dalai Lama back in Bloomington brought tears. She’s serving as a volunteer helper during the visit.
“It’s like seeing our favorite, dearest, most beloved relative,” she said as the Dalai Lama chanted Tibetan prayers as he blessed the new archway. “It was just a perfect moment.”