It was the first time the elaborate ritual was performed in the U.S.
By Ryan Foley
Tibetans wished the Dalai Lama a long and happy life on Thursday with an elaborate Buddhist ritual performed for the first time in the U.S.
Sitting Indian-style on a throne, the 73-year-old Tibetan political and spiritual leader swayed as dozens of Buddhist monks offered him praise and wished him a healthy mind, body and spirit during two hours of chants and prayers.
The Dalai Lama explained the ritual known as the tenshug was offered by followers to honor their teachers.
The event at the Alliant Energy Center was emotional for Tibetans who hope the Dalai Lama will one day lead them back to a homeland free from Chinese repression. Organizers said the crowd of more than 5,000 was the largest gathering yet of Tibetans now living in the U.S. and Canada.
Organizer Thepo Tulku of San Francisco said he hoped the Dalai Lama would live to 100 or more. That would be good, he said, for world peace and human rights and the struggle for a free Tibet.
"Maybe next time we'll see him in Tibet," Tulku said.
Tibetans living in the U.S. invited the Dalai Lama to the long-life ceremony last year.
The ritual has taken on added significance with developments in Tibet since then. The Chinese have accused the Dalai Lama of backing violent uprisings in Tibet earlier this year and of plotting to disrupt next month's Olympics in Beijing. He has strongly denied those allegations.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese used force to quell a popular uprising. China claims it has ruled Tibet for centuries. Tibetans say their homeland functioned as an independent state for most of that time and they would like that autonomy back.
Lhundub Choeden, who compiled the chants for Thursday's ceremony, said the long life offering was especially important for Tibetans.
"His Holiness is the eyes on their faces, the hearts in their chests," he wrote in an editor's note accompanying the text. "There is no other than His Holiness in which to seek refuge at all times both in this and future lives."
The event capped the Dalai Lama's six-day visit to the area. He gave public lectures and teachings and visited the Deer Park Buddhist Center just outside the city, the only full-scale Buddhist monastery and teaching center in the Midwest.
It was the Dalai Lama's seventh visit to the area in the past 30 years. He has close ties to Madison because an associate, prominent Buddhist monk Geshe Sopa, moved here in the 1960s to teach at University of Wisconsin-Madison and later founded Deer Park.
Dechen Dechen, 38, a stay-at-home mother from Toronto, was part of a group that performed a welcoming song during the ceremony. She wore an elaborate Tibetan costume that included several necklaces.
"His long life is good for the Tibetan people and good for all of the world," said Dechen, whose parents were born in Tibet. "He's always talking about compassion for others and no war. Everybody benefits from peace."