By Heather McCarron
FOXBOROUGH — From the New England Patriots to the Rolling Stones, a long list of famous figures have moved through Gillette Stadium.
The Dalai Lama gestures during a teaching in Dharamsala, India, in September 2008. (Photo: Phayul/file)
In May, the Foxborough venue will add yet another name to the list: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
Recognized by many as the rightful head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama will give two public talks on Saturday, May 2, at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., one on the "Four Noble Truths of Buddhism" and the other a reflection on "The Path to Peace and Happiness." Each talk will last about two hours.
The visit is expected to draw a huge crowd from all over New England.
"Certainly to have somebody of his international stature in the world come to a small New England town and be able to present his viewpoint and preach to both followers and people of peaceful intent, I think, is a great opportunity," said Police Chief Edward O'Leary.
O'Leary said he just learned of the visit this week, but his department is already starting work on security plans. Security, he said, will be extensive and will involve local, state and federal officials.
State police spokesman Dave Procopio declined comment on the agency's security plans. O'Leary, meanwhile, said he has gotten in touch with officials in Seattle, Wash., where the Dalai Lama drew a crowd of 50,000 last year.
"I've already directed my deputy chief to reach out to the chief there to see what security plans they used there and to get some advice to help guide our decisions," O'Leary said.
Seeing to the security of international political figures is not new for the department.
"We had the prime minister of Japan at a football game when they opened the stadium," O'Leary said, noting that Secret Service agents were part of that security plan.
O'Leary said he is confident things will run smoothly.
"I like to think we've developed somewhat of an expertise in dealing with large crowd functions. But certainly it will give us a diversity of groups, going from the country western festival to the Dalai Lama," O'Leary said.
The Tibetan Association of Boston invited the Dalai Lama, who is scheduled to visit Harvard and MIT as well, to share his message with the general public at Gillette and, through the sale of tickets, is raising funds for a Tibetan heritage center in the Boston area.
"We arranged that His Holiness be able to also give a public talk because there is always a huge demand. It seemed like an ideal opportunity," said Dhondup Phunkhang, one of the spokesmen for the association. "His Holiness very graciously accepted."
He said the Tibetan community of New England does not presently have a place to meet and promote its heritage.
"There's an urgent need for young Tibetans to have somewhere to preserve their culture and identity," he said.
Phunkhang said he has been "lucky enough" to have met the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate, in the past. The upcoming visit, he said, is "an honor." For Tibetans, he said, the Dalai Lama is regarded as "an enlightenment of Buddha, the Avalokiteshvara or the Buddha of Compassion."
"It's a very spiritual and humbling experience to be in his presence," he said. "You always feel when he's in the room or the hall he completely lightens up the whole space. His energy is just amazing. That's been my experience."
He said many Tibetans who live in the homeland risk their lives and arrest by Chinese officials, who presently control Tibet, crossing the Himalayas to visit the Dalai Lama in Dharmasala, India, where he lives in exile.
Katie Lawson, minister at the Foxboro Unitarian Universalist Church, said the chance to hear the Dalai Lama speak in person is "just awesome."
"Our denomination is committed to the idea that there are many paths to the truth, and that we have a lot to gain from welcoming all sorts of sources of wisdom into our lives," said Lawson. "So when someone like the Dalai Lama becomes available in person, we consider it a real honor and a real opportunity to connect to more with our faith."
Tickets for the Dalai Lama's talks go on sale March 6 for $37.50, $75.50 and $117.50. Tickets will be available at TicketMaster.com or by phone at 866-448-7849. Parking is free.
For more information, visit www.bostontibet.org. To learn more about the Dalai Lama, visit www.dalailama.com.Heather McCarron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-634-7584.