May 10, 2001
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Dalai Lama visit kicks off controversy

Arthur J Pais

The Dalai Lama

Satveer Chaudhary, the first Indian American elected to the Minnesota legislature, says he was absolutely thrilled to see and hear the Dalai Lama address a joint session of Congress.

Noting the standing ovation the Tibetan leader received on Wednesday, Chaudhary added, ''Whether it was me or the Lutheran old boys, we all felt his peace.''

But a few hundred miles away in Portland, Oregon, some 'old boys' are seeing red over public school students being bussed to a youth summit to hear the Dalai Lama speak on non-violence and peace.

Public schools in America ban school prayers and religious events, several Republican lawmakers said. They reject the idea that the Tibetan leader will speak to the young men and women only on peace. Even if he does not speak about religion or soul, the critics say the youth summit is certainly a religious event.

'I think there is a huge double standard,' says Oregon state Senator Joseph Zarelli (Republican).

Several conservative Christian leaders, state senators and educators in Portland, Oregon, where the Dalai Lama is expected to address nearly 10,000 students on Monday, think, along with Zarelli, that the Dalai Lama and religion cannot be separated.

They are upset that public school resources are being used to send students for the youth summit.

'I think it is clearly a religious visit,' Senator Zarelli was quoted as saying in The Oregonian.

'We can't have prayers in the schools. We can't call Christmas Christmas in the schools anymore. We have to call it Winter Festival,' he added"

The invitation to the Dalai Lama to address the youth summit was extended by Sharon Kitzhaber, wife of Governor John Kitzhaber, who is impressed by the Tibetan leader's concern for the lack of spirituality today. She maintains that the youth summit is a cultural event and the Dalai Lama is there in his role as a non-violent advocate for change.

The organizers of the event -- part of the Dalai Lama's three day public appearances in Portland -- assert there will not be any prayers or religious chanting at the youth summit.

But the critics are not impressed.

'Even with the event's organizers and sponsors stating that the event is not a 'religious' meeting,' the Republican state senators from Clark County noted, 'one cannot ignore the reality that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Buddhist religion; is touted to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama; delivers a religious perception by his mere presence; and whose message cannot be separate from who or what he is: a Buddhist monk.'

Meanwhile, Congress is considering a bill to grant $ 2 million in humanitarian aid to Tibetan exiles and refugees.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), a prime backer of the bill, says she no longer believes in pleading with the Chinese leaders to allow religious and cultural freedom for Tibetans. The backers of the bill hastened to tell reporters on Wednesday that it should not be seen as a slap at the Chinese because of the bitterness over the collision last month between an American spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet -- and the seizure of American crew for several days.

The Tibet bill was in preparation for several weeks before the plane incident, Feinstein and other backers say.

The Dalai Lama kicked off his American visit this year addressing a joint session of the Minnesota legislature.

"All religions carry the same message," he declared. "Love, compassion, forgiveness, self discipline, truth and honesty."

But what message did he have for Governor Jesse Ventura who would soon visit China with a trade delegation?

"I told him, visit China, make good friends, very good, very important," a smiling Dalai Lama told journalists in St Paul, Minnesota.

"At the same time (speak) some of the American principles, American values such as freedom of thought, religion, democracy, respect for human life."

But soon Ventura told reporters that though he resisted urgings from Beijing that he not meet the Dalai Lama, he has no intention of bringing up Tibet with his Chinese hosts. This is his first visit to China.

"I am the governor of the state and it is my job to show proper respect to whatever world leader comes to town," he explained.

But he hastened to add: "I'm really there (going to China) to encourage trade, and a relationship with Minnesota, and when you first go there to meet these people, you want to get off on the right foot."

A brief glance at the Dalai Lama's appearances in America:
Teachings in Salt Lake City, Utah, till May 13. Organized by the Utah Tibet Support Group and the Utah Tibetan Association. Teaching: The Practice of Six Perfections.
Public address: Ethics for a New Millennium. Contact and ticket information:

Teachings in Portland, Oregon, May 14-15. Organized by the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association. Teaching: Pathways to Peace. Contact and ticket information: Tel: (503)222-7172

Teachings in San Jose, California, May 17-20. Organized by Land of Medicine Buddha. Teaching: The Heart of Wisdom and a Medicine Buddha Empowerment. Public address: Peace Through Inner Peace. Contact and ticket information: Tel: (831) 476-0865

Teachings in San Francisco, May 18. Organized by the American Himalayan Foundation. Public address. Contact and ticket information: Tel: (415) 288-7245

Teachings in Los Angeles, May 25-27. Organized by Compassion & Wisdom Buddhist Association. Teaching: Shantideva's Guide to a Boddhisattva's Way of Life. Chapter 6 on Patience and the 8 point Mind Training. Tel: (626) 839-6436

Public talk: UCLA's Pauley Pavilion May 26, 6 pm. Tel: (310)825-2101-UCLA.

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