Local Tibetans applaud Lama’s visit

Erin Madsen

Ngodup Tsering is approaching his first anniversary of living in Minnesota.

After years of working for the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, as secretary of the Education Department, Tsering joined his wife and children in Minnesota – just as hundreds of Tibetans have done in the last decade.

More than 800 Tibetans now call Minnesota home, the second largest Tibetan community outside New York City, and the arrival of the 14th Dalai Lama on May 7 in Minneapolis was what Tsering called “a dream come true” for Tibetans of Minnesota.

“No other day can be better than that day,” Tsering said. “The Dalai Lama embodies the hope of Tibet. He is not only a social leader but he’s also revered as a god-king.”

Since the age of two, the Dalai Lama has been acknowledged as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion.

As a social leader, he has non-violently continued to fight for the political, human and cultural rights Tibetans have lost under China’s communist rule.

Since 1960, the Dalai Lama has lived in Dharamsala, India where he was given political asylum and has headed the Tibetan Government-in-exile.

The Dalai Lama arrived in Minnesota on May 7 for his three-day visit to crowds eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

In addition to addressing the Minnesota Legislature, meeting with Gov. Jesse Ventura and giving three lectures at the University, the Dalai Lama spoke to fellow Tibetans about their place in the world and their new home in Minnesota.

“(The Dalai Lama) said he had heard that we Tibetans have been positively contributing in the mainstream, and together we’re preserving our community – he was quite pleased,” Tsering said.

“Preserving culture is the door to the preservation of identity,” Tsering added. “Not because it’s our culture, but because it’s being destroyed in Tibet.”

As director of the Tibetan Association of Minnesota, Tsering said his goal is to enrich Tibetan lives in Minnesota by erecting a cultural center where traditional language, art and religion can be appreciated.

“We really want to have a place to teach our children our language and show them what it means to be Tibetan and about Tibetan culture,” he added. “There are many American friends who want to learn Tibetan dances and art. This could all be incorporated into these activities.”

The cultural center will likely arrive when TAM merges with the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, according to Ann Ayrault, TAM’s executive director.

Both groups were formed in the early 1990s after 160 Tibetans settled in the Twin Cities as part of the 1990 Immigration Act. The act granted visas to 1,000 Tibetan refugees living in India and Nepal, and since then family reunification has drawn 700 more Tibetans to Minnesota.

Ayrault said Minnesota was one of the largest original Tibetan immigrant clusters because of the ample economic opportunities and Minnesotans’ hospitable attitudes.

“There is a spirit of welcome and a spirit of volunteerism that exists in Minnesota,” Ayrault said. “The Twin Cities has a really great job climate, and people were able to get a job – several if they wanted – and that’s not true every place in the U.S.”

For the Tibetans of Minnesota, the Dalai Lama’s visit extended an affirmation of their new life in the Twin Cities.

“His coming affirms (Tibetans’) presence here,” Ayrault said. “The Dalai Lama said that they lived in Tibet, India and Nepal and now they live here – they are where they’re supposed to be. It was a benediction saying, ‘It’s okay for you to be here.'”

Higher learning

After his first day lecturing on campus, the Dalai Lama returned for a larger crowd at Northrop Auditorium on May 9, where he continued his message of compassion, peace and spirituality.

Although the Dalai Lama explains himself as an ordinary Buddhist monk, 4,800 University students, faculty and community members waited to see the side of him that remains one of the world’s most renowned spiritual and social leaders.

University President Mark Yudof welcomed the Dalai Lama to “a University that shares an affinity for maroon and gold,” commenting on the colors of traditional Buddhist monk attire that the Dalai Lama fashions.

Yudof thanked students and faculty for their patience during finals week with the several thousand visitors who expanded the campus for the Dalai Lama’s visit.

The Dalai Lama began Wednesday’s lecture by stressing the importance of an inner confidence and happiness.

“I want happiness and you also want it – you have a right to it,” he said.

He said people have the same potential to be happy as they do to be miserable, and the outcome is affected entirely by individual attitude.

In addition to a good heart and a sound mind, the Dalai Lama said education is part of the equation needed to create a balanced humanity.

“You are the people who will create the new shape of the world,” the Dalai Lama told students, adding that hard work and dedication to studying will determine their limitless range of success.

While addressing the subject of peace, the Dalai Lama said world peace can be achieved, but only through the inner peace of each person.

“Peace will not come from prayer … peace we must create,” he said.

After his lecture, the Dalai Lama answered questions about his views on globalization, the United Nations and maintaining compassion for adversaries.

When asked what makes him happy, the Dalai Lama said, “If you smile to me, then I’m happy.”

As part of the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series, the University’s Humphrey Institute teamed up with TAM and TAFM, to bring the Dalai Lama to Minnesota for the first time – a process that took two years to complete.

Past lecturers have included author Toni Morrison, newscaster Tom Brokaw and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Erin Madsen covers culture and diversity and welcomes comments at [email protected]