EXCITEMENT GROWS OVER DALAI LAMA VISIT
Sun-Sentinel [Sunday, August 30, 2004 05:03]
By James D. Davis, Religion Editor
Preparing for the Dalai Lama has been like a political campaign: logistics, courtesy calls, mustering the troops. But in a way, it's all for the people such as Jackie Downey, a retired art teacher from Boca Raton.
"I'm devoting every brush stroke to world peace," said Downey as she painted a gold border on a huge Buddha painting at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. "It is so precious to be able to do this for the Dalai Lama. It would take eons of lifetimes to have the chance to do it again."
The 50-foot Buddha, which will loom behind the Tibetan leader when he speaks in September at the University of Miami, is the work of a half-dozen volunteers plus a Bhutanese artist. They, in turn, are among dozens who are preparing for the visit, with hundreds poised to pitch in later.
There's a lot to do for the Dalai Lama's public addresses, lectures, private receptions and assemblies Sept. 18-22 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Putting out mail and e-mails. Lining up rental cars and hotel rooms. Organizing ushers and making tiny figurines as gifts.
But the volunteers -- from several Buddhist groups as well as independent worshipers -- seem more than equal to the task.
"Our techniques are different, but all Buddhists are directed toward recognizing suffering, understanding and alleviating it, then sharing with others," said Mitchell Cantor, coordinator of the Southern Palm Zen Group, which has meetings in Boca Raton, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. "If you're teaching the truth, there's never a difference."
Cantor's organization has e-mailed Dalai Lama alerts to its list of 500 people. Cantor said some members of the group have bought block seating for the appearances.
Like other Buddhists, the Dalai Lama teaches compassion, nonviolence and selflessness. Among Tibetan Buddhists, he is believed to be a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, an enlightened being known as a bodhisattva.
"I believe that whoever makes a commitment to listen to him will gain something," said Khanya Moolsiri, a board member of the Wat Buddharangsi Temple in Miami-Dade County. "They can find peace within themselves. And then have an effect on the community."
The Thai temple has been promoting the Dalai Lama's visit to its 1,200 families, said Moolsiri, adding that she plans to attend his public teachings instead of taking a vacation.
"It will be better than vacation for me," said Moolsiri, an insurance agent from Cooper City. "I think all Buddhists listen to the Dalai Lama when they can. He knows how to teach simply."
Leading the peaceful charge is Khempo Yurmed Tinly Rinpoche, founder of Osel Dorje Nyingpo, the Buddhist organization sponsoring the Dalai Lama's South Florida stay. For several weeks, the leader has been appearing at venues ranging from the Broward Governmental Center in Fort Lauderdale to Coral Gables Congregational Church to Temple Beth El of Hollywood.
"People here are very educated and practical," Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk, said. "I think they understand that we're not telling anyone to become Buddhist. The Dalai Lama will simply bring his skills to South Florida -- skills in education and ministering.
"He stands for more than Buddhists. He stands for truth."
In mid-July, Khempo Rinpoche visited the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Coral Gables. The director general, Abraham W.S. Chu, has considerable influence with area Buddhist businessmen.
"My government is secular and cannot sponsor the Dalai Lama's meeting directly," Chu said. "But it also stands for freedom of religion. I am Buddhist myself, and I can feel a peace in the Dalai Lama's teachings."
Joyce Landry of Coral Gables is donating her professional skills in planning meetings for corporate cruises -- two-way radio, transportation, florists, accommodations, greeters, drivers. Five of her 25 employees also volunteered, she said.
An avid student of Buddhist philosophy, Landry meditates every day and reads Buddhist texts. She went two years ago on a retreat to Bhutan, and earlier this month to the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado.
Her interest was stirred after the 9-11 terrorist attack, she said. "I wanted to find a place in the world without fear, and I gravitated toward the Himalayas."
The large Buddha image in Fort Lauderdale, called a thanka, or devotional painting, has served as a magnet for onlookers since Lama Pema Tenzin, a Bhutanese artist, began the project in July. "They ask spiritual questions and understand many things about the Buddha," the lama said.
On Monday he will paint the image's eyes, the formal finish for the weeks of work. Starting at 11 a.m. at the museum, the one-hour event will begin with prayers by Tenzin and Rinpoche.
Many people who visit the Office Depot Center on Sept. 19 can expect to receive a gift: a clay tsa-tsa, or figurine of an enlightened being. Members of the Tubten Kunga Center in Deerfield Beach have been making and painting the items each Sunday, and expect to have at least 2,000 ready for the visit.
"They're for spreading blessings and goodwill," said Jacquelyn Keeley, the founding director and a teacher at the center.
"Everyone is talking about world peace and pointing fingers. But as the Dalai Lama says, peace won't come until you start inside yourself and your home. And everyone else's home."