MIDDLEBURY — Preparations are under way at Middlebury College for the arrival of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of millions of Tibetan Buddhists and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who will mark his third visit to Addison County on the weekend of Oct. 12.
“The Dalai Lama is very impressed with Middlebury,” said Ellen McKay, administrative program coordinator of the college’s Charles P. Scott Center for Religious Life. She noted that the college’s diversity and focus on environmental programs are things that the Dalai Lama “is all about.”
The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, will give a public lecture titled “Finding Common Ground: Ethics for a Whole World” at Nelson Arena on Saturday, Oct. 13. That will follow a talk on Friday, Oct. 12, at 1:45 p.m. for Middlebury students, faculty and staff, called “Educating the Heart.”
According to Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz, the purpose of the talks is to help people explore resources for hope, optimism, and cooperation, while challenging them to lead lives of courage and engagement.
At the conclusion of the Dalai Lama’s remarks on both next Friday and Saturday, His Holiness will answer questions that have been submitted in advance. To have a question considered for selection, people may send it by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “HHDL Q & A.”
Tickets to the lectures sold out within minutes when they went on sale last Thursday. Although the college had allocated additional resources to its online box office to accommodate the expected high demand, some complained that the service was so busy that they couldn’t immediately get through.
As previously planned, the college will live-stream the two events for those who can’t make it in person. Dana Auditorium and the McCullough Social Space will have live video feeds of both talks. Seating is free and open to the public on a first come, first serve basis. The public is also encouraged to view the lectures online; they will be live-streamed at http://go.middlebury.edu/dlstream; the link will go live a few minutes before the scheduled start time of each talk.
Those who want to lend a hand with preparations for the visit are invited to help spruce up the place with a nod to Tibetan culture.
At the entrance of the college’s Davis Family Library, a DIY-style community art project is under way. Community members and students alike are invited to fill colorful paper squares, representing Tibetan peace flags, with their hopes, dreams and wisdom.
“This is a chance to share your message of peace, thanksgiving and good will with the Dalai Lama and our whole community,” library employee Marlena Evans wrote in announcing the flag-making effort. “Come and write your wishes, thoughts and prayers, or express your feelings by drawing or decorating your flag.”
Tables with flag-making supplies are set up in the library lobby through Oct. 14, and the flags will be on display in the library throughout the month.
Those who can’t make it onto campus can also take part. In Carol’s Hungry Mind Café in downtown Middlebury, a neat stack of the same blank prayer flags sit by the water pitcher. The walls of the Merchants Row coffee shop are already partially covered with customers’ prayer flags.
In addition, the upper level of the Davis Library will display ancient Tibetan art, which is being sent from private collections.The art will be on display during His Holiness’s visit, and will be updated as new pieces arrive.
Memorabilia from the Dalai Lama’s previous visits will be on display on the main level of the library. During his last visits in 1991 and 1984, the Dalai Lama visited the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail in Ripton and planted a tree outside of Munroe Hall at the college, among other events.
The college will host two events this Friday for those interested in the Dalai Lama. First, from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. at Dana Auditorium, Professor of Religion William Waldron deliver a lecture titled “What is a Dalai Lama and Who is the 14th Dalai Lama? The Buddhist Historical Context.” In it he will attempt to explain the uniquely Tibetan Buddhist institution of the Dalai Lamas — what a Dalai Lama is and what makes the current one so remarkable — in the context of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist history.
Then, from 7 to 7:45 p.m. at Room 232 of the Axinn Center, there will be a screening of the film “The Fire Inside: Place, Passion and the Primacy of Nature.” The documentary focuses on contemplative practice and asks provocative questions about our relationship to the natural world and the ecological crises that we face today. What is nature? And what is the human experience of that world? In the everyday push of our modern lives what connections have been lost and what remain? How do we cultivate wisdom, hope and compassion in the face of environmental degradation?
This film follows a small, diverse group of writers, activists and clergy on a contemplative retreat as they explore the wildness about them and the passion for place within them.
A question and answer session with director Phil Walker and Associate Professor of Religion Rebecca Kneale Gould will follow the screening.
YEARS IN THE MAKING
This month’s visit has been in the works for three years. Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the Dalai Lama’s personal peace emissary, gave a talk on Buddhist meditation at Middlebury College in 2009.
“We had no idea he was the Dalai Lama’s personal peace emissary,” McKay said with a laugh. “When it became clear who he was, we expressed interest in having the Dalai Lama visit again.”
They initiated talks, which took time to move forward, as the Dalai Lama has an incredibly busy schedule of lectures and visits around the world. A year and a half after Lama Tenzin’s visit, talks had progressed far enough for college President Rob Liebowitz’s office to issue a formal invitation.
“Then it took another year and a half to get a free day on the Dalai Lama’s calendar,” McKay said.
A steering committee at the college has worked closely with Tenzin Dhonden to plan this month’s events. The college is also working with the State Department and the Diplomatic Security Service to ensure the Dalai Lama’s safety during his visit. Security is so tight that the Dalai Lama’s precise travel schedule, as well as where he will stay, is being kept under tight wraps.
The concern for the Dalai Lama’s safety is not unfounded. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet, an exiled nation whose territory is currently under the administration of the People’s Republic of China. The Dalai Lama, along with a flood of Tibetan refugees, fled their homeland in 1959. The Indian government allowed them to settle in the northern municipality of Dharamsala, and continues to permit a “government-in-exile,” led by the Dalai Lama, to govern the affairs of the exiled Tibetan community.
Though the Dalai Lama’s official policy position is not for official Tibetan independence — rather, he asks that the Tibetan people be allowed to operate as an autonomous region within the PRC — the Chinese government has consistently portrayed him as a divisive political figure.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for having consistently opposed the use of violence, and for advocating “peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said at the time.
To see upcoming events in honor of the Dalai Lama, visit www.middlebury.edu/events.