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The Dalai Lama is in Massachusetts. In his sixth visit to New England, the Buddhist spiritual leader visits Harvard University and will dedicate a new ethics center named after him at MIT.
The Dalai Lama's largest public event is on Saturday. He will give two public lectures at Gillette Stadium. More than 13,000 people are expected to attend. Excitement is growing among the Dalai Lama's thousands of local admirers.
A dozen people sit, chanting, legs folded on blue pillows, at the Shambhala Meditation Center in Brookline.
They are both the newly curious and longtime followers of Tibetan Buddhism. To them, 13,000 seekers filling Gillette Stadium represent a gentle coming of age of Buddhism in the U.S.
Charlie Trageser, who has practiced Shambhala Meditation for 30 years, saw the Dalai Lama during his first visit to Massachusetts in 1979. He came to Harvard, a university he has visited several times since. But Trageser remembers on that first visit, the church where the Dalai Lama spoke was not full.
"It's interesting how the enthusiasm and interest have picked up," Trageser said of the Dalai Lama, "because in some ways he's a celebrity figure, but I think there's also something that he manifests that gets people very curious."
"He's also the example of an extraordinarily compassionate and wise person that transcends any religious trappings," Hazel Burcholz said. Burcholz, who grew up in a Jewish household, has been practicing Buddhist meditation for 30 years.
The Dalai Lama's visit comes at a time when economic burdens continue to challenge many Americans.
"I think I have a book of his, something about happiness," Naomi Deutcher said. Deutcher is new to Buddhism, but familiar with the Dalai Lama's popular messages. "And he exudes that, this way of being that seems very present, very joyful and funny. And it's a good time for him to come now. It's a good time for us to have him."
At the Shambhala Meditation Center they chant, "...no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering."
A half-century after the Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet, his visit also comes at an important time for the 600 Tibetan refugees living in the Boston area.
The sound of Tibetan throat singing hovers in the air of Bomdon Ngodup's Cambridge store. Her family left Tibet in 1965. Ngodup grew up in Dharamsala, India — the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile for the past 50 years. She remembers playing on the temple grounds where the Dalai Lama sat in prayer.
"It's another blessing, and a reminder of who we are," Ngodup said. "I'm proud of my identity, though still we are refugee. But it renews our, you know, spirit, our connection, especially the youngsters. It's amazing for them to see, to hear him."
Tenzin Cheodon owns a Tibetan art store in Harvard Square. She says she has special reason to be at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.
"I am diagnosed with cancer last year," Cheodon said.
A yellow and blue scarf covers her head. She holds a Tibetan singing bowl in her hands.
"And so, I'm going to ask for a special audience with him."
The Dalai Lama has granted that private audience. But Cheodon says that when she stands before him, she will not ask the Dalai Lama to cure her cancer. Cheodon, whose family was exiled the same year as the Dalai Lama, says she has a more distant future in mind.
"My younger daughter, she is pregnant, and I'm going to ask him a name for he or she," Cheodon said with a laugh, "for my grandchild."
This program aired on May 1, 2009.
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