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A Hubbub Over a Visit by the Dalai Lama? Not in New York

October 20, 2007

The New York Times
October 19, 2007

The Dalai Lama spoke at Radio City Music Hall last week, during a visit to the city before receiving Congress' highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.


The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, has come to this city so often in recent years that his visits now fly under the radar of most New Yorkers. Many were
unaware that he was here once again for several days before heading to Washington to receive Congress' highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

You may have heard about the award ceremony on Wednesday, notably attended by President Bush, who knew well that his presence would bend China's leaders
completely out of shape. This American recognition of one of the world's great religious figures, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, was too much for the
Chinese to bear — they whose occupying forces have run roughshod over Tibet for the last half-century, destroying much of its culture.

They went into rhetorical overdrive. The Communist Party boss of Tibet denounced the Dalai Lama as a "splittist." There's a word you don't hear every day. Sounds
like someone who likes his Champagne in small bottles. In this context, it is an accusation that the Dalai Lama wants to break Tibet away from China.

That charge is untrue, said Ganden Thurman, executive director of Tibet House, a cultural center in Manhattan. "He's asking for autonomy within China, basically
asking China to extend the promises it makes in its own Constitution," Mr. Thurman said.

The Congressional medal got Beijing's knickers in such a twist that the Chinese warned of "an extremely serious impact" on their relations with the United States.
They offered no specifics. Maybe they'll stop sending us any more lead-painted toys, defective tires, toxic toothpaste and tainted pet food. Wouldn't that be awful?

There was no such hubbub on the New York leg of the Dalai Lama's latest American journey. Any stir that he created here was confined to his followers, mainly
fellow Buddhists.

Thousands turned out to see him at several appearances at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and at Radio City Music Hall. At the Javits Center, he spoke
without notes for two hours, The Associated Press reported. "The Tibetan cause is a cause of justice, and that's something that cannot fade away," he told the
crowd. "That is the nature of truth: that it cannot die with time and with the change of generations."

For most New Yorkers, though, the visit came and went, scarcely noted. The Dalai Lama has become such a regular here that he no longer automatically draws
much press attention.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg invited him to a Gracie Mansion breakfast last Friday with 20 or so New York Buddhists. The event was not listed on Mr.
Bloomberg's public schedule. Leaving it off was not a political statement, a mayoral spokesman said. Mr. Bloomberg routinely has groups over for breakfast in
private. Besides, the spokesman said, the mayor wanted the Dalai Lama's appearance to be a surprise to the other guests.

Mr. Thurman was there. The Dalai Lama spoke of "how his main concern was that people studied Buddhism, not just sort of adhere to it," he said. "Faith was nice.
But from his point of view, understanding Buddhism would really be the most useful for people."

As might be expected, the mayor spoke of New York's diversity. But was he right about the number of Buddhists in the city?

"He put it at 10,000, which I think is wildly low," Mr. Thurman said. When you add up the immigrants from places like Tibet, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan
and Japan, "you're going to get up into some very high numbers." And that is before you include New York-born Jews who embrace forms of Buddhism. "They're a
very, very large demographic actually," he said.

TO the surprise of no one, the Dalai Lama did not stop by one of the city's main attractions. That would be the United Nations. It is too much in China's thrall to
ever invite him, even just to look around the building.

At least Congress and the president did right by him, Mr. Thurman said.

"I'm going to stick with the Dalai Lama's position on this, which is that people want to do the right thing," he said. But for various reasons, they are often "prevented
from fulfilling their inner desire to do something decent for people."

"Different people have different ways of relating to that phenomenon," he said. "Some try to educate themselves, and have some humility and try to learn from their
mistakes. And others forge ahead, and interpret failure as success."

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