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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Hello (or goodbye), Dalai

April 20, 2009

By CASEY SEILER, Staff writer
The Union
April 19, 2009

Instead of seeing the Dalai Lama today at the
Times Union Center, I will probably be practicing
mindfulness and compassion in my backyard, which
has suffered a winter's worth of damage at the hands of nature, and our dog.

The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet had been
scheduled to appear at the Albany arena in a
lecture that came with ticket prices that ranged
from $52 to $112. I will admit to finding the
idea of shelling out that sort of cash —
Springsteen/Coldplay-type sums — to see a
religious leader a little unseemly. It might
sound irreligious, but the Sermon on the Mount
didn't require attendees to pick up their tickets
early at the will-call window.

On second thought, that last sentence definitely
sounds irreligious. But I think it's time to
admit that there's something about the Dalai
Lama's elusive visit to Albany that runs the risk
of placing this Nobel Prize winner in a less-than-flattering light.

That's because of the involvement of Sara and
Clare Bronfman, the Seagram liquor heiresses who
are closely associated with NXIVM, a
Colonie-based personal-growth company that,
according to its Web site, "represents the change
humanity needs in order to alter the course of history."

How NXIVM goes about altering the world has drawn
criticism from numerous quarters, including
former students who complain of being traumatized by the company's techniques.

Its founder, Keith Raniere - called "Vanguard"
within the organization - closed down his former
company, Halfmoon-based Consumers Buyline, after
numerous state and federal investigations charged
it was a pyramid scheme. Raniere denied those
charges, but in 1996 agreed to pay $40,000 in a
settlement with New York's attorney general.
NXIVM's description of its teachings shares the
same blend of corporatespeak and metaphysical
quest I've noticed in Scientology literature;
also like the Church of Scientology, NXIVM vehemently denies that it is a cult.

The University at Albany was scheduled to host
several events during the Dalai Lama's April
visit, an arrangement that two other regional
schools — including Raniere's alma mater,
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — took a pass on.

The Dalai Lama's representatives cancelled the
initial visit two weeks ago. But last week, the
World Ethical Foundations Consortium — which
lists Raniere as "conceptual" founder and the
Bronfman sisters as co-founders — announced the
Dalai Lama will appear at Albany's Palace Theatre on Wednesday, May 6.

Clare Bronfman initially approached Times Union
Center chief Bob Belber about the new date, only
to learn that the site was already booked for a
show by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Instead, the Dalai Lama will take part in what
could turn into a public relations circus.

Don't get me wrong: I would heartily like to see
the Buddhist leader come to Albany. His grace and
the personal example of his stand against China's
criminal occupation of Tibet offer an example or
moral force that New York's capital city could use.

So for the Dalai Lama's sake as well as ours, I
hope the Palace appearance remains locked in
despite the continued involvement of people I
consider to be of dubious merit to his
reputation. One more cancellation and
rescheduling, and it's entirely possible the
Dalai Lama could end up speaking downstairs at
Valentine's while a series of teen garage bands
from Clifton Park pound away upstairs.

Then again, that would be pretty cool.

Casey Seiler can be reached at 454-5619 or
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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