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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

'A great, loving and kind master': Dalai Lama in Calgary today

October 2, 2009

By Valerie Berenyi, Calgary Herald
September 30, 2009

As the city's tiny but growing Tibetan community eagerly anticipates the
Dalai Lama's arrival today, two of its smallest ambassadors will be among
the first to greet one of the world's most revered spiritual leaders when he
touches down at Calgary International Airport.

Wearing Tibetan costume, Tenzin Thupten Dorjee, a nine-year-old boy, and
Tenzin Lhamo Gaykhangshawa, a seven-year-old girl, will offer the Dalai Lama
a traditional wooden vessel containing roasted barley powder and grains of
wheat in exchange for his blessing.

The children will also carry a silver bowl of Tibetan beer called chang -- 
specially brewed by local Tibetans for the occasion -- into which His
Holiness will dip a finger and scatter a few drops to bless all of Calgary.

"It's hard to describe the feeling," said Lobsang Khechog, a Tibetan living
in Calgary.

"He's everything to Tibetans: the father figure, the god figure, the leader
of Tibet. He truly represents Tibet and what Tibetan culture means."

Tashi Phuntsok, president of the Tibetan Association of Alberta, said
Thupten and Llamo were chosen to represent their community based on their
"suitability" and fluency in Tibetan.

"It's very exciting for them and for their parents," he said.

The two-day visit, the Dalai Lama's first here in 30 years, includes a
public talk this afternoon at the Saddledome and an appearance Thursday at a
University of Calgary conference at the Telus Convention Centre, a press
conference and an audience with the local Tibetan community.

On Friday morning, the exiled Tibetan leader, who fled his country in 1959
for India, will meet with members of the Indian community to express his
gratitude for the nation's 50 years of "kindness and generosity." He then
leaves for Montreal.

Since 1972, Calgary has been home to about 200 Tibetans who came here as

Two or three years ago, the population doubled to between 400 and 500
members as Tibetan-Canadians from other provinces were drawn by the city's
tightly-knit Tibetan community, its economic boom and the nearby Rocky
Mountains, which reminds them of their high-altitude homeland, said

Most will attend the Dalai Lama's talk and audience, he added.

The Tibetan Association of Alberta runs language and traditional folk dance
classes for children, holds two Tibetan bazaars a year and hosts about a
dozen other cultural events at a Japanese Buddhist temple in Bridgeland.

It also rents the temple for worship.

Lobsang Khechog, a first-generation Tibetan born in exile who emigrated with
his family from a refugee camp in India to Calgary in 1981, said the
Tibetans scattered around the world work very hard to maintain their
language and culture.

His family speaks Tibetan at home, and he's sent his two school-age children
to India to immerse them in Tibetan culture.

"We want to bring them up with a strong Tibetan identity," said Lobsang
Khechog, who declined to give his last name because he fears repercussions
for family members still living in Tibet. He also doesn't want to be banned
from periodic visits to the country.

"It's ironic. If Tibet had remained independent, had the Chinese not
occupied Tibet, the Tibetan culture and all the great masters would still be
isolated in the Himalayas," he said.

"Tibetan culture is being threatened with extinction in Tibet, but through
the Dalai Lama our beliefs in love, compassion and non-violence are becoming
respected around the world."

Calgarians Fif Fernandes and Hamish Boyd have adopted many of those beliefs.

In 2007, they attended a 12-day Kalachakra or "Wheel of Time" initiation
with the Dalai Lama in a small village in southern India.

"His appeal is universal and it's spreading," said Boyd, who teaches
Laughter Yoga with Fernandes.

They have tickets for the Dalai Lama's talk this afternoon.

The Dalai Lama's visit here thrills Fernandes, who was raised Roman Catholic
but has since taken vows as a Buddhist.

"I'm speechless because we have the opportunity to be in the presence of
such a great, loving and kind master," Fernandes said.

"His sense will be felt throughout the city, whether you attend the
teachings or not. When His Holiness comes to a place, his spirit permeates
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