The Dalai Lama's appearance in Minnesota is spiritually and politically significant for the state's Tibetan Buddhist population. This is the second visit to the state by the Tibetan leader.
"Whenever His Holiness is in a particular place we feel that the whole area is kind of blessed with some kind of compassion and peace and we feel a kind of naturally happy feeling," says Karma Wangchuk, executive director for the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota.
The Dalai Lama was greeted with fanfare during his first Minnesota visit in 2001, where he gave numerous speeches in English, including an address to a joint session of the Legislature.
This time, he's expected to address followers in his native tongue at a meeting Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. On Monday he speaks at Rochester's Mayo Clinic, where he will also get a medical checkup.
During his 2001 visit the Dalai Lama touted democracy, human rights and scientific advances. This time, he plans to talk about practices that encourage a peaceful mind and positive ways to live during difficult times, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While Minnesota's Tibetan population is small in number -- about 1,500 people -- it is the nation's second largest concentration of exiles from the tiny Himalayan nation.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 as the Chinese army invaded. Communist China continues to occupy Tibet, and severely restricts traditional Tibetan religious and cultural customs. The Dalai Lama presides over the Tibetan government in exile in Dhramsala, India.
The Dalai Lama's 2001 appearance in Minnesota raised some $700,000 for the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota. The organization used the money to build a cultural and event center in St. Paul.
The center, formally known as the Lugnyi Phuntsok Khang Tibetan Community Cultural Center, is the site of Tibetan language and cultural classes, arts performances and meetings.
The center houses the throne used by the Dalai Lama during his visit in 2001. The throne was built by Tibetan artisans in Minnesota. The building also has an extravagant shrine featuring three bronze Buddhas, and sacred scrolls containing the Dalai Lama's religious teachings.
The Dalai Lama's visit comes at the same time that China's controversial choice for a Tibetan holy figure made his first major appearance before an international audience.
Gyaltsen Norbu, 16, is the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, and a key figure in the struggle for the religion's future that pits China's officially atheistic communist regime against supporters of the Dalai Lama.
Norbu is believed to live in Beijing amid intense secrecy and is almost never seen in public.
He was seated onstage at the opening of the five-day World Buddhist Forum on Thursday, a gathering of about 1,000 monks, nuns and scholars from more than 30 countries that China is using to showcase its cultural diplomacy and its willingness to use traditional beliefs to ease social tensions.
The tall, thin teenager delivered a 10-minute speech in Tibetan that, according to an official translation, dwelt on Buddhism's responsibility to foster patriotism and national unity.
"Defending the nation and working for the people is a solemn commitment Buddhism has made to the nation and society," Norbu said.
It was believed to be the first time Norbu took part in an international religious gathering, an apparent sign that Beijing is seeking greater acceptance for its choice of the Panchen Lama.
Beijing installed Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, rejecting another boy chosen by the Dalai Lama. That other boy has not been seen in public since, and Chinese officials refuse to say where he is.
Officials said Wednesday that the Dalai Lama -- the world's most famous Buddhist person -- wasn't welcome at the World Buddhist Forum.
"The Dalai Lama is not purely a religious figure," said Qi Xiaofei, a Communist Party official who is vice-director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. "He is also a saboteur of ethnic unity and a pursuer of splittism, so his presence here would have constituted an inharmonious voice when what we're seeking is harmony," Qi said.
Qi's comments echoed China's long-standing rejection of the Dalai Lama. China claims the Dalai Lama's recognition of a new Panchen Lama violated traditional codes that had at times given the Chinese emperor a role in that process.
Supporters of the Dalai Lama deny that, saying Beijing was angered by what it saw as open defiance. Since the Panchen and Dalai lamas play a major role in recognizing each other's successors, Beijing's influence over the Panchen Lama potentially gives it additional leverage over a future Dalai Lama.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)