When the Dalai Lama arrives in Minnesota, he'll be greeted by a Tibetan community eagerly anticipating his visit yet concerned about the future.
They'll be lined up along Mississippi River Boulevard in St. Paul on Friday, wearing colorful, traditional garb when the Buddhist leader arrives at Eastcliff, the official residence of presidents of the University of Minnesota, one of the sponsors of his visit. And they'll be present at several events on campus during the weekend, as well as at a special audience for local Tibetans.
"His Holiness is the undisputed spiritual and temporal leader of Tibetans all over the world. Irrespective of any reason, it's always special when His Holiness comes to any place where there are Tibetans," said Dr. Tsewang Ngodup, president of the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, the other sponsor of his visit.
The Dalai Lama is preparing to hand over political power to a newly elected prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile, Harvard legal scholar Lobsang Sangay, who will be sworn in May 30 in Dharmsala, India, where the exile government is based.
When the Dalai Lama announced earlier this year that he would give up his political role, while remaining a spiritual leader, he said it was time for elected leadership to emerge in the Tibetan community. The shift is widely seen as a way to prepare for the 75-year-old's eventual death, and to show the Chinese leadership that Tibet's exile leaders will continue to have influence after he's gone.
Tsewang Chokden, spokesman for the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, said local Tibetans understand that he won't live forever, but it's hard for many to accept he won't be their political leader. Chokden said he expects the Dalai Lama will update them on the transition when he meets with them Saturday at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, an event he expects to draw about 2,000 people.
The Minnesota Tibetan community is estimated by the foundation at around 2,500 to 3,000, mostly in the Twin Cities area. That's second only to the greater New York area, with an estimated 6,000 to 7,000, according to the Office of Tibet, the Dalai Lama's office in New York. Altogether about 15,000 Tibetans live in North America, the office says.
Ngodup said Tibetans started migrating to the U.S. in significant numbers in 1992 after Congress decided to issue 1,000 immigrant visas to Tibetans in India, Nepal and other parts of the Indian subcontinent. About 160 arrived in Minnesota from 1992 to 1996 and started bringing their families over. Jobs were available, it was a good place to raise a family, and well-wishers were ready to help with resettlement, he said. Like him, a large percentage of the community now works in health care professions, he said.
"I think the credit goes to Minnesotans," Ngodup said. "They're a very welcoming, diverse population. And much goes to this country. It gives equal opportunity. There's rule of law, equal rights."
The Dalai Lama will attend two public events Sunday at Mariucci Arena hosted by the university's Center for Spirituality and Healing. The center's director and founder, Mary Jo Kreitzer, pointed out that he'll appear 10 years to the day since his last visit to campus, when he spoke about compassion and individual responsibility in the 21st century. The morning event will be a Tibetan cultural and spiritual ceremony promoting personal and societal healing. He'll also give an afternoon address on "Peace Through Inner Peace."
As of Tuesday, about 8,100 of the 8,500 seats for his speech had been sold, at prices ranging from $50 to $250 for adults, while more than 5,000 tickets had been sold for the ceremony, Kreitzer said. Some people plan to attend both events, she said. Both Kreitzer and Ngodup said their organizations are just hoping to cover the costs of his visit, including the venue rentals and security.
The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner also asked the university to set up a private dialogue with students on Buddhism on Saturday, Kreitzer said. It's closed to the press because several mainland Chinese students have been invited who would be hesitant to participate if it were open, she said.
Other cultural events on campus run from Friday through Sunday, and the university will host a daylong conference on Tibetan medicine on Monday, but the Dalai Lama isn't expected to attend them.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)