CEDAR FALLS - Tibetans journey for days to get the opportunity thousands of Northeast Iowans and their guests will have today as they listen to the words of the Dalai Lama during his two appearances at the McLeod Center.
"He is our true leader, Soul of Tibet, living symbol of compassion and kindness," explained the venerable Geshe Thupten Dorjee, a Buddhist monk who has made periodic visits to the Cedar Valley this spring to help the community prepare for the arrival of Tibet's spiritual and political leader . " ... And now everyone here at UNI, and all the visitors, will have an opportunity to see him, to hear him and to learn from his wisdom."
The geshe, a title given to Buddhist teachers, was one of several speakers at a Monday night ceremony at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center. The event was designed to introduce guests to the Cedar Valley and prepare them for today's panel discussion and keynote address by the Dalai Lama. Attendees also got the opportunity to view the Yamantaka Mandala, a piece of spiritual sand art recently completed by two Tibetan monks visiting from the Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery in Minneapolis. The evening closed with the performance by a Tibetan student who sang a song her people use to welcome the Dalai Lama.
Roughly 300 people took part in the ceremony, and while most hailed from Iowa and the surrounding states, some attendees traveled several hundred miles to listen to today's message from the Dalai Lama.
"For about 25 years I've wanted the opportunity to hear His Holiness in person so I thought this is my opportunity," said Michal LeVasseur, who traveled from Piedmont, Ala. to attend the keynote address.
"This individual has been, as long as I've been alive, basically, he's been someone venerated by millions of people," added her husband, Howard Johnson. "To get a chance to see the man and hear the man, you don't miss that opportunity."
The Dalai Lama's homeland, nestled high among the Himalayan Mountains, was invaded by its Chinese communist neighbors in 1950. The monk was forced into exile in Dharamsala, India, nine years later. Since that time the Dalai Lama has traveled the globe lobbying for a return to autonomy for the Tibetan people. His message of compassion and nonviolence earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Tickets for today's event are sold out. Both the panel discussion and keynote address will be streamed live at live.uni.edu. Courier staff will blog about the Dalai Lama's appearance throughout the day from the McLeod Center.
About 5,400 people will attend the keynote address. Tickets for the event were gone within hours of going on sale this winter. Linda Reichert, of Cedar Rapids, and Regina Wilkins, of Marion, will attend both events.
"As soon as we heard he was coming here, I said: ‘We're going,'" Reichert said.
"He is a man of peace and in this day and age we just have to be around that kind of aura," Wilkins added. " ... We need more of that kind of outlook and, hopefully, it's going to allow me to go back and hopefully bring a little piece of that into my community."