Dalai Lama to Visit D.C. Next Week

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thousands of Buddhists from around the world are expected in Washington next week, including some of the most senior teachers in Tibetan Buddhism as well as devotees arriving on all-night buses, to see the Dalai Lama receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the United States' highest civilian honor.

Advocates close to the exiled Tibetan spiritual and political leader say the award, which will be presented next Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda, is the most significant tribute to the Dalai Lama since he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. President Bush will attend the ceremony, the first time a sitting U.S. president has met in public with the Dalai Lama, whom Chinese officials consider a secessionist agitator for his work to give Tibetans more autonomy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime advocate of the Dalai Lama's, will host the Rotunda ceremony.

The U.S House and Senate voted last year to give the Dalai Lama the medal, which describes him as "the unrivaled spiritual and cultural leader of the Tibetan people . . . recognized in the United States and throughout the world as a leading figure of moral and religious authority." The bill's sponsors included Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

The Rotunda service, which will be held from 1 to 2 p.m., is private. But about 2:30 p.m. on the West Lawn, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak to what is expected to be a crowd of thousands as well as others around the world listening on a webcast. Tibetan-style performances, featuring about 200 singers and dancers, will start on the West Lawn at 11 a.m.

A week of events has been planned to celebrate the visit to Washington by the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist leaders. They include films and photo exhibits as well as an interfaith concert at Washington National Cathedral and chanting and music at the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church.

The Washington trip is part of a month-long tour of North American cities, but it is the only stop that doesn't include a "teaching," or spiritual talk. The Dalai Lama's speech at the Capitol will be more secular in nature, said Cate Saunders of the special envoy's office at the National Campaign for Tibet, which represents him in the United States.

He will arrive Monday from New York City and will stay until Oct. 19. The event next Wednesday is his only public appearance, Saunders said. He will also be feted Oct. 18 at a celebrity-filled gala hosted by Feinstein and her husband and attended by actor Richard Gere and filmmaker Martin Scorsese, among others.

The Dalai Lama comes to the United States regularly. He was last in Washington in 2005, when he addressed thousands of the world's top neuroscientists and encouraged them to work more closely with moral leaders.

About 10,000 Buddhists live in the Washington area, at least half of whom come from immigrant communities; the other half are converts who often are called American Buddhists. The Dalai Lama is considered a teacher to them all, although he comes from the Gelugpa sect, one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Among those in the region's Tibetan community is the Venerable Lama Kalsang Gyaltsen, spiritual director of the Sakya Phuntsok Ling Center in Silver Spring. He said he and others will be driving to hear the Dalai Lama speak in New York City and Ithaca, N.Y., before coming to Washington. Busloads of Tibetans from Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Canada, among other places, are expected in Washington, he said.

"There is so much excitement in the Tibetan community," he said yesterday. "It's such an extraordinary thing."

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