By Peggy Fletcher Stack | Salt Lake Tribune
SOUTH SALT LAKE, US, 22 June 2016
On Tuesday, Utah Tibetans shared the Dalai Lama with the world. A day later, they had the spiritual leader all to themselves.
It was a moment of triumph for the Beehive State’s tiny Tibetan populace — 272 members — as the globe-trotting luminary stepped into the community’s newly renovated warehouse-turned-sanctuary in South Salt Lake.
The group was scurrying to finish it last fall, when the 14th Dalai Lama cancelled his planned Utah visit for health reasons. When he rescheduled for this week, the Tibetans wanted to showcase their faith and devotion in the space.
And they enlisted a lot of local support.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams recruited the help of Utah AFL-CIO boss Dale Cox, who tapped his stable of electricians, plumbers, contractors and others to donate their work. They logged more than 2,500 volunteer hours, Cox said Wednesday, labouring weekends and holidays to finish the building.
“I promised them they would all go to heaven for their work,” Cox quipped. “I didn’t tell them about reincarnation until the end of the project.”
The community centre did not disappoint.
It was decked out with silk banners, a Buddha tapestry, red-and-yellow potted plants and a specially-made wooden throne in the middle for their revered leader. All the Tibetans wore traditional silk dresses or tunics and seemed filled with jittery anticipation.
The attendees stood and the hall fell silent as the Dalai Lama entered — with only the sound of his signature laugh at his entrance.
The Buddhist leader, who turns 81 next month, walked slowly up the centre aisle, greeting people on both sides, clasping their hands and leaning in to hear their words of welcome. Selfie sticks were held high to capture the moment and the smell of incense perfumed the air.
Then the Nobel laureate, who calls himself a “simple monk,” took his seat, signalling the crowd to do likewise. He accepted gifts from the community and listened with obvious delight as Tibetan children entertained him with a song from their homeland.
“Beautiful,” the Dalai Lama said in English.
A report from the Utah Tibetan Association followed, describing the group and its accomplishments, including having paid back most of its $500,000 loan for the Centre.
That was due, in part, to help from the larger community and to “His Holiness’ fame.”
“Now we only have $40,000 to pay back,” association President Lobsang Tsering, said in Tibetan. “We would like to pray for His Holiness’ long life.”
With that, the community let out a collective laugh.
In a serious turn, the Dalai Lama, echoing some themes he addressed Tuesday during a speech at the University of Utah, offered a lecture on Buddhism in Tibetan (with simultaneous translation for others). Tibetans are guardians of ancient texts, he said, with an emphasis on logic and reason.
Tibetan Buddhism, he added, “produces the most scholars and teachers.”
He encouraged the assembled believers to check the writings against their reasoning and their experiences.
While the consecration of statues and shrines is important, the mustard-and-maroon-robed monk admonished the Tibetans that studying ancient texts is even more crucial.
The Dalai Lama urged them to pass the language and discipline on to the next generation.
“Buddha was a teacher,” he said, “and I am a teacher.”
He bid the Tibetans farewell, was quietly helped out the back door and was gone.