The Dalai Lama is coming to Lehigh University in Bethlehem. He'll teach a series of classes Friday and Saturday on Tibetan Buddhism and give a public lecture Sunday on "Generating a Good Heart."

When tickets to hear the Buddhist monk with the rock star status went on sale March 20, all 5,000 were gone in 15 minutes.

Here's a look at the cause of the excitement: BACKGROUND The current Dalai Lama -- most recent in a lineage of 14 spiritual leaders of Tibetan Buddhism -- has lived in exile since 1959, nine years after the communist takeover of Tibet. He leads the Tibetan government in exile in India and in 1989 received the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent effort to end Chinese occupation of his homeland. THE FASCINATION "The word has gotten out that there is something special about this man. He's very warm and seems to be 100-percent present to every person," said Dan Cozort, a religion professor at Dickinson College. "It turns out he's very smart, too."

Celebrities such as Richard Gere and the Beastie Boys' Adam Youch are Dalai Lama followers, and his life has been examined in major films starring Brad Pitt and directed by Martin Scorsese.

Tibetan Buddhists in the U.S. tend to be native-born, well-educated, middle-class people drawn to the emphasis on compassion, Cozort said. He also notes a big contingent of "nightstand Buddhists," who don't formally associate with Buddhism but help make the Dalai Lama's books best-sellers. THE OCCASION The Dalai Lama's visit to the U.S. marks the completion of the English translation of the sacred Tibetan Buddhist text, "The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment," which will be the subject of his teaching. Cozort helped with that translation. WHY LEHIGH? The university said it has long-standing ties through its faculty with the nearby Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, N.J., which oversaw the translation and is sponsoring the visit. THE CONTROVERSY A complex doctrinal dispute pits members of the Shugden stream of Tibetan Buddhism against the Dalai Lama. He has called their practice divisive. They say he represses their religious freedom. Demonstrations have marked his public appearances in recent years and will continue at Lehigh, a Shugden spokeswoman said.

By Mary Warner

Related Posts: