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February 5, 2013

BEAM: An opportunity that’s come full circle

Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a Buddhist monk by his orange robes. 

When I first met Professor Thubten Norbu in Bloomington back in the 1990s, few would have suspected him by looks alone of being the former abbot of one of the largest monasteries in Tibet. When he entered the shoe store where I worked, he resembled all the other customers, a man wearing slacks and white tennis shoes. No traditional ceremonial dress. No shaved head. 

Yet, even without his sacred robes, Norbu radiated kindness and compassion. After meeting him only once, you knew he was special regardless of what he wore. Maybe all the trials and tribulations of escaping his Tibetan homeland were etched into his weathered hands. Or perhaps it was his decades of Buddhist training that were reflected in his gentle smile.

More than five years ago, Norbu died at the Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, the Bloomington institution he helped found. While he no longer strolls the center’s grounds, his mission of preserving and promoting Tibetan culture still thrives in its hallowed halls today.

Did I mention Professor Norbu had a younger brother? You’ve probably seen him once or twice sitting cross legged in his bright Buddhist robes and black framed glasses. Norbu’s sibling, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, will arrive in Louisville for a much-heralded three day visit this May. Like his brother in Bloomington, His Holiness has a similar mission of promoting Tibetan culture, compassion and interfaith dialogue throughout the world. 

In anticipation of this event, I’ll be writing a series of stories chronicling the different ways Hoosiers will be preparing for the arrival of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, as well as the state of Tibet today. Even though the Dalai Lama will present his multicultural teachings in Louisville, the spirit of the occasion will surely travel across the river to our Indiana shores. 

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