Once-in-a-generation opportunities, by definition, don’t come around very often. But according to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, residents throughout Kentucky and Indiana will have this exact chance when His Holiness the Dalai Lama comes to the city this May.
At a special interfaith ceremony held Wednesday at Louisville’s Tibetan Buddhist Center, the Drepung Gomang Institute, representatives from various cultural, academic and religious groups gathered to celebrate and preview the upcoming visit.
“We’re just delighted to be participating here as a city in the visit by the Dalai Lama,” Fischer said. “I just feel like this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for people in Louisville and the surrounding region; the opportunity to hear and learn from the world’s most iconic figure, a true leader in his quest for peace, for justice, for compassion.”
As the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso has been officially recognized since 1950 as one of the main leaders of the Gelugpa line of Buddhism. In addition, until his recent retirement in 2011, he served as the head of the exiled Tibetan government. In 1989, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful advocacy of Tibetan liberation from China.
In addition, His Holiness also is renowned for his dedication to promoting inter-faith dialogue, a key component to his May visit. Indianapolis resident and Sikh representative K.P. Singh has met the Dalai Lama on several separate occasions. Singh said His Holiness’ teachings transcend any particular religion.
“He is compassionate and loving of every faith, tradition, culture and community,” Singh said. “He said learning about other faiths is a reaffirmation about who you are and what your faith is all about. And if there are some elements in there that strengthens your own faith and your own tradition, then by all means certainly learn from that.”
Singh also stressed the Dalai Lama’s connection to Indiana. His Holiness has traveled to the Hoosier state seven times, predominantly to Bloomington. His older brother and fellow Lama Thubten Jigme Norbu taught at Indiana University and founded the now named Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in the city.
Although Norbu died in 2008, the Dalai Lama still has nephews who reside in Bloomington and carry on his brother’s legacy.
Lisa Morrison, director of media and public relations for the event, said the family will travel to visit their uncle while he’s in Louisville.
“I have to remind our honorable mayor of Louisville that he has a lot of catching up to do with the city of Bloomington because every square inch of Bloomington is hallowed ground,” Singh said. “Momentarily, I felt a little jealous of the city of Louisville that he would not be visiting Indiana, but then I realized that his spirit has the power to shine deep within us each time we even think about him.”
Franklin University Professor David Carlson also stressed that the importance of the Dalai Lama’s visit extends to the whole of the Midwest.
“What happens in Louisville affects us very deeply north of you across the Ohio River,” he said.
Carlson also said communities, as living organisms, are interconnected and that revitalization of society rests on a basic concept.
“The secret of renewing communities is not a mystery. All religions know that compassion is the healing medicine,” Carlson said. “May his visit and celebration of this city as a city of compassion lead other cities and other organizations to take a similar step not only elsewhere in Kentucky but throughout the entire region we know and claim today as America’s heartland, its living center.”
Featuring three days of activities, the Dalai Lama’s stay in the city will include several teaching opportunities, the largest of which will take place on May 19 at the Yum Center. Expecting a crowd of 15,000 in attendance, Fischer said this two-hour presentation will focus on how people can engage with compassion regardless of their religious orientations.
On May 20, the Dalai Lama will give two separate public talks at KFC Yum! Center concentrating on Buddhist teachings. Wrapping up his visit, he will also speak to previously selected school children about nonviolence and compassion May 21 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
Anticipating a great number of guests attending the events, Fischer said the impact on the community and on individuals themselves will be dramatic.
“The Dalai Lama, as I mentioned, is such as iconic figure for peace and justice and compassion that he’s going to inspire people in ways we don’t know about. So our mission should be to get as many people to hear what his message is,” Fischer said.
Tickets for the May 19 and 20 events are on sale at the Yum Center’s box office and online at ticketmaster.com. For more information on these and other happenings leading up to the visit, drop by the official event website at dalailamalouisville.org