Buddhists gather in Germany to hear Dalai Lama visit


Hamburg : The spiritual leader of the Buddhist centre in this north German port mumbles prayers and throws rice into the air as he rings a bell.

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Geshe Pema Samten is in the middle of a traditional ceremony that involves blessing small and large Buddha statues that will sit on the throne of the Dalai Lama when the spiritual and secular leader of Tibetans visits Germany this week.

"The visit of His Holiness is for many a very important event," says the Tibetan teacher, who was sent by the Dalai Lama to northern Germany four years ago. "He will show them how to develop compassion, love and a good heart."

Some 30,000 Buddhists from around the world will descend on Hamburg when the Dalai Lama delivers a series of lectures and philosophical talks at the city's tennis stadium July 21-27. Buddhist nuns and monks from Taiwan, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are among the visitors.

Preparations for the event are in full swing at the Semkye Ling mediation centre in the Lueneburger Heide, a brief drive south of Hamburg. The Dalai Lama gave the centre its name, which translates into "the place where compassion develops".

The Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 following a failed uprising against China, has his government-in-exile in Dharamsala in India. India is also home to some 100,000 Tibetan exiles.

German carpenter Lutz Herbert is busy painting the 3 by 3 metre red throne that the Dalai Lama will sit on. "The white snow lions are a symbol of strength," says the 45-year-old, explaining the meaning of the decorations on the structure.

Herbert was present when the Tibetan leader addressed 10,000 people in the area in 1998. The experience impressed him so much that Herbert converted to Buddhism and has lived in the meditation centre ever since.

"What is important for me are the values of compassion, generosity and wisdom, that the Dalai Lama also stands for," says the carpenter.

Nearby, 100 prayer flags that will decorate the cupola of the tennis stadium are being hung out to dry by wardrobe mistress Nicole Doots-Rauniar.

"They had to be given a fireproof coating before they can be used at the stadium, says the 40-year-old mother-of-two, one of 300 volunteers who are helping to organize the mammoth event.

Doots-Rauniar is married to a Nepalese whom she met during a visit to the landlocked Himalayan kingdom. "I was immediately captivated by Buddhism because it appeals to a person's individual responsibilities," she says.

"It is up to me to ensure that negative feelings such as anger, rage or hate do not materialize. And I have learned that such feelings make me unhappy."

Frank Dick is another German fascinated by Buddhism. "I was so impressed that that I had to learn the language to converse directly with my teachers," says the 37-year-old, who acts as an interpreter for Geshe Pema Samten.

After studying Tibetan for seven years at the Lueneburg Heath centres, he spent a year in a Tibetan monastic university in southern India.

"It is so pleasant to see how the students there interact with their teachers. They are so relaxed – the exact opposite of the stress and hectic way of life that characterizes the West," says Dick, who will be acting as a personal assistant to Geshe Pema Samten during the Dalai Lama's visit.

A charismatic figure and noted public speaker, the Dalai Lama will talk about Buddhist philosophy and practice during his fifth visit to Hamburg. He will also take part in a panel discussion on "Learning peace – the practice of non-violence."

The Tibetan spiritual leader, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1989 for his efforts to achieve a non-violent solution to the Tibetan problem, will also talk about "Compassion in the globalized world" and discuss the 400 Verses of Indian master Aryadeva.

Before the event gets under way, the Dalai Lama will deliver a keynote address at an international congress of Buddhist monks and nuns organized by the University of Hamburg.