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Aspen abuzz over Dalai Lama’s visit

Charles AgarThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN You cant get a ticket, and everyones talking about whats going on next weekend.No, its not the Rolling Stones in concert or Barack Obama swooping into Aspen for a campaign rally.Its the Dalai Lama landing at the Aspen Institute, and the town is high on His Holiness.Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, will speak at the Benedict Music Tent on Saturday as part of a three-day summer symposium celebrating Tibetan and Himalayan culture. The institute and the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture are sponsoring the event, which starts Thursday.Tickets sold out within hours on the morning of June 3 individuals were limited to two $80 seats in the tent or two free tickets for simulcast spots and there are regular ads in local papers of people looking for one of the 2,000 tent seats or 1,700 seats in one of the simulcast venues.Scalping offers for Saturdays talk have reportedly reached as high as $1,000.His compassion and concern for sentient beings is like the sun, said Dennis Tuma, the local coordinator for the Roaring Fork Friends of Tibet, a group that welcomes monks and Buddhists of all traditions.Tuma said the religious leaders visit will mark a seminal moment in history, as Tibetan politics take center stage in the run-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Local Buddhists will mostly witness the Dalai Lamas visit more or less from behind heavy security at the institute, according to Tuma. His group has organized a week full of activities for visiting Tibetan monks, such as creation of a sand mandala at a local gallery and a ceremony on Aspen Mountain.Its something Tuma called Dharma for the proletariat, aimed at those who dont have tickets to the well-heeled events. But tickets arent the only in.Locals who dont have a seat in the presence of His Holiness can listen to the Dalai Lamas talk on Aspen Public Radio and watch it on GrassRoots TV or on a web simulcast on the Aspen Institute website.The Dalai Lamas visit comes on the heels of talks and teachings at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and in Madison, Wis. After his Aspen stop, he is scheduled to return to Dharamsala, India, his home in exile, before heading to France.Its very exciting, said Kitty Boone, the institutes vice president of public programs, who added that the Dalai Lamas visit marks a big week on the campus.Monday, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan will address an audience at the institutes Greenwald Pavilion, and that, coupled with the Dalai Lamas visit later in the week, has the campus on heightened security, Boone said.There will be metal detectors and bag checks at all venues.Those are less-comfortable things for us to do because we like things to be open and accessible, Boone said.But institute officials are experienced in providing security for dignitaries, and staff are acutely aware and work with federal and local authorities to keep events safe, Boone said.Dozens of reporters from international media, including a film crew from France and two reporters from China, are following the Dalai Lama during his U.S. visit, according to institute staff.And its not just His Holiness wholl grace town, but also scores of Buddhist teachers, devotees and Tibetan people, Boone said.Crews are already busy draping parts of the campus in prayer flags, and Tibetan monks will go to work Monday on a sand mandala on the campus, Boone said.And while not everybody can have a chance to see His Holiness, there are a lot of opportunities to touch Tibetan culture this week, Boone said.There will be talks, art exhibits and ceremonies throughout the week, and on Friday, the Dalai Lama will speak to a select audience of Institute participants and donors, followed by Saturdays public forum.We have quite a marvelous group of people coming, Boone said.Hotel reservations in Aspen are at about 70 percent, almost identical to what they were for the same weekend last year, according to Bill Tomcich, president of the reservation agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.Its not creating a weekend like the Fourth of July or Food & Wine, Tomcich said. But its a busy weekend.cagar@aspentimes.com


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