Thousands crowd Aspen for a glimpse at spiritual leader |

Thousands crowd Aspen for a glimpse at spiritual leader

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
His Holiness the Dalai Lama blesses a scarf for a little girl behind the Benedict Music Tent on Saturday afternoon July 26, 2008, after finishing his talk in Aspen, Colo. His Holiness leaves after being the keynote speaker during a three day symposium on Tibetan culture at the Aspen Institute. (AP Photo/The Aspen Times, Paul Conrad)
AP | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Alison Armstrong awoke early to see her “living role model.”

The Hotchkiss resident and her mother, Sharon, woke up at 5 a.m. Saturday to get a glimpse of His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, at the sold-out Benedict Music Tent.

And they weren’t disappointed.

“I’m so full,” Alison said, holding back tears. “He’s been one of my heroes for a long time.”

And it is the Dalai Lama’s ability to be at once compassionate to others’ suffering and find happiness in himself that impressed her.

“That’s an amazing thing to do,” she said.

Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery kicked off the event Saturday. Wearing yellow crescent hats, they performed guttural chants to the accompaniment of long bass horns, short, shrill horns and clanging symbols.

And the crowd delighted to the comic antics of performers in a two-man Tibetan lion costume before hearing the words of His Holiness.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who also sits on the board of the Aspen Institute.

Part of the institute’s mission is to provide a venue where people in the community can get involved, she said.

“I’ve been drawn to the Dalai Lama for the last 12 years,” said Wickes Brewster of Carbondale. “It was great.”

“Our town seeks evolution,” said Aspenite Patty Lecht-Bluefield.

Local disabled freeskier Sam Ferguson said the day offered a “moment of reflection” and that people can take from the Dalai Lama’s visit what they want.

“I never saw him before,” said Pema Sherpa, who attended Saturday’s event in traditional Sherpa dress of her native Nepal. She has worked at the Hotel Jerome for the past six months and was surprised at the local fervor to see His Holiness.

There is a “historic fascination” with the Dalai Lama dating back to years when Tibet was inaccessible, said Orville Schell, an expert on U.S.-China relations with the Asia Society. He was in Aspen for the Tibetan symposium.

“He’s a very compelling, selfless world leader,” Schell said. “When you’re with him, he’s one of those individuals who has your well-being in mind.”

There was heavy security, including metal detectors at all entrances to the music tent, and the event went off without incident.

“It’s a great crowd,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy Brad Gibson, who was on security detail Saturday. “They don’t cause any problems whatsoever.”

And even a few budding capitalists took advantage of the event, setting up a stand touting “All Natural Treats” of iced tea, coffee, energy drinks and muffins.

“It’s different than your average lemonade stand,” said Brian Derosa, 14, who set up the venture with his sister, Caroline, 11, both of Aspen and Baltimore, Md.

“4,000 people are coming,” Derosa said. And despite a booming trade as the crowds funneled in, he planned to see the Dalai Lama live.

“I think he’s great,” Derosa said.

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