Dalai Lama headed to New Orleans in 2013

NOVEMBER 19, 2012 | NEWS

By Stacey Plaisance, Associated Press

The Dalai Lama and an entourage of Tibetan monks are heading to New Orleans in May in a rally of support for communities still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

For more than a decade, Ronald Marks, dean of Tulane University‘s School of Social Work, which is sponsoring the Dalai Lama’s trip, has been conducting a graduate social work class in north India. Students work with the Tibetan refugee population and with the Louisiana Himalaya Association, a local social service organization that provides services to Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala and in surrounding villages throughout north India.

“I firmly believe that whereas we have much to offer the Tibetan exile community, we also have much to learn from it,” Marks said during a news conference Monday on Tulane’s campus where a centuries-old oak tree was draped with colorful Buddhist prayer flags.

The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader plans to speak at Tulane’s commencement ceremony on May 18 in the Superdome, where he will be presented with an honorary degree.

He also will speak at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on May 17 and May 18, at the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena. The public can buy tickets to listen.

The 77-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner makes annual trips to the U.S. in October and May. His visit to New Orleans has been more than a year in the planning.

During the visit, monks will create an elaborate sand mandala — a circular symbolic design — at the Morial Convention Center and perform multiphonic chanting, known as zokkay. They will lead a procession to the Mississippi River and disperse the mandala’s sand into the river.

“His visit will be so uplifting for New Orleans,” said Kristina Rigterink, a 24-year-old Tulane graduate student pursuing her master’s degree in social work. “His presence is contagious, and his message of resilience and strength I believe will be felt for a long time.”

The Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent struggle in protest of Chinese rule of Tibet, has long been a critic of the Iraq War. In Iraq, violence caused by insurgents remains a problem following the U.S. withdrawal of troops in December. He will bring that message of nonviolence to New Orleans, a city plagued by high murder rates.

“His Holiness brings with him a message of compassion,” said Ngawang Legshe, a former Tibetan monk who has been teaching at Tulane since 2006.

Last month the Dalai Lama talked about violence, ethics, education, values, compassion and peace in U.S. college communities in the New England area about two weeks before the Atlantic Coast was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

He also spent three days in Massachusetts, the site of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values, a nonprofit think tank at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. He also attended a concert in Boston that featured a performance by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter James Taylor.

Revenue generated from ticket sales for his New Orleans appearances will be used to underwrite the visit. Any remaining funds will be donated to a nonprofit organization.

Religious groups have played a significant part in the rebuilding of the New Orleans area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, mostly through volunteers from church-sponsored organizations of a wide variety of denominations who flocked to the region after Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. The storm killed an estimated 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and unleashed a flood that swamped 80 percent of New Orleans.