Finally, Hard Facts About the Dalai Lama’s Visit to Philly

Will there be road closures? Will he ride around in a Dalai Lama mobile? Do I have to bow when I meet him? All your questions—and a few more—answered.

Unlike the frenzy surrounding Pope Francis’s appearance this month, the vibe around the Dalai Lama’s visit October 26 and 27 is distinctly chill. So everybody can just stand down and no need for prep-the-bunker Pope-is-coming-to-visit provision shopping. In fact, His Holiness’s visit is so chill that many of the logistical details of his visit — he will receive the National Constitution Center’s 2015 Liberty Medal — are still being worked out. Vince Stango, chief operating officer of the National Constitution Center remarks that even the lawn ceremony, from 5-6 pm on October 26, “will be understated, reverential, but without a lot of splash.”

This seems to fit with the humble manner of His Holiness, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday while attending the Glastonbury Music Festival in England. (Singer Patti Smith led the crowds in the birthday song for him, after which he gave her a big hug).

The Dalai Lama will be traveling to Philadelphia with an entourage of about eight or nine people. The State Department coordinates his security with the Philadelphia Police, but he’s known for traveling about rather discreetly. According to Tony Boris, president of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center, “He doesn’t have a Popemobile type of vehicle.” He will be staying at an undisclosed hotel somewhere in Center City.

Because the Liberty Medal presenters are anticipating three times as many visitors than usual for the ceremony (past recipients include Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Muhammad Ali), an outdoor lawn party on the second block in front of Independence Hall is being organized, complete with Jumbotron to broadcast the ceremony live to accommodate the additional thousands of fans.

Tsering Jurme, of the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia says, “We are hoping thousands and thousands fill up Independence Mall. There are 150 Tibetans in Philadelphia and eight to ten thousand Tibetans in the New York City area. We’re getting calls from Tibetans in Canada, Minnesota. They all are hoping to get a note or blessing from the Dalai Lama.”

The two other events that His Holiness plans on attending sold out almost immediately. They are hosted by the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia and the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. (The Dalai Lama leads a teaching Monday, October 26 on the “Eight Verses for Training the Mind” at La Salle University. Fortunately, non ticket-holders can watch the livestream throughout the La Salle University Network and around the world. The second event is a morning forum Tuesday, October 27 on “Finding Happiness in Troubled Times: Educating the Heart in the 21st Century” at Temple’s Liacouras Center.)

But there are other ways to get your compassion on. The first annual Day of Kindness, founded by Elazar Aslan, who’s also a board member of the Tibetan Buddhist Center, will promote the Dalai Lama’s message with action. “We didn’t want to just clap when his Holiness shows up, but to actually carry out his message in our daily lives and put it into action,” says Aslan.

According to Aslan, there are a few programs in the works. “Love and Kindness in the Wind’ is a project that will showcase thousands of 8” by 12” flags, akin to Buddhist prayer flags, created by interested people from the area and decorated with art, or messages of compassion and love. He and his volunteer network plan on collecting the flags and then displaying them in various spots around the city, including the City Hall courtyard. Check out the website for details.

Aslan describes the second project, “Acts of Kindness,” as a community-based volunteer effort organized digitally on the website to facilitate acts of kindness. “We’ll be gathering lists of organizations that have particular needs, mid-size Philly-based organizations like shelters and food banks… We won’t accept money, but donations in kind like blankets, food supplies, art supplies.” Another component to “Acts of Kindness” is for organizations to post their volunteer needs for projects soon to be underway.

Finally, if you’re just in the mood for some Tibetan fun, head over to Rittenhouse Square’s Church of the Holy Trinity Monday, October 26 for an evening of dance and music, from 8-10 pm to benefit the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia.

And if you should be so lucky as to come across His Holiness as he quietly moves about our city, don’t worry, says Tony Boris: “There are no formalities about the Dalai Lama, like zero. There’s no protocol to follow. He’s friendly and warmhearted. If you are Tibetan or not, he treats everyone the same.”


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