Dalai Lama 

A holy visit

Georgia Milan tells the story like this: In fall 2009, Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche joined a delegation before the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled political and spiritual leader, in Washington, D.C. The Dalai Lama, having heard of Rinpoche's efforts to establish a Buddhist garden north of Arlee, called Rinpoche forward and asked when he would be invited to Montana for the consecration.

"Rinpoche, in his infinite wisdom, said, 'When it's done,'" says Milan, coordinator for the Dalai Lama's pending Montana appearance. "His Holiness told him, 'Let me know.'"

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Confirmation came this week with the announcement that the Dalai Lama will visit the Missoula area by fall 2011 to celebrate the completion of the Ewam Garden of 1,000 Buddhas. Rinpoche could not be reached for comment, as he's traveling in Asia until March 19. But according to Milan, receiving the famed Buddhist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner will be no easy task.

"To welcome someone of his stature," Milan says, "we need to be very organized and...inclusive as a community."

Before Milan can set a date, Ewam International must finish the six-phase, $1 million garden as well as 570 of the site's 1,000 Buddha statues. Raquel Castellanos with Ewam International says she hopes to finalize fundraising plans for the garden by April to keep the project on track for next year. With the Dalai Lama's blessing, the garden will become an international peace center.

The work won't end there. Milan says the most difficult preparations will come in organizing the spiritual leader's stay, which she adds could last four days. Simone Ellis, a member of Rinpoche's sangha, or local community of practicing Buddhists, says appearances by the Dalai Lama attract enormous attention and require large public venues.

"One of the last times I covered him was in Idaho," says Ellis, who also works as a journalist. "Boy, those 10,000 tickets for his public talk went literally overnight. We really need a big space for him to do a public talk so everybody can go, and it's customary to have the tickets be free. He doesn't like to make profit off his appearance."

Further details on the Dalai Lama's visit will be released as plans are finalized.

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