PORTLAND — The Dalai Lama, despite frequent U.S. tours, has not been to Oregon since he told a sold-out Memorial Coliseum crowd that humanity appeared to have learned its lessons from the violent 20th century, and expressed hope for a more peaceful next 100 years.
Terrorists brought down the Twin Towers four months later, triggering a century that has so far been defined by war, fear and heightened security.
Now the Buddhist monk known as His Holiness returns. A May 10 speech at the University of Oregon, where $20 tickets were reportedly being re-sold for more than 10 times that price, is sandwiched between environment-themed events in Portland.
“The topic is really cool and it fits well with the place,” said Katrina Brooks, who is studying the Tibetan language at Maitripa College, the Buddhist institution in southeast Portland that is hosting the visit.
The event is huge for a college founded seven years ago, with one classroom, a meditation room, roughly 60 students and an endowment of less than $1 million.
School president and professor Yangsi Rinpoche said the Dalai Lama probably does not come to Portland regularly because — though naturally beautiful — it’s not as politically strategic an area as New York or Washington, D.C., to pursue his goals of greater autonomy for Tibetans and the protection of their traditional Buddhist culture.
The 77-year-old spiritual leader was chosen as the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940. Believed to be the reincarnation of his predecessor, he has lived in India since 1959, when he and thousands of other Tibetans fled following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Rinpoche said “everybody wants a ticket” to next month’s events, but the demand has yet to translate into a surge of people seeking to enroll at the tiny college that, even with its name attached to the Dalai Lama’s visit, is virtually unknown in Portland. Despite its low profile, the school has attracted students from as far as Romania and Australia.
“Somebody who is looking for something, they will find it,” he said cryptically.