The Dalai Lama in Washington D.C. (UPDATE): Dalai Lama Speaks to Thousands on the National Mall

The irony of the Tibetan leader speaking about losing his nation, in front of the U.S. Capitol, while Secretary Clinton was welcoming the new country of South Sudan was not lost on members in the crowd.
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HuffPost blogger Matteo Pistono is writing regularly from the Dalai Lama's "Kalachakra for World Peace" event in Washington D.C., running July 6-16. Scroll down to read all of Matteo's updates.

Saturday 7/9: Dalai Lama Speaks to Thousands on the National Mall

The Dalai Lama spent his Saturday morning on the National Mall speaking to over 20,000 people about developing inner confidence and warm heartedness. Whoopi Goldberg emceed the nearly three-hour open-air event, which included monks chanting, traditional Tibetan dance, and musicians. The last time the Tibetan spiritual leader spoke on the Mall was after being presented the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in the Capitol Rotunda in 2008.

The Dalai Lama, who recently devolved his political authority to a democratically elected leadership in-exile, did not mention his meeting last Thursday with House Speaker John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and others, nor about the possibility of meeting President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Human rights groups have called on the U.S. Administration to meet with the Dalai Lama, as has Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who said last week said, "China is now calling on U.S. officials to refuse to meet with the Dalai Lama during his current visit. It must be clear that the U.S. sides with the victims in Tibet, not the perpetrators in Beijing. President Obama has an opportunity to make a strong statement about what we stand for by meeting with the Dalai Lama during his current visit, and I urge him to take it."

Speaking Saturday about the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the early 1950s and his subsequent exile to India, the 76 year-old Dalai Lama said, "I lost my freedom at sixteen [years old]. At twenty-four [years old], I lost my country."

The irony of the Tibetan leader speaking about losing his nation, in front of the U.S. Capitol, while Secretary Clinton was welcoming the new country of South Sudan was not lost on members in the crowd. And political observers have opined that President Obama's hesitation to sit down with a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner evidences China's continuing ability to influence who is invited into the White House.

The Dalai Lama focused much of his hour-long remarks on what he called his three life commitments. He said that as a human being, he is committed to the promotion of basic human values such as compassion; as a Buddhist monk, he encourages interfaith dialogue and tolerance; and as the Dalai Lama, he is committed to the Tibetan people. Often times joking and making light hearted remarks, the Dalai Lama concluded the morning by challenged the audience, especially the youth, to devote as much effort to "developing warm heartedness" as they do "brain intelligence."

In the afternoon, the Dalai Lama returned to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. for the first of three days of teaching fundamental Buddhist tenants. Organizers have said that nearly 10,000 people are attending the teachings. Sitting on a traditional throne with dozens of monks, including the Gyalwang Karmapa, on either side, the Dalai Lama presented the Buddha's 2,500 year-old teachings on the Four Noble Truths, and outlined the logic used in contemplative session to understand impermanence, causality, and the nature of suffering. Even while teaching classic Buddhist philosophy, Dalai Lama stressed the importance of "respecting everyone, whether believer or non-believer, religious or non-religious."

"You can disagree on someone's viewpoint or philosophy, but you must still respect that person as an individual."

The Dalai Lama will teach in Sunday and Monday afternoons before beginning the Kalachakra initiation scheduled July 12-16th.

A series of talks on Buddhism are taking place in the early evening at the Verizon by a number of notable lamas and Western scholars.

Friday 7/8: What is a sand mandala?

The Dalai Lama has presided over three days of meditation, prayer, and rituals at the Verizon Center. This has included many hours of mantra recitation, complex visualization, intricate hand gestures, profound states of meditation, and ritual music and dance by monks in ceremonial costumes. These strenuous efforts by the Dalai Lama and the monks from Namgyal Monastery are believed to ritually cleanse the area of negativity while at the same time stake a claim on the locale so that the profound Kalachakra initiation can unfold in the most auspicious manner. In short, the Verizon Center -- home to modern-day gladiator matches of hockey and basketball, with the enormous banners of Geico Insurance and Dunkin' Donuts -- is being transformed into the celestial abode of the enlightened deity known as Kalachakra. Tantric Buddhism has arrived to Washington D.C.!

Central to the bestowing of the Kalachakra initiation is the creation of a mandala. "Mandala" literally means "center and circumference" and in the tantric context connotes a circular diagram symbolizing a universe with a deity in the center of his or her palace complete with entourage, gatekeepers, and a surrounding environment. Mandalas are painted on cloth and temple walls, created from colored sand, or fashioned from wood, stone or colored threads.

Today, the Dalai Lama and his monks will begin creating the sand mandala out of colored sand and minerals. First, they will draw a precise and highly technical architectural plan on a platform the size of a queen bed. The platform was the focus of consecration ceremonies the last three days, and it will become the symbolic home of the Kalachakra deity. Once the design has been drawn, the mandala will begin to take shape from the center outward by painting with grains of sand. Monks will literally place one grain at a time, poured slowly out of metal cone-shaped tubes. A multi-tiered palace, deities, sacred syllables, animals, and mountains and rivers, will soon cover nearly the entire platform. It could be said that creating a sand mandala is the most meditative, and painstaking, exercise in color-by-numbers that man has invented! Monks will work nearly round the clock for four days, careful not to allow a breeze to disturb the sand, to create the two-dimensional mandala of Kalachakra. All of this will be able to be seen on Verizon's jumbotron overhead as a mandala-cam has been installed directly above the platform.

A principal reason for constructing a mandala is to have a visual representation of a deity when preparing and conducting a tantric initiation. A tantric initiation gives permission to a practitioner to begin identifying themselves with the enlightened form and qualities of a deity through the practice of deity yoga. Training in deity yoga with its visualizations, mantra recitations, and meditation, the practitioner strives to merge his or her mind with the wisdom and enlightened qualities of the deity. Here in Washington D.C., the practitioners will utilize the two-dimensional sand mandala as the bases for visualizing the three-dimensional universe of Kalachakra, complete with sounds, fragrances, physical sensations, tastes and mental feelings such as love and joy.

Once the sand mandala is completed, the Dalai Lama will bestowed the three-day Kalachakra initiation. Thereafter, the sand mandala will be destroyed. The Dalai Lama will return to the platform, reach towards the center, and draw his hand across the intricate sand designs. After the sand mandala is destroyed, the sand will be swept into vases and poured into the Potomac River in a symbolic gesture of spreading the blessing of the Kalachakra far and wide.

While the dismantling of the sand mandala emphasizes the core Buddhist teaching of impermanence, there is a much more profound symbolism that it represents. It is a reminder to the practitioner to return to that internal space of infinite possibility before anything is created by the mind. The practitioner ceases to think and create and rather rests in his or her own spacious awareness that knows no bounds.

Watch a time-lapse of the construction of a kalachakra mandala in Philadelphia in 2009:

Wednesday 7/6: What is the Kalachakra?

The Kalachakra refers to a corpus of tantric Buddhist teachings, as well as a specific tantric Buddhist deity.

With regards to the body of teachings, the Kalachakra is set of tantric Buddhist practices and teachings that include philosophy, meditation instructions, cosmology, medicine, and yoga. The Kalachakra is one of a number of different systems taught in tantric Buddhism in Tibet, all of which originated in India.

Tantric Buddhism, which can also be called Vajrayana, is the principal stream of Buddhism in Tibet, Bhutan, and Mongolia (whereas, generally speaking, Theravada Buddhism predominates Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma, and Mahayana Buddhism is prevalent in China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea). Tantra is based on the principle of the transformation of impure perception into pure perception. Utilizing visualization of deities and mandalas, recitation of sacred syllables known as mantra, and meditation brings about such pure perception. It is believed that through such practices, one's ordinary outlook can be fundamentally transformed into a 'sacred perception,' where all sights, sounds and even thoughts, are experienced purely in their true nature.

The ultimate point to the skillful methods found in tantra is to transform the mind and mature one's innate wisdom and compassion. The Dalai Lama has said, "Buddhism is not about rituals, mantras, visualizations, or ceremonies. They may be part of it, but the fundamental point of Buddhism is to transform the mind."

To practice the Kalachakra, as with all tantric teachings, consistent guidance by a qualified master is required. Central to this guidance is an empowerment, or initiation, into the various visualizations of deities and mandalas, mantra recitation and all associated practices. Empowerment is analogous to the manner in which an unlit candle is poised to illuminate a dark room but requires the condition of another flame. In a similar manner, when a qualified master conducts an empowerment, the student's spiritual potential can be ignited which allows their indwelling wisdom and compassion to shine forth.

Sometimes Kalachakra refers to the specific tantric deity. Kalachakra is a widely studied and practiced deity in Tibetan Buddhism. Tantric deities, of whom there is a wide variety, are believed to represent various aspects of the enlightened mind. For example, the Dalai Lama is said to be the human manifestation of the tantric deity, Avalokiteshvara, commonly referred to as the Buddha of Compassion. Practitioners of a specific tantric deity utilize complex visualization, mantra recitation, and concentration, to cultivate positive inner qualities in such as way that they will become manifest for the benefit of others.

Wednesday 7/6: The Dalai Lama Arrives for Two Week Visit

The Dalai Lama arrived yesterday in the nation's capital and will spend much of the next two weeks (July 6-16) at the Verizon Center conducting rituals and prayers for world peace, and imparting Tibetan Buddhist teachings. The Dalai Lama is also expected to have meetings with U.S. government leaders.

Events on July 6 will include a birthday celebration for the 76 year-old Tibetan leader. Martin King, son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, will join the celebration.

On July 9, the Dalai Lama will give "A Talk for World Peace"on the West Lawn of the National Mall. Whoopi Goldberg will emcee the event, which will include chanting by monks from Namgyal Monastery, performances by cellist Michael Fitzpatrick and singer Skylar Gray.

July 9-11, the Dalai Lama will present the foundations of Buddhist philosophy and ethics, and from July 12-15, he will bestow the empowerment of the Kalachakra, one of the principal tantric practices found in Tibetan Buddhism. Over 10,000 people are expected to attend daily. See here for a schedule of events from July 6-16. A live web cast will be offered (with English and Chinese translation) here.

The Capital Area Tibetan Association (CATA) is organizing the event, along with the greater Tibetan community in the U.S. Mongolians, Kalmyks, and the peoples of the Himalayan regions are also expected to attend.

In addition, a full array of events highlighting Tibetan Buddhism and culture will be held at different locations in Washington and Northern Virginia. These include a display of Kalachakra materials from the Tibetan Collection at the Library of Congress, films, performances by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, and concerts. Evening lectures on Tibetan Buddhist topics will be given by leading Tibetan Buddhist lamas and scholars at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue.

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