tampabay.com

Peace is his focus, his dream

The Venerable Lama Lhanang Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk and meditation master, is in Gulfport to teach classes at the Pema Choling Dharma Center.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published June 4, 2006


GULFPORT -- The Venerable Lama Lhanang Rinpoche climbed on a stool and carefully hung the elaborate silk wall hangings of Buddha he'd hand-carried on his flight from Los Angeles.

In a few hours, he would lead a mediation for about 40 people in the newly decorated shrine room at the Pema Choling Dharma Center.

His visit comes at an auspicious time, Saga Dawa, a period when believers commemorate Buddha's birthday, enlightenment and passing into nirvana.

Thursday, after he had finished hanging the brilliantly colored sacred paintings, rearranging the altar and moving a large statue of Buddha, the 38-year-old Tibetan monk sat down to talk. One of his greatest wishes is for world peace and he is trying to do his part to make that a reality, he said.

Lhanang, who will give several classes while he is in the Tampa Bay area, also talked about coming to America, his appreciation for his new country and about meeting the Dalai Lama.

"The first time I met the Dalai Lama was in Dharamsala,'' he said, referring to the town in India that is the exile home of the famous Tibetan figure. "I wanted to talk to him about everything.''

Instead, said Lhanang, he wept. "That day, my heart was so big, I can't stop the tears. I've been dreaming since a child to see him.''

A few days later, at a second meeting, he was less tongue-tied, he said. "He's really wise and has a gentle heart. He is a Tibetan leader and a Buddhist leader. He's a wonderful role model.''

Lhanang, who came to the United States 13 years ago and is an American citizen, declined to give details about his difficulties under Chinese rule. His family is still in Tibet, he said, and he is trying to help orphans and others there. He added that he doesn't want to jeopardize his work.

"We just wish one day we have freedom, but we are now countryless,'' Lhanang said. "I really like freedom here. I can help young people here and I can help young people in my homeland.''

The monk is in Gulfport at the invitation of Greg Powers, a longtime convert to Buddhism and ordained teacher. Powers, a former hospital administrator, is the founder of the Pema Choling Center, which meets at the Longhouse, A Well Being Centre, 2309 49th St. S. Last year he invited the Tibetan monk to bless the opening of Pema Choling.

Powers first met the monk in California. Later Lhanang visited him in New Mexico. At the time, he knew no English, said Lhanang, who wears traditional Tibetan robes. He went on to tell a story of being approached by curious tribal police officers on a Zuni reservation, who later treated him to lunch. Now Lhanang speaks English fluently. He is a meditation master in the Nyingma tradition and is believed to be the reincarnation of a famous Buddhist teacher.

"Life is like a circle. It's like changing clothes,'' he said, when asked about his reincarnation.

"To myself, it's not what's in the past, it's what you do in everyday life.''

He has plans for this life. One is to make a 25-acre peace garden that would honor the world's 12 major religions. The garden, which will be created on donated property in Mexico, will also house a clinic, orphanage and school for Mayan residents in the area.

"It's not for me, but it is for the symbol of peace,'' he said. "It's a five-year project that will start at the end of the year. I don't need the land. Right now, I have good friends, good food, anywhere I go. I am the founder and the dreamer, but I don't want anything.''