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FIRST-PERSON: School bus not the right vehicle to let kids hear the Dalai Lama

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–The Dalai Lama, spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, recently visited Portland, Ore. Aspects of the religious leader’s tour were not only promoted by area school districts, but young people who attended a youth summit where the Dalai Lama spoke on world peace were shuttled to and from the event on school buses at taxpayer expense.

Given the application of the First Amendment in recent years, this would seem to be a clear violation of the “separation of church and state.”

Supporters of the youth summit defended the use of public school buses. The assertion was made that the Dalai Lama would not be speaking on a religious theme; therefore it could not be considered a religious function.

The only problem with the assertion is that the Dalai Lama does not have to speak on a spiritual topic to be considered religious. In fact, he does not have to speak at all. As the central figure of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama IS religion!

Dalai Lama is not a name and it is not really a title; it is more of a description. The term means “Ocean of Wisdom.” The Dalai Lama is also known as “His Holiness” to Tibetans. In his homeland he is referred to as Yeshe Norbu, the “Wish-fulfilling Gem” or simply Kundun, meaning “The Presence.”

The Dalai Lamas are the manifestations of a particular Buddha who chose to take rebirth for the purpose of serving other human beings. The present Dalai Lama is the 14th incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. Adherents of Buddhism believe he is a wisdom being who has forgone nirvana (the desired state of nonexistence) in order to help the less fortunate in their effort toward enlightenment.

According to the organization Friends of Tibet, when the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933, the Tibetan government did not simply appoint a successor, but it had to seek for and discover a child whom the Buddha of Compassion would incarnate. The regent of Tibet went to a sacred lake and observed a vision in its waters. This vision led to the discovery in 1937 of the child who is presently the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama does not simply represent Tibetan Buddhism — he IS Tibetan Buddhism. In this sense, he can be compared to Jesus Christ, who was not an adherent of Christianity — he was, and is, Christianity.

The message of the Dalai Lama might be positive and peaceful. It might be encouraging and uplifting. However, like the Ten Commandments that are banned from display in public schools, his words are inherently religious in nature. Therefore, according to various courts in our land, they should not be promoted by the state.

Those in the Portland area who supported the use of public schools to promote and transport students to experience the Dalai Lama are either ignorant of the depth of his religious reality, or they simply chose to disregard the recent applications of the First Amendment to blatantly flaunt a religion they favor. My hunch is they are probably guilty of both.
Boggs writes a weekly column for Baptist Press. He is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs