Tibetan Buddhist leader brings message of compassion to U.S.


FREDERICK -- Here, atop a mountain overlooking Frederick, the holy leader of a line of Tibetan Buddhism has come to inspire his tiny, growing American flock.

"Practicing good thoughts -- love, kindness and compassion -- these are very important," says his holiness, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, speaking softly in English to a visitor at the Tibetan Meditation Center. "This message is important to anybody."

He is a bald, rotund man with a gentle demeanor. Dressed in orange and purple robes and seated on a draped chair, he speaks amiably with visitors in a living room otherwise furnished with sofas and Oriental wall hangings. Lamas -- priests -- politely offer tea and cookies.

The monk, head of the Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism, which is one of four lineages of Buddhism, will convey his message again at 6:15 p.m. today during a lecture, "The Path of Compassion," at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.

The lecture will be Chetsang Rinpoche's second at the Baltimore gallery. He spoke there during a U.S. visit in 1987 and was well-received, said John G. Ford, a member of the Walters board of trustees.

"We felt he should appear again," said Mr. Ford, a self-described "passionate follower of the cultural world of the Himalayas" who has visited Chetsang Rinpoche at his monastery in India.

The monk's tour of the Tibetan centers in the United States provides spiritual guidance and leadership to followers of his lineage and other Buddhists. He arrived in the country in April and will visit Chicago, San Francisco and Madison, Wis., after leaving the Frederick center, which began in Wash

ington, D.C.

Since his arrival at the isolated Tibetan Meditation Center, a sparsely furnished house and shrine outside Frederick, Chetsang Rinpoche, 48, has met with a parade of perhaps 100 visitors, conducted meditations, ceremonies and presented teachings on Buddhism.

"They've come from all over to see him," says Lama Samten, a Tibetan priest and a resident at the Frederick center.

Buddhism is a religion and philosophical system founded in India in about the 6th century B.C. and is practiced throughout central and eastern Asia. The religion -- which stresses peace and introspection -- is spreading in North America, where it has more than a half-million followers. Carroll County gave zoning approval in November to an expansion of the meditation center at a pagoda built by another Buddhist line in the Deep Run area.

Chetsang Rinpoche is the 37th in a line of leaders of the Tibetan Buddhist order. He is believed by followers to be the reincarnation of a previous leader and was identified as such at age 3. As a boy, he studied the Drikung Kyabgon texts, preparing for the life of a spiritual leader.

When he was 13, however, China invaded Tibet and closed a monastery where he had been living and studying. He then attended Communist schools, played soccer and was later forced to do hard labor.

Chetsang Rinpoche eventually escaped Tibet, crossing the Himalayas into Nepal on a long, sometimes treacherous journey.

His story has inspired followers around the world.

Kindness, love and compassion within one's inner-self affects others and society in a positive way, Chetsang Rinpoche says. To think negatively or otherwise produces negative effects, he says.

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