As many as 1.5 million non-Asian Americans practice some form of Buddhism today, thanks in part to celebrity adherents and popular films such as "Kundun" and "Seven Years in Tibet."
There will be an opportunity to learn more about the Tibetan form of Buddhism this weekend during the Sacred Arts of Tibet Celebration at Towson University.
The celebration, presented by the university's Asian Arts and Culture Center, includes an art exhibit, a lecture and a Tibetan music and dance performance.
"I wanted to do this because of my respect for the culture," says Suewhei Shieh, the director of the Asian Arts and Culture Center. "I have been a presenter for many different activities. But this is something I haven't done before. It adds to the variety of things offered. And there has been a lot of interest in this culture."
Shieh believes the Buddhist ideals are to be admired.
"They promote and advocate world healing," she says. "It is an attractive idea. I see it as more spiritual than religious."
It took many months of planning to bring everything together, Shieh says. "A year ago, we signed a contract with them."
She feels the timing couldn't be better.
"I'm convinced that this is a rightful time to give our community a delightful dose of Tibet's spiritual and artistic legacy," Shieh says.
One part of the celebration includes a performance of "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance," featuring Tibetan Buddhist lamas from the Deprung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta.
"The performance of 'Sacred Music, Sacred Dance' on Nov. 6 is no doubt going to be an eye-opening experience for our audience," she says.
The performance includes multiphonic singing (the monks intone three notes in a chord). There will be traditional instruments, brocade costumes and masked dances.
The monks have performed around the world, says Lobsang Tenzin, director of the "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance" tour.
The Arts of Tibet tour started in 1988-89, he says in a telephone conversation from Atlanta.
The 12 Tibetan Buddhist monks have performed in countries including Canada, Mexico, England, France, Ireland and Argentina, Tenzin says. The monks have performed with Kitaro, Paul Simon, Eddie Brickell, Natalie Merchant, Patti Smith, the Beastie Boys and the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart.
Their music was featured on the soundtrack of "Seven Years in Tibet." Also, they performed with composer Philip Glass at Lincoln Center in New York in a live presentation of the score for Martin Scorsese's 1998 film "Kundun."
"This is our seventh world tour, which started in mid- to late May of this year," Tenzin says. The "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance" performance takes place Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Stephens Hall Theatre at the university.
Tenzin will answer questions about Tibetan Buddhism.
"We talk about the importance of developing love and compassion. We talk of meditation, how it enhances the quality of life, . . . of meditation to reduce stress. We lecture about the music and dance and chanting," he says.
Tenzin has seen a change in the United States.
"In recent years, there's been an incredible interest expressed about Buddhism, an unprecedented interest in Tibetan culture."
Many people, Tenzin says, are interested in how the traditionally Eastern practice of Buddhism can help with their lives.
"They want to know about the relevance to their lives, how it differs or is compatible with Western lifestyles," he says.
Coming to the celebration may offer people the information they seek, he says.
"It gives them an opportunity to witness a culture built entirely on promoting inner peace, love and compassion. Except for the last century, it's a culture that has been pretty much isolated."
The purpose of the celebration is also to raise awareness of the present situation in Tibet, which is under Chinese occupation, and to raise support for the refugee community in India.
"Primarily, we hope to promote world healing and world peace," Tenzin says.
What: Sacred Arts of Tibet Celebration
Where: Towson University
When: "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance": Saturday, 8 p.m. at Stephens Hall Theatre, 8000 York Road "The Art of Tibet": Center for the Arts Asian Arts Gallery. Nov. 6-10. Opening reception Friday, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. The Asian Arts Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. In addition, extended evening hours Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Saturday hours are 2 p.m.-4 p.m.
Tibetan art lecture: "Shamanism or Buddhism," featuring collector John Ford. Sunday, Nov. 21, 3 p.m. Center for the Arts Room 241. Free.
Cost: "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance": $15 for general admission and $10 for students, seniors and members of the Asian Arts and Culture Center. Tickets are available at the Center of the Arts box office at the corner of Osler and Cross Campus drives. Box office hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and one hour prior to events. Call: 410-830-2787 for tickets.
For more information, call: The Asian Arts and Culture Center, 410-830-2807.