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Bhutanese lama to speak in Steamboat

Tamera Manzanares

Residents will have the rare opportunity to learn about the Buddhist cultural traditions of Bhutan during a visit from the country’s most revered lama, His Holiness Lopen Ngawang Tenzin Rinpoche, this weekend.

“He’s a big deal,” said Tim Olmsted, spiritual director at the Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs. “He’s sort of like the pope of Bhutan.”

Five monks and experts on Buddhist culture will accompany Rinpoche, who is the head of one of the most important lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. They will share the Buddha’s teaching and sacred customs of their culture during three events, including a public lecture and meditation retreat, Friday through Sunday.

Rinpoche’s visit to Steamboat comes at the end of a six-week tour of the United States — the first time a group of revered spiritual leaders from Bhutan has been allowed to travel and teach in the West.

In the heart of the Himalayas, Bhutan is one of the last sovereign Buddhist kingdoms, and people there historically have been protective of their traditions and religion, Olmsted said.

Rinpoche’s visit is not geared to Buddhists in particular but toward the community and anyone interested in Buddhism, spirituality or Bhutanese culture, Olmsted said.

“I think it’s wonderful when people have contact with people with this kind of spiritual depth,” he said.

Rinpoche will introduce himself and his teachings to residents at an open talk Friday. Though he will be speaking through a translator, his message will be entertaining and informative, Olmsted said.

“Apparently, he likes to talk and is very playful,” he said.

Rinpoche will lead a meditation retreat at the Buddhist Center on Saturday and Sunday. The teachings will be based in the Mahamudra tradition, which is considered the most sublime of all Buddhist traditions, Olmsted said.

He said the tradition is most revered because it allows the most immediate access to a person’s deepest wisdom and spirituality.

“It’s a way to refresh the mind and to settle our minds …it allows for the natural qualities to come out and for us to do what we want to do in this life,” Olmsted said of meditation’s benefits.

Sunday afternoon, Rinpoche will bestow a ritual empowerment blessing that originated in the time of Buddha. The ritual, based on the Buddha Amitayus — the Buddha of Long Life — removes obstacles to well-being, health and prosperity and brings a quality of peace to individuals and the community, Olmsted said.

“I think it’s a pretty unusual opportunity, only lamas of this stature can give this empowerment,” he said.

After the ritual, the monks will perform the sacred dance of Bhutan, a colorful and dramatic dance that depicts the many manifestations of the Buddha and guardian deities.

Children will be welcome at the public talk and empowerment ritual. Donations are requested at both events to help pay for the Bhutanese group’s expenses.


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