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Former aide to Dalai Lama to appear this weekend

 
The Venerable Lama Losang Samten will offer healing and purification ceremonies and meditation practices.
The Venerable Lama Losang Samten will offer healing and purification ceremonies and meditation practices.
Published Feb. 4, 2015

GULFPORT — The Venerable Lama Losang Samten, a former personal attendant to the Dalai Lama, is coming to Pinellas County to share the Tibetan spiritual leader's teachings of tolerance and love.

"Tibetan Buddhism is not necessarily a religion," he says. "Tibetan Buddhism is more a way of life."

Samten who was born in Tibet, but grew up in Dharamsala, the Indian town that is the headquarters of Tibet's exile government, will offer healing and purification ceremonies and Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices in Gulfport and St. Petersburg this week.

Lyn Dean, who studied with the former monk in California, invited him to Florida.

"He is very open-hearted and welcoming. A big part of his practice is welcoming everyone from every tradition and looking at the similarity of our traditions," she said.

Samten, whose monastery studies included Islam and Hinduism, said one of the reasons he came to the United States more than a quarter-century ago was to learn about Christianity and Judaism.

Knowledge fosters understanding, he said.

"In the 21st century, we have to live side by side. There is no way we can make another boundary, another wall, another fence," said Samten, author of the book Ancient Teachings in Modern Times: Buddhism in the 21st Century.

Born in Chung Ribuce, in central Tibet, he and his family fled their homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against China's rule. Samten said he became a monk at 11 and joined the Dalai Lama's monastery in Dharamsala for intensive studies at 16. Chosen as one of four personal attendants to the spiritual leader, he went on to serve him for five years.

"That was wonderful for me," said Samten, now 61.

He said he worked closely with the Dalai Lama, performing such tasks as serving meals, taking care of his clothing and managing his schedules.

"He is a tremendously kind, compassionate person and easy to work with. The more I see of the world, the more I'm impressed with His Holiness," he said.

"There is no difference between his public life and his private life. We truly believe that he is the reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. On a human level, he is a remarkable human being and very open minded and he welcomes any faith and any ideas."

Samten's first visit to America was in 1981 with the spiritual leader. In 1988, he returned to demonstrate the Buddhist art of sand painting. It was the first time that a Tibetan mandala — an intricate, painstakingly created colored sand design that is later dismantled to demonstrate impermanence — had been created in this country, he said. Since then he has demonstrated the ritual at places such as the Museum of Natural History in New York and at Harvard and Columbia universities.

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In 1992, he decided to stop being a monk.

"Living in the West as a Buddhist monk is not very easy in many ways," said the now naturalized American citizen, who went on to work as a mandala supervisor, actor and religious technical advisor for Martin Scorsese's 1997 movie, Kundun, which is based on the biography of the Dalai Lama.

He now dedicates his life to being the spiritual director of three U.S. Buddhist centers, in Philadelphia, where he lives, El Paso, Texas, and Middletown, Conn. He also teaches throughout the U.S. and in Canada.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes on Twitter.