Details light on Dalai Lama visit

Emissary OK with event's connection to personal growth group NXIVM

Albany Times-Union/March 29, 2009

The Dalai Lama is a busy man. Take a look at his upcoming appearance schedule, posted on his official Web site,

Between April 24 and Dec. 2, the 73-year-old spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism with a pop star aura will be globe-trotting from the United States to Europe, from India to Australia, lecturing on peace, compassion and Buddhist teachings.

What isn't on that schedule is any mention of his planned five-day visit to Albany.

Organizers say that from April 18 to 22, the Dalai Lama will appear for the inaugural events of the World Ethical Foundations Consortium, presented by the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation. At 2 p.m. Sunday, April 19, he will speak at the Times Union Center about the importance of compassion and ethics in today's world. Tickets for this event went on sale March 14.

Bob Belber, Times Union Center general manager, wouldn't say how many tickets have been sold, but he said he expects to sell at least 7,000.

EHF trustees and event organizers, Sara and Clare Bronfman, announced earlier this month that they have also planned a series of panel discussions and other events at the University at Albany featuring the Dalai Lama. UAlbany spokesman Michael Parker said the school is renting out space for, but not hosting, the events.

Details have been slow to develop for the campus visit and the group has not updated its Web site, which at presstime still stated: "Details regarding schedule and tickets will be available by March 25, 2009." That date has come and gone.

Repeated calls in recent days from the Times Union to Clare Bronfman and to Lama Tenzin Dhonden, a Tibetan Buddhist monk and the Dalai Lama's emissary, in an effort to firm up these details and find out why the Albany dates are not included on the Dalai Lama's online schedule have not been returned. Neither has e-mail to the Dalai Lama's headquarters in India.

Most of the Dalai Lama's upcoming U.S. appearances are sponsored by universities and Tibetan cultural organizations. For instance, from April 30 through May 2, a slate of Boston-area events are being sponsored by Harvard Medical School, the Tibetan Association of Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the Dalai Lama will be on hand to inaugurate the university's new Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Ideas.

But the announcement in January that the Dalai Lama would visit Albany as the guest of the EHF raised eyebrows. That's because of the affiliation among the Bronfman sisters, EHF and NXIVM, which is also known as Executive Success Programs. NXIVM is a Colonie-based company that conducts personal-growth training courses.

Detractors say NXIVM (pronounced Nex-ee-um) is a cult-like organization. Critics include former participants and cult experts. NXIVM has been the subject of a number of stories in the media since its founding in 1998. Former participants have alleged that NXIVM training involves psychologically damaging mind-control techniques.

The EHF's "conceptual founder" is Keith Raniere, who also is the founder of NXIVM. Prior to starting NXIVM, Raniere ran a company called Consumers Buyline that was forced to close after investigations by 23 states and two federal agencies alleged it was a pyramid scheme. He reached a monetary settlement with New York state, but admitted no wrongdoing.

During a meeting on March 21 with a Times Union reporter, Sara and Clare Bronfman, and Lama Tenzin Dhonden, explained how the Dalai Lama decided to come to Albany.

Sara Bronfman said before she ever joined NXIVM she had a vision of bringing together world leaders and people of influence who share humanitarian values to create a better world.

Clare Bronfman said she also had a vision of "bringing His Holiness together with Keith (Raniere), believing that we may have certain tools that His Holiness would think would be good and beneficial for humanity."

Mutual friends arranged for Sara Bronfman and Tenzin Dhonden to meet on separate occasions in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she requested an audience with the Dalai Lama, Sara and Tenzin Dhonden said. Bronfman told Tenzin Dhonden that the Dalai Lama might find NXIVM's tools useful.

"She was being very honest," Tenzin Dhonden said, referring to Sara Bronfman's disclosures to him during their initial meetings about the negative publicity NXIVM has received.

Before granting her an audience, Tenzin Dhonden visited NXIVM's Colonie headquarters for a week in January 2008 as part of a background check. He observed courses and spoke with coaches and participants, he said, and found them to be "very happy, friendly and sharing."

Tenzin Dhonden said neither he nor anyone else representing the Dalai Lama has actually participated in NXIVM courses.

The Bronfmans and Tenzin Dhonden said that news reports, along with the cult researchers' evaluations of NXIVM programs, were sent to the Dalai Lama's office in India. Tenzin Dhonden said he'd "briefly" read some newspaper and magazine reports on NXIVM. While he was observing NXIVM training in 2008, he said, he did not interview any former participants or NXIVM critics.

"I have my own intellectual resource, capacity, to know persons, to feel persons," Tenzin Dhonden explained. "I can pick up like that, very easily."

After Tenzin Dhonden's 2008 visit to NXIVM, Sara and Clare Bronfman and Nancy Salzman, the president of NXIVM, were granted an audience with the Dalai Lama and expressed their desire to bring the spiritual leader to Albany.

Ticket prices

While ticket prices - $52, $82 and $112 - may seem steep for the Dalai Lama's Times Union Center appearance on April 19, they are similar to those being charged at other Dalai Lama appearances in the United States. Tickets for the Dalai Lama's appearances on May 2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., sponsored by the Tibet Association of Boston range from $22.50 to $200; tickets for a May 3 appearance in New York City sponsored by the Tibet Fund cost $35, $50, $100.

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