Dalai Lama cancels his visit to Albany

Albany Times-Union/April 6, 2009

The Dalai Lama has canceled his scheduled April appearances in Albany, apparently because of negative publicity connected to the sponsoring organization.

In a Sunday e-mail to the Times Union, Tenzin Dickyi, a special assistant to the representative of the Dalai Lama in the New York-based Office of Tibet, stated, "His Holiness's visit to Albany has been canceled."

Times Union Publisher George R. Hearst III, president of the University at Albany Foundation, a fundraising arm of UAlbany, where the Dalai Lama had been scheduled to appear, said he received a similar message by e-mail from Tenzin Taklha, joint secretary of the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India, confirming the cancellation.

The Dalai Lama's April 18 to 22 appearances - with events set for UAlbany, The College of Saint Rose and the Times Union Center - were to be presented by the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation. Its trustees and the event organizers, Sara and Clare Bronfman, the Seagram liquor heiresses, are affiliated with NXIVM, a Colonie-based company that conducts personal-growth training courses. Keith Raniere, the EHF's "conceptual founder," is the founder of NXIVM.

Detractors say NXIVM (pronounced NEX-ee-um) is a cultlike organization that employs psychologically damaging mind-control techniques. Raniere's supporters say those accusations are unfounded. Numerous media accounts in recent years have pointed to the controversy surrounding Raniere, including those last week in the Times Union, Albany Student Press and The Daily Gazette.

"The negative press surrounding NXIVM and NXIVM's association with the Dalai Lama's visit has caused them to rethink the appropriateness of the visit," said Hearst, who met with Taklha when he visited Albany last week.

Before starting NXIVM, Raniere ran a company called Consumers Buyline that closed after investigations by 23 states and two federal agencies alleged it was a pyramid scheme. Raniere reached a monetary settlement with New York state in which he admitted no wrongdoing.

Taklha "was not excited to cancel," said Hearst. "He was really hoping to go forward, but ... there's enough stuff out there that (they) don't need to expose His Holiness to this kind of risk."

The EHF's sponsorship of the Dalai Lama's scheduled appearances in Albany was unusual because most of his upcoming U.S. appearances are sponsored by universities and Tibetan cultural organizations. Demand for speaking appearances by His Holiness at U.S. universities is high. Yet Skidmore College and RPI declined the EHF's offer to host the Dalai Lama. UAlbany accepted the offer, renting out use of SEFCU Arena and Page Hall.

"It was an opportunity for us to introduce a Nobel Peace Prize winner to our students and faculty," said UAlbany's vice president for development, Fardin Sanai, who noted, "We had a precondition that by no means were we going to allow NXIVM to be part of our relationship with the Dalai Lama. ... NXIVM and the organization were not going to have any part with dealing with our students, or advertising or recruiting. It was not going to be allowed on our campus."

Bob Belber, general manager of the Times Union Center - which is not affiliated with the newspaper - said Sunday evening the EHF hadn't informed him yet that the Dalai Lama's April 19 appearance at the arena had been canceled.

The Dalai Lama could visit Albany in the future, event supporters noted. "I think ultimately it will happen," Hearst said, "but it's not going to happen under the current sponsorship."

This was to be the inaugural event of the EHF's World Ethical Foundations Consortium. Clare Bronfman didn't immediately return a phone call for this story.

What had been scheduled in Albany, according to the World Ethical Foundations Consortium

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Albany Times Union Center

Public address on compassion and ethic by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at 2:00 p.m.

World Ethical Foundations Consortium Panels, April 18-20

2 p.m. April 18, Page Hall

Welcome Topic: "Compassionate Ethics, Education and Active Non-Violence"

9:30 a.m. April 19, Page Hall

Panel Discussion: "Human Honor and the Science of Media"

9:30 a.m. April 20, SEFCU Arena:

Panel Discussion: "Women and Social Icons"

2 p.m. April 20, SEFCU Arena:

Panel Discussion: "Mexico, Violence and Oppression"

2 p.m. April 22, SEFCU Arena:

Closing Ceremonies: sharing goals in each discussed area

(UAlbany had tentatively planned an event for its academic community on April 21 but had not released details.)

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