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Dalai Lama plans Montreal visit

by Archives September 9, 2008

The Dalai Lama will be in Montreal next October. The Tibetan spiritual leader announced his plans after hearing about a new religion and ethics class being taught in Quebec schools, said Thubten Samdup, head of the Dalai Lama foundation – Canada.
The new class, which launched last week, is mandatory for students in both elementary and secondary school. Previously the parents of Quebec’s school children had a choice between protestant and catholic education classes or a general ethics class. The new classes take a non-denominational approach, teaching children about world religions and secular ethics.
“We live in a very multiracial society and it’s very important that we understand each other’s culture and tradition, and respect each other and that’s all,” said Samdup. “One of the things [the Dalai Lama] tries to do is promote religious harmony.”
He thinks the class could help demystify religious traditions that children may find strange. “For example, why do Tibetan Buddhists prostrate? Why do Hindus walk around a fire three times when they get married? Why do Jews break a glass when they get married? You know that kind of tradition. Many of our kids, they sit next to each other and they look at it and say ‘wow this is a weird tradition,’ but it’s not really.”
While the class has the support of Tibetan Buddhists, it also has drawn criticism from some religious groups. “What worries us is that before the child has an opportunity to become established in their parents’ religion, they’re going to be exposed to too many other religions creating confusion for the child,” said Msgr. Pierre Gaudette, general secretary for the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops.
Although he sympathizes with Gaudette’s concerns, Samdup thinks Gaudette’s view doesn’t take into account the realities of the modern world.
“Unlike 50 or 60 years ago, the reality today is such that many parents are not really capable to pass on some of these traditions. And sometimes, perhaps, it wouldn’t hurt if it’s delivered in such a manner, if the teachers receive proper training,” said Samdup. “It’s very important that the government take care in properly training the teachers so they don’t overstep, you have to be very sensitive.”
While Gaudette said he does see some positive aspects of the new program, he doesn’t like the fact that it’s taking the emphasis off his religion. “What worries the assembly is that it’s replacing a program that focused on Catholicism.”
But this isn’t a problem for followers of the Dalai Lama.
“The Dalai Lama is one of the few religious leaders in the world that says, ‘don’t convert to Buddhism, stay true to your own religion, because your religion is wonderful. If you see something nice in Buddhism, take it. If you see something nice in Islam, take it. But you don’t have to change because you were born in certain traditions and that’s wonderful,'” said Samdup, who has high hopes for the new program’s possibilities.
“We want to create a society where there is real tolerance, real understanding. I’d love to see my city, my Quebec, take a leading role and set an example for the rest of the country and the continent. This is where you start. We can talk about peace and environmental protection all we want, but until we start instilling these fundamental values at a young age it’s empty talk, nothing is going to change.”
Calls to the Quebec ministry of education, leisure and sport were not returned.
The Dalai Lama last visited Montreal in 1993.

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