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LISA MULLINS: The Dalai Lama says he's seeking greater autonomy for Tibet in order to protect its Buddhist culture. That's been a struggle. Yet, while Buddhism is under siege in Tibet, it's attracting interest in, of all places, Mexico. That's partly because the religion's message of inner peace resonates in a country where drug violence is a daily occurrence. The increased attention to Buddhism in Mexico is also due to a touring display of ancient Tibetan relics. The World's Lorne Matalon caught up with the exhibit when it stopped in Mexico City.
LORNE MATALON: Buddhism arrived in Latin America via trade and immigration from Southeast Asia. It gained in popularity in Mexico in the 1940s and â€˜50s, spread by intellectuals, not least by the late poet Octavio Paz, who'd served as a diplomat in Japan and as Mexico's Ambassador to India. The first Tibetan Lamas visited in the 1970s and the Dalai Lama has made a number of visits. Today there are 12,000 Buddhists in a dozen Mexican cities. Marco Antonio Karam is the founder of Casa Tibet or Tibet House, a small home on a side street in the Mexican capital. He says Buddhism is growing because â€œMexicans are seeking another outlook on life.â€
KARAM: And they don't only want to hear about the killings, about the decapitations, about violence. That is not all that Mexico is. Most of the people want to live in peace. And it's part of the mandate of Tibet House to generate an environment of spiritual development that goes beyond even the label â€˜Buddhism'.
MATALON: Tibetan Buddhism's core beliefs are non-violence and universal responsibility. Everything one says, thinks, or does generates consequences. In today's blood-soaked Mexico, mired in an intractable war between the Army and organized crime, Mexico's Buddhists say they are trying to plant the seeds of peace. Lobsand Tonden, 28 years old, was born Rodrigo Carraza â€“ and Catholic. After 11 years of study in India, he is now one of a dozen ordained Mexican Buddhist monks.
TONDEN: Our weapons are compassion and wisdom and understanding, and also communication. The message of peace, of Buddhism is that we need to start cherishing others.
MATALON: For the first time, Mexicans are viewing miniscule glass spheres containing the cremated relics of 35 of Tibet's most prominent Buddhist masters â€“ some more than 2,500 years old. The relics come from Tibet, China, and India, a legacy of the spread of Tibetan Buddhism over the centuries. Relics in one crystal jar are said to be from the remains of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself, born in 624 BC in what is now Nepal. Beside it sits a bronze Buddha statue, surrounded by bouquets of lilies and baskets of fruit. Mexican Buddhist Angela Michelena Lopez says the relics are the physical manifestation of Buddhism's essence â€“ positive change.
LOPEZ: Because when you're so sure that the world has no solution, you stop trying. But when you think, â€˜Oh. We could be better.' And you start trying to help others and trying to be kinder, it's contagious.
MATALON: And the exhibit has become a magnet for Mexican Catholics. Some say they feel a kinship with Buddhists â€“ they too venerate relics and iconic symbols. Many wait patiently, quietly, for up to five hours to enter a small room with muted light, shrouded in the sweet aroma of incense. Gabriella Perez Castillo is a 25-year-old biotech engineer.
CASTILLO: Although I am a Catholic, I mean a religious Catholic, I really feel the power of peace in these Buddhist symbols. And here in Mexico we need to feel the peace of Buddhism, because here we live every day with violence and killing.
MATALON: Catholics and Buddhists embrace as they gaze together in awe. One woman says, â€œI feel a different sense of peace here. And in Mexico, we desperately need to follow any path that brings us to a new state of peace.â€ The exhibit of Tibetan relics tours Mexico through April. For The World, I'm Lorne Matalon, in Mexico City.
MULLINS: And you can see a slideshow of Lorne Matalon's pictures at theworld.org