Dalai Lama Criticizes Proselytizing

ByNeelesh Misra

A L L A H A B A D, India, Jan. 25, 2001 -- Stepping into one of the hottest religious controversies in

South Asia, the Dalai Lama today joined Hindu leaders in condemning

the Muslim and Christian practice of proselytizing.

Hindus andBuddhists generally do not proselytize.

"Whether Hindu or Muslim or Christian, whoever tries toconvert, it's wrong, not good," the Dalai Lama said after a meeting with the leaders. "I always believe it's safer and better and reasonable tokeep one's own tradition or belief."

He spoke after the Hindu Council's general secretary, AshokSinghal, had said, "Buddhism, Hinduism and other non-aggressivereligions have to unite to douse Islam … an aggressivereligion."

The Dalai Lama and others signed a statement saying: "We opposeconversions by any religious tradition using various methods ofenticement."

Joins Others in Ganges

The Dalai Lama later joined millions of Hindus and sprinkled himself with water from the Ganges river, but saidit was too cold to join millions of Hindus bathing in their holyriver at the world's largest religious gathering.

"I'm very happy to be here," the Dalai Lama told journalistsat the Kumbh Mela festival. Asked if he would join the devoteesbathing in the icy river, in a centuries-old ceremony Hindusbelieve will wash away their sins and avoid reincarnation, theDalai Lama said, "I don't think so. It's too cold."

A festival official said more than 50 million worshippers hadvisited by late today, and more continued to arrive, drawn by anauspicious astral arrangement that Hindu astrologers say coincideswith the Kumbh only once in 144 years. The festival began Jan. 9and is held every 12 years.

The exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists, whose followers believehe is the reincarnation of Buddha, had earlier tossed marigolds atschoolchildren who greeted him with garlands and met journalists ina barracks-style building, protected by Indian commandos and hisown bodyguards, in the center of the 3,460-acre festival site.

The Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, first met forlunch and discussions with leaders of the World Hindu Council, aninfluential group that criticizes Christians and Muslims and wantsto make multi-religious India a Hindu state.

Makes Special Prayer

At dusk, he joined the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, one of India'sfour top Hindu religious leaders, in a special prayer on the riverbanks.

The two stood on an elevated wooden platform covered with whitesheets and worshipped the Ganges with 108 lighted lamps in atradition that goes back centuries. An estimated 20,000 peoplewatched from behind wooden barricades, while hymns were sung in thebackground.

The Dalai Lama then scooped up water from the river andsprinkled it on his head in a mark of respect. Allahabad is thesite of the confluence of the Yamuna, Ganges and mythicalSaraswati.

"This confluence has become a very important venue for Hinduand Buddhist religious congregations. Now this function should comeup as an important venue for a change of character and thought ofpeople to make them work for peace," the Dalai Lama said in aspeech, translated into Hindi for the public.

The Dalai Lama planned to stay through Friday, to meet and blessBuddhists and give a public speech on world peace at the festivalgrounds.

The festival has been marred in past years by stampedes.Organizers have asked celebrities not to come and banned vehicleson the cramped grounds, but an exception was made for the DalaiLama.

Worshippers who were pressed against each other on pontoonbridges, waiting hours for their turns to bathe, watched and wavedas his convoy of white cars drove through the center of thefestival site, 380 miles east of New Delhi.

Organizers said more than 70 million people will have visited bythe time the festival ends Feb. 21.

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