After controversies and cancellations, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet has come to Albany today to speak at the Palace Theater as part of the first-ever World Ethical Foundations Consortium. This is a smaller venue than the Times Union Center where the Dalai was originally scheduled to appear. In general the event has been scaled down since the original cancellation gave the State University of New York an opportunity to dissociate itself from the Tibetan's hosts. The WEFC is an outgrowth of the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation, sponsored by the Bronfman heiresses and inspired by their notorious guru, alleged cultist and self-styled "Vanguard" Keith Raniere.
From the Dalai's perspective, it bears repeating, there's probably no automatic disaffinity between his mission and Raniere's. From Raniere's perspective, most likely, both men offer the world a form of mental and/or spiritual discipline that makes people better and more useful. Never mind that Raniere has been accused of running pyramid schemes in the past. How different are those from religions apart from their offering monetary compensation for the recruitment of converts? Yet Raniere is regarded as a criminal and a menace by many people because he seeks influence over people (and maybe money from them), while the Dalai Lama, who arguably practices similar forms of "mind control," is a global celebrity, a darling of Hollywood, and a kind of living martyr. The Tibetan benefits from many Americans' hostility toward China, which many still perceive as a totalitarian state. In such a setting, especially when the Chinese government is presumed to be fundamentally hostile (on account of its power) to American interests, some people will look favorably on any kind of cult, whether it's the Dalai's or Falun Gong, so long as it seems capable of subverting the feared monolithic totalitarianism of the great power. In other words, in our own country home-grown cults are seen as a menace to individual liberty, even to individual identity, while elsewhere they look more like a welcome part of "civil society," so long as they undermine the authority of dangerous states. Were Keith Raniere a Chinese, he'd probably be a hero here, and since the Dalai Lama is, technically, a Chinese subject, he is a hero. The Tibetan does have a historic and thus secular claim to leadership in his homeland, so it would go too far to say he's no different from Raniere, but it's not unfair to say he's not as different as some people appalled by their association want to think.