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Buddhist monk makes a return to Wausau area church

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By Evan J. Pretzer

WAUSAU — Tibetan Buddhist leader Khenpo Pema Wangdak visited Wausau’s Universalist Unitarian Church for the 11th time on Saturday, teaching the crowd about being more positive.

A resident of the United States since the 1980s, Wangdak’s ties to the Wausau area were formed when he met Universalist Unitarian Church member Paul Hagstrom shortly after arriving in the country. The pair struck up a friendship and, in the decades since, Wangdak has been invited to make the trip to Wausau whenever available. In his wide-ranging speech this year, the New York resident touched on everything from Mr. Rogers to Buddhist tenets and even Bollywood films.

But above all else, he wanted the audience to learn to be more enthusiastic in their life. Sitting cross-legged in a hard-backed chair, he equated inner peace and holding on to it to a mischievous child.

“We tend to waste so much time,” he said. “To find happiness in life, you need to always keep peace of mind and joy in front of you. It is a bit like being a babysitter with a baby, if you keep it in sight, you’ll be fine, but if you lose it something bad could happen.”

For Wangdak, addresses like this are part of his mission as a spiritual leader. According to a press release distributed before his visit, he runs the Vikramasila Foundation in his home state and uses it to spread Buddhist teachings. The non-profit has offices in Nepal, South America, America and India and, for Wangdak, has been one of the great joys in his life.

“I’ve spent time in Mexico and rode the bus and interacted with strangers,” Wangdak said toward the end of his speech. “I like what I do and this is so important to being well, how do we generate joy if we don’t have joy in doing what we are doing?”

Throughout the gathering, the audience listened intently and distributed calmly upon its conclusion. Though only a few asked Wangdak questions after he finished his address, what he had to say did get through to at least one audience member. For Lexie Strasser, what the modest man had to say to the Wausau community was a recharge for her, a spiritual refreshment.

“I thought he had a lot of good stuff to say,” she said. “It was all about relearning and remodeling ourselves. I’ve always been interested in Buddhist teachings and he was great to listen to.”

To learn more about Wangdak and his work, visit vikramasila.org or follow him on Twitter @PaldenSakya.

Evan J. Pretzer is a journalist and multimedia professional originally from Saskatchewan, Canada. To learn more about him, visit evanjpretzer.com.

Photo: Evan J. Pretzer/Wausau Pilot and Review

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