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About Us - A Boston Globe Review of Bodhi Tree

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Not Far from the Madding Crowd, a Step into Tibet
By Adam Scott Gershenson
Boston Globe, 12/21/2003

They've decorated the tree outside one Cambridge shop, but not with angels and stars. Bodhi Tree, a new Tibetan emporium between Harvard and Porter squares, has bedecked its tree with Buddhist prayer flags that wave in the wind, carrying blessings far and wide.

In the midst of the Judeo-Christian holiday season, when Christmas cheer can often become confused with crass commercialism, Bodhi Tree attracts customers searching for harmony and peace of mind.

"We try to encourage peace and welfare and community feelings," said store owner Tsering Ngodup Lama. "We're building a place of inspiration and learning."

Lama and his wife, Weston native Andrea Strimling, welcomed guests at the store's recent opening with steaming cups of chai, traditional Tibetan dumplings known as momos, and a platter of desai, a sweet rice pudding.

Four local Tibetan students donned ceremonial dresses and performed a traditional high-pitched love song, followed by a dance to celebrate the recognition of the Dalai Lama.

The duplex shop at 1684 Massachusetts Ave., which sells imported jewelry, books on Buddhism, prayer scrolls, and hand-knotted rugs, may have trouble distinguishing itself from a host of other Tibetan stores dotting the Cambridge landscape.

Tibetan Arts is a fixture in Porter Square, Little Tibet operates down the block at 1174 Massachusetts Ave., and Utso Tibetan Boutique does business right across the street from Bodhi Tree.

Yet customers had no difficulty seeing how shopping at Bodhi Tree differed from joining the crush at the mall. Instead of a department store Santa, a Buddhist shrine held a place of prominence. The bookshelf held no sure-fire bestsellers, but was instead stocked with titles such as "The Tibetan Art of Parenting," and the Dalai Lama's own treatise, "The Meaning of Life."

Strimling, who graduated from Weston High School, said she and Lama want to offer more than the products Bodhi Tree sells.

"Our lives are so busy it is easy to become distracted by what is not important. So many are looking for a way to connect to deeper values and lead more meaningful lives," she said.

Jim Leffert, a 54-year-old psychologist from Cambridge, said he didn't miss the crowds he had fought through earlier in the season when he ventured into Best Buy. "It's very special here," he said. "They're creating a communal place, rather than just a store."

Bodhi Tree does plan to go beyond sales of carpets and clothing. Lama intends to offer courses on Buddhist philosophy and meditation. He said that even traditional sales would reflect Tibetan traditions.

"Everything has a story behind it," he said, pointing to a turquoise ring he said is thought to have healing powers. "Everything is hand-made; nothing is mass-produced."

Marty Schmith, a student at Tufts' Fletcher School for international relations, said she had long ago given up visiting malls and had been doing her holiday shopping via the Internet. Schmith said visiting Bodhi Tree was more rewarding than surfing for presents.

"Coming to a small business like this makes it more personal," Schmith said.

Allen Crockett, a media technician from Harvard University, was looking for a present for his mother. He said coming to Bodhi Tree gave him a feeling that he was intimately connected with the world around him. He looked at the blouses and artwork and jewelry, but in the end, decided a gift certificate would be the best choice. The gift itself was not the important thing, after all.

"I'd like her to have the experience of coming here," he said. "Isn't that the best part?"

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Bodhi Tree Logo


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