October 21, 2010

4 days of Tibetan Buddhism at Emory University

Tricycle's newest intern, Alexander Caring-Lobel, despite having not yet worked a full day in the office, just spent the last few days in Atlanta covering the 2010 International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama's current visit to the US.  Alex is a graduate of Emory University, completed the  Emory Tibetan Studies/Institute of Buddhist Dialectics Program in India, and is currently studying classical Tibetan at Columbia.

via an email I just received,

Yesterday, the International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism came to a close, wrapping up four days of Tibetan Buddhist events at Emory University.  The Tibetan Buddhist extravaganza in Atlanta comprised of two overlapping programs: “The Visit” of HHDL and the International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism.

HHDL began the visit with a teaching to the Buddhist community on the nature and practice of compassion, as requested by Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta.   The first event was plagued by serious acoustic problems that led many people to leave before the teaching had finished, but the large, dedicated majority stuck around to glean whatever wisdom they could from the audible fragments.  His Holiness commended the scientific and technological achievements of humanity, but noted that such progress has coincided with great destruction.  “If responsibility for the welfare of people is kept in mind,” he stated confidently, “[technological achievements] will not be destructive, but rather, will be used constructively.”  He thus introduced the necessity of responsibility, a theme that would echo throughout the rest of the visit.  He said that although one is ultimately responsible for one’s own happiness, the future and happiness of the individual is dependent upon the larger community, which therefore has a responsibility to foster the conditions suitable for happiness.  In this holistic view of happiness, the essential role of compassion becomes clear.

HHDL also participated in conversation with religious leaders from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the Interfaith Summit on Happiness, with scientists in the Conference on Compassion Meditation, and in a session in which he answered questions from Emory students and faculty.  He also participated in a conversation with Richard Gere and Alice Walker about what was supposed to be about art and spirituality, but veered off into a nevertheless fruitful conversation after HHDL comically admitted “personally, I’m not that interested” in regards to beauty in art.  The blindingly-bright-monster-star-celebrity of His Holiness and Richard Gere combined to fill the venue to absolute capacity in a way that His Holiness’s conversations with theologians and scientists had not.  Richard Gere’s immense power was further confirmed by receiving a shout out during the opening session of the International Conference from the Most Venerable Khamba Lama for inspiring the younger generation to learn about and practice Buddhism.

The International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism produced rich conversations in an array of areas, from Tibetan Buddhism’s dialogue with science, to its status in western academia, to new ways of organizing social engagement.  The conference drew such distinguished guests as H.E. the Ganden Tripa (Rizong Rinpoche), professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Gelek Rinpoche, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Hon. Lodi Gyari Rinpoche, Jeffrey Hopkins, Robert Thurman, recent Tricycle interviewee Matthieu Ricard, and the list goes on and on…

HHDL inaugurated the conference, reiterating the need to keep responsibility in mind and suggesting that students of Buddhism return to the key, foundational texts of Buddhism rather than over-focus on those used as textbooks by only particular sects and institutions (he used Lama Tsong Khapa in the Gelug tradition as an example).  Samdhong Rinpoche later closed the conference with a humbling reflection on the once bleak future of Tibetan Buddhism.  He recounted that when he first arrived in India, it was rare to find monks in proper robes, and it appeared as though Tibetan culture would all but disappear.  Now, at the conclusion of the conference, he rejoiced in the proliferation of Tibetan Buddhism.

Check back for summaries and commentaries (they’ll be more pertinent, I promise!) on key points covered during both “Visit” and International Conference events.

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Wisdom Moon's picture

If I'm not mistaken, the subject of this blog entry is what the Dalai Lama said at Emory.

What has NKT got to do with this, and why are you so defensive?

Dolgyal's picture

" I can tell even from the chapter titles that his views are incorrect" is this an islamic extremist ranting about The Satanic Verses he has not actually read? No, its our very own Wisdom Moon defending NKT's lawsuit against Buddhist writer Gary Beesley's expose on the NKT cult. Here is the blurb for the suppressed book:
"Many visitors to the Dalai Lama’s teachings across Europe and the USA in 2008 were surprised to come across groups of Chinese and Western protesters, many dressed in Tibetan Buddhist robes and with shaven heads, chanting anti Dalai Lama slogans, accusing him of being ‘a liar’, a ‘hypocrite’, and a denier of the basic human right to religious freedom. “A Cuckoo in the Peacock Palace” charts the gradual development of the deity cult lying at the very beginning of the long running dispute that gave rise to these protests, from its bloody and controversial birth in the mid 1600s, down to its continuing bloody and controversial existence in the present day. Since the overwhelming majority of protesters outside the Dalai Lama’s teachings internationally were members of the Western, Neo-Buddhist Movement, the New Kadampa Tradition, and since it was they who provided the logistical framework and manpower behind them, ‘Cuckoo’ analyzes the history of the NKT and asks to what extent the group have become puppets of the Chinese propaganda machine in its ongoing war with the Dalai Lama of Tibet. For students of Tibetan Buddhism and those studying the transition of Buddhism from East to West in an academic context, this book provides a detailed study of the dogmas, doctrines and politics which have blighted the Tibetan religio-political world for the last three and a half centuries. Moreover, this issue is probably the greatest controversy that Buddhism has thus far faced in its transitional journey to the West. The book is therefore also a meaningful resource for scholars studying New Religious Movements, and the Sociology and History of Religions. Since the NKT is certainly among the West’s most controversial Neo-Buddhist Movements, members of New Religious Movement and Cult Watching groups should also find the work helpful, both in terms of understanding the history of the group itself, as well as in distinguishing factors common to various NRMs, sects and cults."

Wisdom Moon's picture

It's a shame that the Dalai Lama encouraged students to return to foundational texts instead of commentaries by great Teachers such as Lama Tsongkhapa. I believe this is a mistake. The whole point of commentaries is that they elucidate the meaning of the text for a time where wisdom has degenerated and the original meaning of the text cannot be understood from the author's words alone. Also, there may be misunderstandings and misinterpretations from merely reading the words of the original text alone. For example, there are many interpretations of Nagarjuna's text 'Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way' according to different philosophical schools of Buddhism, but which one is in accordance with Nagarjuna's intention? Lama Tsongkhapa realized that there was much confusion and with his deep and penetrating wisdom, wrote a definitive commentary to this text that clarified the meaning completely. Not to study this text would be a great mistake.

These days, the meaning of emptiness cannot be understood from the words of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras alone. Similarly, in tantric scriptures the meaning is not expressed directly by the words and requires interpretation, therefore qualified commentaries are essential. For these reasons, I believe that the Dalai Lama is wrong if this is what he really said at the conference.

Dolgyal's picture

Let's examine the statement of well known cult blogger 'Wisdom Moon'. No one said commentaries are not useful or interlineal notes on commentaries. Your argument is therefore baseless and tantamount to saying the original scriptures are useless and that Losang Drakpa alone has the key. That is fundamentalist gibberish considering you in no way speak for the late big-nosed adept from 'Onion land'. The fact that no one in NKT can read the original texts and must be spoon-fed pablum by their guru does not make you a superior scholar to the greatest living pandita in the world today. When you understand and have realised another's view, you are qualified to critique–until then it is merely politically motivated garden variety ignorance.

Dolgyal's picture

Let's examine the statement of well known cult blogger 'Wisdom Moon'. No one said commentaries are not useful or interlineal notes on commentaries. Your argument is therefore baseless and tantamount to saying the original scriptures are useless and that Losang Drakpa alone has the key. That is fundamentalist gibberish considering you in no way speak for the late big-nosed adept from 'Onion land'. The fact that no one in NKT can read the original texts and must be spoon-fed pablum by their guru does not make you a superior scholar to the greatest living pandita in the world today. When you understand and have realised another's view, you are qualified to critique–until then it is merely politically motivated garden variety ignorance.

Wisdom Moon's picture

One additional point: actually, it's political when you tell people not to follow the commentarial texts of a particular tradition. Each tradition has its own commentarial tradition as well as spiritual authority and lineage that should not be interfered with by the political authority of the Dalai Lama and the Ganden Podrang.

Dolgyal's picture

The New Kadampa Tradition is not a tradition, since its socalled 'sangha' are unordained novices, illiterate, but above all do not speak, think or behave like Kadampas but rather indulge in nasty sex abuse of students, publish racist hate literature and blogs and revel in greedy real estate empire building. Other than that, no problem.

Wisdom Moon's picture

Once again, I will ignore your nasty and angry comments about something you have no experience of.

I was talking about the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Each tradition has its own commentarial tradition. For the Nyingmapas, it is the works of Padmasambhava, Longchenpa and modern writers like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. For the Kagyus, it is the works of Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. For the Sakyas, it is the works of Dragpa Gyaltsen and Sakya Pandita. For the Gelugpas, it is the works of Je Tsongkhapa, Khedrubje, the Panchen Lamas, the early Dalai Lamas and so forth. These precious words of commentary also link back to the great Indian Masters such as Atisha, Shantideva, Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Tilopa, Naropa and Padampa Sangye, and further back to Manjushri, Maitreya and Buddha Shakyamuni. The point of these commentaries was to make the earlier words of Buddha and his disciples accessible and clear. The Dalai Lama cannot tell these tradition to ignore the precious words of their root and Lineage Gurus and there should be no political interference in these traditions by the 14th Dalai Lama who is not a Lineage Guru in any of these traditions.

Dolgyal's picture

Haha, and what lineage do you hold, that of NKT sex offender Neil Elliot perhaps. Peace, out.

Wisdom Moon's picture

I'll ignore your insulting and judgemental words towards traditions and holy beings like Je Rinpoche and address myself to your (non) argument.

The original scriptures are not useless, but without the keys of a qualified commentary, those doors to liberation will remain completely shut. It's not even a case that learning a completely foreign language like Sanskrit or Tibetan will help this situation. Let's look at an example. In the 'Heart Sutra', Avalokiteshvara says "there is no suffering, origin, cessation or path, no attainment and also no non-attainment". A casual reader would take this to mean that those things do not exist at all, and therefore the Four Noble Truths and spiritual attainments are non-existent. It requires a qualified cojmmentary to understand that what Avalokiteshvara is saying is that the Four Noble Truths and so forth lack inherent existence. What he is saying is "there is no inherent suffering and so forth.

It is therefore a mistake to refer students to original texts where the meaning can (and has been) misunderstood even by realized scholars, let alone those who have a casual interest. This would lead to mistakes like those made by the Chinese monk Hashang who believed that all conceptual minds are obstacles to realizing ultimate truth.

Dolgyal's picture

Je Rinpoche had a big nose, ask any Gelugpa (if you know any) and the place from which he hailed was known for its onions or tsong, hence his name Tsong Khapa, there was no insult intended these are commonly known facts.

Anonymous's picture

I am new to HHDL and Buddhist conferences and this served as an excellent summary. It seems unfortunate that Richard Gere overshadowed more prominent members of Bhuddist studies and that sound issues plagued what sounds like a very interesting teaching. I am definitely interested enough to try and track down a transcription of this or other recent teachings. As well, thanks for the thoughtful pictures. HHDL looks so cute with his visor on!

David Galloway's picture

Good summary of a wide continuum conference. I thought His Holiness' opening comments at the International Tibetan Conference was striking with its call to focus on the root and the need for unity. It seemed challenging to the wide variety of rinpoches that were there. It was a refreshing and provocative gathering for me. The phrase that kept coming to my head throughout the time was "an embarassment of riches". That feeling of being gifted by the time was pervasive.

Rebecca's picture

Wow. It is so encouraging to hear that these words are getting out there. Funny that HHDL was constructively criticizing technology while his microphone was going on and off. I am someone who is immensely critical of technology, to a fault, and I find that it does not work very well for me. Chicken or the egg? Anyways... wish I had been there for the conference, sounds magical & life changing. Thanks for writing this to help include us on the magic and for spreading words of enlightenment & love.