Posts Tagged ‘Dalai Lama’

Poster from the ICTB in Atlanta, Georgia

The second International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism began today, October 19th, at Emory University. Several hundred scholars and writers, venerable nuns and monks, lamas and tulkus, and representatives from sangha’s around the world converged on the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia for a meeting of influential minds. The attendance list reads like a who’s who of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Although a certain bias can be noted, it appears that the organizers made an effort to include representatives from many traditions. There are certainly a few key figures missing and it’s too bad because one of the key points that His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama stressed in his opening speech was the importance of nonsectarian collaboration among Tibetan Buddhist groups.

To formally open the conference, HHDL gave a moving speech about the importance of remembering the shared root of all types of Tibetan Buddhism and he implored the conference attendees to discuss the problems of degeneration and corruption of Tibetan Buddhism. He did not leave the sense of the “root” of Tibetan Buddhism abstract, but instead specifically pointed to the traditions of Nalanda and particularly to the writings of the masters of Nalanda. He said that it was necessary to study their writings directly and that too many Tibetan Buddhists focus on their individual lineage master’s writings or their college’s yig cha, to the detriment of the tradition. His Holiness seemed to really want to emphasize that it was important that the different schools needed to work together more and that it was essential that we deal with ‘corruption’ in Tibetan Buddhism. He did not elaborate on specifics, but it seemed to me that he was saying more than just the usual “we’re in a degenerate age, be careful with the quality of dharma you teach…” kind of talk. He said that Tibetan Buddhism has become empty ritual in some instances and that deep and proper understanding needs to be cultivated.

The opening session included introductions and remarks from Geshe Lobsang Negi, Dr. Gary  Hauk, Lobsang Nyandak, Greg Kruglak and a performance by the Drepung Loseling Monks of the Mystical Arts of Tibet Tour. After the address by His Holiness, Khamba Lama gave a report on the First International Conference on Mongolian Buddhism, which concluded in September in Ulan Batar. Following the departure of His Holiness, the first panel sessions began. Session 1A was on Tibetan Buddhism’s Encounter with Modern Science and Session 1B was on Tibetan Buddhism and Social Engagement.

Panel Session 1B: Tibetan Buddhism and Social Engagement.

As you can see, many distinguished guests were present.

The “Engaged Buddhism” Panel was chaired by Dr. John Makransky and the keynote speakers were Dr. Jan Willis and Lama Pema Wangdak. Responding panelists Acharya Fleet Maul, Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Diana Rose, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche were each given a very short time to present a few thoughts on engaged Buddhism. This format was somewhat interesting but led to each person giving a short spiel that was very informative but didn’t seem to lead to real dialog. “Questions” from the audience were similar in that they were not in fact questions at all, but statements made by very interesting people doing very interesting things, which sometimes included general questions for all present to take home and consider. David Germano seemed to have prepared a particular three-point speech (a condensed version of a speech he gave at IATS this year), which he provided to the whole room and seemed, by the observed reaction of the crowd, to be the most interesting and thought provoking of all. He charged academic institutions with not being truly ethical in their actions regarding Tibet and called on everyone to consider how their actions and chosen focus in regard to Tibetan Buddhism effects Tibet and Tibetans. Unfortunately time was up at the end of his speech and no one was prepared to respond. The panel really was very interesting, and some of the most important statements probably came from Ven. Lekshe Tsomo, who rightly mentioned the inequality in Tibetan Buddhist institutions and the plight of Buddhist women the world over; however, there was no time for real dialog about anything. It appears that there will be a “business meeting” tomorrow that will allow for “resolutions” to be drawn up―which sounds delightful and absurd―but perhaps at that time actual dialog among the panelists and attendees can occur.

Before moving on to the next panel I wanted to summarize here a few of the points made at the panel on engaged Buddhism:

Dr. Jan Willis noted that while “engaged Buddhism” might be a new term, Buddhism has been engaged since it’s inception. From the very moment that Buddha stood up from his Kusha grass seat and began to teach, Buddhism has been “engaged” in the world. The rest of her comments then were about the foundation of Buddhism as an engaged religion and about an ethics in which she linked compassion and interdependence with love in the Bible and Dr. Martin Luther King’s ideas. She said that we should feel our responsibility for others when we feel love and that we should then act in the world for others benefit.

Lama Pema Wangdak of the Sakya tradition, creator of Tibetan Braille, spoke a little about his personal experience with social engagement and stressed that education and the founding of schools for children who would otherwise not receive quality schooling was essential for the preservation of Tibetan culture. He spoke about the importance of investing in the brain trust of Tibetan people.

Acharya Fleet Maul, creator of the Prison Dharma Network and author of Dharma in Hell, spoke about some of the challenges Tibetan Buddhism faces in terms of “engaged Buddhism.” He said that “Tibetan Buddhism is not the leader in engaged Buddhism” and that compared with the developed modern Buddhisms from China and Japan we are lagging behind and there is a lot of work to do. However, he stressed that he feels that the Vajrayana path gives us a particular strength in the area of service. He said that it provides the fortitude for going into the modern charnel grounds and working with injustice directly.

The Very Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo gave a talk about her experience on sabbatical from the University of San Diego when she traveled to 14 Buddhist countries around the world. Her report focused on the tragedies that beset Buddhist women around the world and I must commend her again for being the only person on the panel to really mention how little support and how little power women have in Tibetan Buddhist institutions the world over. One of the key points she brought up was about the power of other religious groups who are working to convert traditionally Buddhist peoples. This was also touched on by several other people at the conference and from the various reports I have heard it sounds like certain areas are getting to a point of crises in which Buddhism may be overtaken by Christian and Muslim proselytizers who provide basic needs to Buddhist peoples, who then convert because they need food and clothing (more on this later).

Diana Rose, President of Garrison Institute and the Lostand Foundation, spoke about the Garrison Institute and her work creating a training program for care-givers and people who work in shelters.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche, teacher and author of Carefree Dignity and Fearless Simplicity, was very well spoken and succinct. He said that there were two principles that are key for the Buddhist tradition that connect with the sense of “engaged Buddhism”:
1) Nonviolence and 2) Contentment. He said a few things about nonviolence, but chose to spend more time describing the importance of the middle way of being content with what one has and what one’s body needs, not with what one’s mind wants to have. Basically he said, with many examples, that overconsumption is really NOT OK and that right livelihood includes paying attention to how we live in relation to Mother Earth.

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