Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tenzin Gyatso, My Land and My People

"Our escape route was long and hard for people more used to the sheltered life of Lhasa." My Land and My People by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso, as he is customarily named, more often called the 'Dalai Lama,' especially in the West, is set to appear in connection with the the Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center , the Kumbum Chamtse Ling monastery located in Bloomington, Indiana for a public talk and other events May 12-13, 2010. He is also set to speak at Indianapolis, Indiana at a public event on May 14, 2010. 

The establishment of this monastery on American soil is an important moment in American Buddhism. Not to be overlooked, it is an active monastery devoted to Mahayanan principles with its resident abbot, Arjia Rinpoche; this pivotal development, is a source of pride to the growing U.S. population of Mongolians and the few of Tibetan ancestry. The community now forming around the monastery in Bloomington, Indiana is decidedly an interfaith community, as Buddhism itself was once a persecuted and repressed faith, there has been a flowering of compassion regarding the beliefs of others. Still true today, in some parts of the world, Buddhism, like other faith communities, remains suppressed and scarcely tolerated.

Westerners, who through simple unfamiliarity with one of the great faiths of the world, have over the course of the past 50 years regarded this Eastern philosophy with varying degrees of suspicion. Others not comprehending that its message is one of peace, faith and salvation, have taken to Buddhism due to a notion of the exotic. Yet Buddhism in its forms, shares much with other faiths, far more familiar in the west, especially to Orthodox Christians and Jews whose traditions of scholarship, teaching and monastic activities in several respects mirror those of their Buddhist brothers and sisters.

Due to political events occurring more than 50 years ago, Tenzin Gyatso was forced to flee his homeland as a young man. The majority of his life has been lived in exile. Due to China's claims to Tibetan and Mongolian territories, as well as areas of Himalaya, the traditions of this part of the world especially its religious foundations, have been severely tested by enforced Chinese rule. 

In his book, My Land and My People, first published in English in 1962, the thoughts and impressions of Tenzin Gyatso are made available to general English readership for the first time. He writes, "If you hit a man on the skull and break his skull, you can hardly expect him to be friendly. This [thought] thoroughly angered the Chinese.... [In regards to political skill] I could only apply my religious training to these problems... But religious training, I believed and still believe, was a very reliable guide... Non-violence was the only moral course."

Later in this same book, he writes of the preparations and realization of his exile, "My journey through the border areas reminded me of two of my observations of China itself... The first was of Chinese monasteries... I had found all of the temples and monasteries neglected and almost empty... I was told that there were still learned Llamas in Inner Mongolia  ... several hundred people came from Inner Mongolia to ask for my blessing... This was the fate I could see hanging over the Tibetan monks and monasteries already in Chinese hands... I believe boys from Mongolia and East Turkestan clung equally stubbornly to their faith."

Now today in America, Tenzin Gyatso comes to share his faith with all; the establishment of the Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center is one of the keys to this effort, and further evidence that Mahayana has a life not only within its historic boundaries, but in the wider world as well.

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