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Making Tibetan Buddhism Modern in China

Why are so many modern Chinese people interested in Tibetan Buddhism? How Tibetan Buddhism offers a pragmatic approach that can be used to deal with life’s problems? How science and Buddhism are inter-related? Tibetan Buddhism is actually a deep spiritual science. Throughout its long history, it has always kept a very open mindset and is still relevant in modern society.


“On the road of seeking truth, seekers shouldn’t be afraid of sharp questions that challenge their own opinions. If, when receiving criticism, you don’t have a reasonable response, then, according to Buddhist teaching, you have to withdraw your own view.”

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

When a Buddhist Scholar Meets a Social Scientist

Introduction by Professor van der Veer

Khenpo Sodargye, who is from a Tibetan autonomous region in Sichuan, is a representative of what may be called “modern humanitarian Buddhism”. This morning we had a long conversation about what that is, and agreed that there is definitely a problem that requires a negotiation about remaining in harmony with the Buddhist canon. As far as finding a balance between tradition and the modern requirements of today’s life, his position is that culture and society are changing over time, but that, in principle, the ideas of Buddhism remain the same, such that one can actually find answers from the canon that apply to modern situations, and that is what one needs to do.

So he is not a conservative who wants to deny all the new things of society and he is not a politician, either. On the other hand, he does not sit in a cave, just being happy by himself. He wants to engage, but while remaining grounded in his reading and interpretation of the Buddhist canon. The way he does that seems to result in a rather successful work.

And as you will see here, during the tour, he is a very amiable man. So I am very happy to have him here and I look forward to hearing more about his views.

When a Buddhist Scholar Meets a Social Scientist

I want to thank Professor van der Veer and all of you for giving me this opportunity to discuss the modernization of Tibetan Buddhism in China, which is a very important topic.

In my own case, I have been studying Buddhism for a long time. As a Tibetan monk, I studied Chinese Buddhism in the Chinese language and Tibetan Buddhism in the Tibetan language. I’ve also been interested in western natural science and social science, not for one or two days, but rather, for more than 20 years.

I have read many books written by both western and eastern scholars and scientists, and have personally reflected on the issues of human ethics, world peace and other issues of critical interest to all of mankind. All the while, I have maintained an ongoing communication with fellow scholars.

This morning, I had a long conversation with Professor van der Veer. Although, he is a social scientist and I am a Buddhist scholar, we exchanged our thoughts about eastern religions as well as about western science and technology. Our talk raised some questions or issues that deserve to be discussed further at some point in the future. Personally speaking, I learned a lot from him, and I very much appreciated our conversation.

The main purpose of my current travel is academic research and to study more about how science and Buddhism are inter-related. I want to learn as much as I can from different scientists and to try to understand their thoughts and theories. Meanwhile, I’d like to share my thoughts on Buddhism with all of you. This is my main purpose for visiting Germany.

Between German Thinkers and Tibetan Masters

Being here, I really feel that this is such a wonderful and sacred place, which has, throughout history produced so many great philosophers. It’s so amazing to me. This morning I asked myself, why is it that Göttingen, which is such a small place, has produced more than 40 Nobel laureates. It sparked my imagination. Later I thought it must be the rigorous and thoughtful habits of the German people that has engendered such a dramatic dedication to the science of human society. I believe that in the future, this place will produce even more astounding scientific researchers who will contribute to humanity in dramatic untold ways through their creative and inspiring work.

Yesterday, Professor van der Veer mentioned the concept of regionality, as discussed by Rudolf Otto in his book, The Idea of the Holy, in which Otto discusses the sacred features and their relationship to geography. In the same way, Tibet recognizes its spiritual connection with its mountains and valleys. Personally, I feel that Tibet is a humble and a quiet land, but, as the source of Tibetan Buddhism, throughout history, Tibet has produced many great Buddhist thinkers and masters.

There are different schools within Tibetan Buddhism, each with its own outstanding masters: there is Longchenpa in the Nyingma tradition; Tsongkhapa in the Gelugpa tradition; Sakya Pandita in the Sakyapa tradition; Taranatha in the Jonangpa tradition; and Karmapa in the Kagyupa tradition. All of these great masters can be said to be equivalent to the great German thinkers, such as Nietzsche and so many others. Their human spirit has had a similar impact in their own nations and its cultures. I believe the traits of rigorous thinking and the quest for knowledge between our two nations may be quite similar.

How Popular Is Tibetan Buddhism in China?

As for myself, I have been studying the Buddhist teachings ever since I first became a monk. Since 1987, I have primarily studied Chinese Buddhism and taught the Dharma in Chinese. At this point, I have been doing so for more than 20 years. Over those years, Tibetan Buddhism has become very popular in China. Because many of you want to learn about the modern transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in present-day Mainland China, we could say that many Chinese are now systemically learning Tibetan Buddhism.

In the years since 2010, I have visited many universities throughout China, these include Peking University, Tsinghua University, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Chinese University of Hong Kong and University of Hong Kong, as well as Fudan University in Shanghai, and while visiting in these places, I have had many conversations with the professors that I met during my visits there. Someone recently asked me how many universities I have given talks at, and when I added them all, I found that the number added up to 41 universities with primarily Han Chinese students. In addition, I have also visited Qinghai Normal University and other universities with a majority of Tibetan students.

I feel many professors and students have a very good understanding of, or strong curiosity about, Tibetan Buddhism, regardless of the area of their major studies. So as to the question of Tibetan Buddhism’s appeal to the Han Chinese, it seems clear that not only do Buddhist practitioners have a great passion for it, but many intellectuals in the universities are also very eager to learn about it. Of course, some universities are ideologically conservative and are not open to new or different ideas. My opinion is that, gradually, they will be able to open their minds. The world has become more and more inclusive in its seeking of knowledge. This definitely is a logical and reasonable step in the right direction.

Tibetan Buddhism, in particular, is well suited to meeting the spiritual needs of people in the 21st century, many of whom first come to learn about Tibetan Buddhism through the internet, TV or other modern means. For example, just recently, on the 6th of this month, when I was on the way to Göttingen from Frankfurt, I blogged a very simple Tibetan story on my Weibo page, which, as Professor van der Veer has pointed out, is the Chinese Twitter. Yesterday, I found it had been read more than 14,800,000 times, forwarded more than 60,000 times, and received more than 10,000 comments. It was a very simple story about Tibetan Buddhism. Since I blog in Chinese, and these viewer statistics are gathered on, I believe that most of its readers were Chinese. So it is clear that among the Chinese, this popularity does exist. Actually, many Tibetan Buddhist scholars are now spreading the Dharma in this way. Through this method, many more people are becoming interested in Buddhism and are coming to accept the Buddhist way of thinking.

So the question is: “In this day and age, why are so many Chinese people interested in Tibetan Buddhism?” I think that there are a few points to consider, when we try to answer this question.

Tibetan Buddhism is not a temporary trend, nor do many people become interested in Tibetan Buddhism due to a temporary external attraction and then a short while later, lose interest and give it up. At least I don’t think so. I believe that most people begin with an eagerness to seek the ultimate truth and then they make the decision to learn about Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism: Beyond a Temporary Trend

A Pragmatic Approach Dealing with Suffering

First, Tibetan Buddhism offers a pragmatic approach that can be used to deal with life’s problems. Nowadays, people may not pay much attention to theory or to history, because they are most concerned about their immediate needs or what they believe their immediate needs to be.

About 10 years ago, I had face-to-face interviews with 125 college students in China. I summarized my notes on why they followed and believed in Tibetan Buddhism and based on these notes, composed The Sprays of the Wisdom Ocean, a book in two volumes, containing over 500,000 words. I also interviewed 20 doctoral students and investigated, from their perspectives as intellectuals, why they were learning and practicing the Dharma. These interviews became Interviews with Doctors, a book containing about 55,000 words.

Through working on these books, I learned a number of things from their having shared their thoughts with me: many people feel lost because material objects can’t bring them true happiness, rather, they need some kind of religion to give them inner support, so to get rid of spiritual suffering, they have turned to Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism Fits the Fast Food Culture

The second question is, why have they become particularly interested in Tibetan Buddhism? We know that many people like the fast food culture because they are so busy working during the daytime. It seems that in Germany people have more leisure time, but in Mainland China, this is not the case; every day people work up to 10 or more hours. They become very exhausted and then all kinds of confusions arise deep in their hearts. Being tired day after day, they gradually end up suffering from depression or becoming anti-social. This phenomenon is quite common.

Given this situation, Tibetan Buddhism provides them with an approach to solving their problems quickly and facing up to their sufferings more easily. Some become regular visitors to our Buddhist Academy, and from that experience they have cultivated a new attitude towards life. They recognize that in addition to the need for money, they also need to pursue spiritual happiness, and, in the end, that inner support is ultimately more valuable to them. In fact, many people have been able to quickly find inner happiness by following our Buddhist teachings. I believe this is exactly how Buddhism can be of benefit in a modern society.

A Logical and Rigorous Philosophy of Truth

The third point lies in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy itself; the truth is never restricted by any religious rule nor determined by any doctrine. The Tibetan Buddhist tradition encourages people to find the truth through debate and investigation. On the road of seeking truth, seekers shouldn’t be afraid of sharp questions that challenge their own opinions. If, when receiving criticism, you don’t have a reasonable response, then, according to Buddhist teaching, you have to withdraw your own view.

In Buddhism, it is said that one won’t deny other religions, nor praise one’s own belief in Buddhism, and as long as there is truth, one will completely accept it. So we could say that, in accordance with the Tibetan Buddhist traditions that have arisen in monasteries and other Dharma centers, no one should shy away from criticism. If the criticism is reasonable, one should be happy to accept it. If they are not, they should refute it with reasonable arguments. This kind of open-mindedness did not just begin recently. Throughout its long history, Tibetan Buddhism has always kept a very open mindset. I find that among many of today’s scholars, many of whom actually advocate open mindsets, this spirit is not always so apparent.

The theoretical system of Tibetan Buddhism is very rigorous and is structured in such a way as to systematically educate the spiritually talented to become a Khenpo or a Geshe. Of course, to earn a high level Buddhist degree requires a great deal of time, usually somewhere between 10–20 years. There are different levels, and it can take many years to achieve any one level or degree. In fact, the training system is so strict that it is only through hard work that one can eventually become a Khenpo or a Geshe. It seems to me that this is unlike most other religions, however they may pay more attention to the manner of performing rituals or ceremonies.

Tibetan Buddhism: Beyond a Temporary Trend

So once again, we come back to the question of why Tibetan Buddhism has become so popular in Europe, America and China. I think great masters play a very important role. Many Tibetan Buddhist lamas or masters have a wide and deep wisdom of enlightenment, compassion for all life, and are willing to take on the responsibilities of the world. Having these responsibilities in their minds, they have a strong desire to benefit others.

Tibetan Buddhism is not a temporary trend, nor do many people become interested in Tibetan Buddhism due to a temporary external attraction and then a short while later, lose interest and give it up. At least I don’t think so. I believe that most people begin with an eagerness to seek the ultimate truth and then they make the decision to learn about Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism has been spreading to the west without any hindrance from Christianity or other religions. Likewise, it has spread throughout China without any obstacles from such local traditions as Taoism and Confucianism. This is because Tibetan Buddhism maintains a harmonious relationship with every religion in the world. I believe that there is a worldwide trend of people who are seeking spiritual support.

Actually, our world needs not only scientific and technological development, but also religious and spiritual development. We cannot evolve by just relying on material development and neglecting spirituality. For a while, people emphasized material development, but now they have returned to religious faith. This is happening as a natural progression in every part of the world.

Unfortunately, some people regard religion as superstitious or as an outdated and unreasoned form of knowledge. I don’t think this is a proper attitude. Instead, we need to be fair and objective, otherwise we lose our sense of the scientific spirit, because the spirit and essence of science is the demand for truth. If you see an objective truth and do not accept it, it indicates that you are trying to ignore or escape from the truth, which is, of course, not the attitude of genuine scientists.

Sciences and Religions Should Work Together

The Phenomena of Fake Gurus

As Tibetan Buddhism becomes more popular all over the world, I have seen some people who are using Tibetan Buddhism for material gain. In China there are some fraudulent gurus or tulkus: people who pretend to be great masters, so that they can make money through deception. Also, in Hong Kong and in the U.S., I have seen some people who wear the robes of a Tibetan Buddhist but who are not giving people the true teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. But, in spite of the fact that these negative phenomena do exist, I don’t believe that these are the faults of Buddhism itself, but rather, they are the faults of individuals, and so we shouldn’t ascribe these faults to the religion as a whole.

As with scientific research, theories and inventions are wonderful, but there are certain people who may misuse them. This is very difficult to avoid. For instance, Einstein did not intend to invent the nuclear bomb. He didn’t have this motivation at the beginning of his research and was full of regret afterwards. But of course this was not the fault of science; it was due to the faults of some individuals. Likewise, we have to admit that some people do use the Buddhist teachings for the purpose of deception, but, once again, that is the fault of individuals rather than of Buddhism.

Buddhism: a Spiritual Science Worth Exploring

Another point to keep in mind is that Buddhism is actually a deep spiritual science. The psychologist, Carl Jung studied The Tibetan Book of the Dead and most of you are probably familiar with his comments. He said that this book had been his best friend and so he always kept it with him. Recently when I was in the U.S., I learned from one of the professors that I was speaking with, that Dr. Jung had conversations with Tibetan lamas and there were copies of personal notes that he made of these talks and that they contained some of the things that he had learned from Tibetan Buddhism. Ultimately, what we are looking for is inner happiness. In fact, we should be able to find true happiness within our hearts, but it is likely that most people don’t find the right approach to achieving this. For myself, after studying Buddhism for so many years, I definitely believe that Buddhist teachings can guide us towards a more truly meaningful life.

Generally speaking, I think in this world, whether one is from the East or the West, we all need spiritual education. But this kind of spiritual education is almost impossible to find in other fields of research. Today, most scientific research involves experiments with various kinds of instruments to explore and measure the external world, and recent history proves that we have made some genuine progress. However, regarding our inner world, if we want to study the mind, rebirth or try to deal with our psychological issues, we have to rely on religion. So I feel we need to have a religious life. This is very essential.

In Tibet, Buddhism has merged into our daily life. This is not only an aspect of traditional culture; it also offers profound meaning yet to be uncovered. Intellectuals can always find ways to investigate things further and dig out the deeper meanings. This is why I feel it is very necessary for eastern and western scholars to interact and to continue having dialogues on the topics of inner and outer science.

Sciences and Religions Should Work Together

My last point is that, in this world, it is actually possible for everyone to experience certain mysteries. Around the world there are so many different things happening, and some of them are extremely mysterious and hard to explain by science alone. However, for those seeking answers to these mysteries, they are actually very well explained by different religions. For me, as a monk who has studied Tibetan Buddhism for so many years, the seemingly bizarre or unfathomable things of the world do not surprise me. I don’t think anything is strange. Why? Because these things that people feel so surprised or perplexed about, already have a good explanation in Buddhism or other major religions. Therefore, we should study spiritual science with a fair and objective attitude.

Unfortunately, some people regard religion as superstitious or as an outdated and unreasoned form of knowledge. I don’t think this is a proper attitude. Instead, we need to be fair and objective, otherwise we lose our sense of the scientific spirit, because the spirit and essence of science is the demand for truth. If you see an objective truth and do not accept it, it indicates that you are trying to ignore or escape from the truth, which is, of course, not the attitude of genuine scientists.

So, I hope we do not simply discard ancient cultural traditions, since they actually have unique, hidden value. Even now, the cultural traditions of every nation—including Germany—deeply impact the human mind, behavior and societal ethics. These traditions have very profound meanings and purpose. Confucianism is a very good example: it teaches people to behave with good manners, and is a form of ethical education that is still relevant in modern society. So we can’t simply discard tradition.

As we enter the 21st century, we should accept new things and new discoveries and shouldn’t ignore the importance of science. Otherwise, we are closing our eyes and covering our ears, and even then, there is no way for us to escape from reality.

Meanwhile, I believe the interaction between eastern and western culture, as well as the combination of ancient and modern knowledge, can guide us to a bright future. However, to achieve this goal, I believe that it is the responsibility of religious people and scientists to carry on a meaningful dialogue.

Thank you for listening!

Question & Answer Session

Is Tibetan Buddhism just for the Rich?

Does the Buddhist Academy Include Secular Knowledge?

Question #1:

First of all, thank you for this exposition. You spoke about education and your interest in science. Can I ask, within the Tibetan Buddhist educational curriculum, is there a relationship between secular topics, such as mathematics or natural sciences, and religious education? Are young people who enter your monastic institutions, also learning about Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry in addition to Mantra, Tantra and Yantra?

Khenpo Sodargye:

I agree with what Professor van der Veer has said. Generally, Buddhism is considered as an area of major scholastic research here. Before formally studying Buddhism, we encourage young people to enter regular schools to learn sciences like Chemistry, Physics, and other secular subjects. Are these courses included in Buddhist curriculum? Yes, in fact, they are.

For instance, astrology has long been a traditional course in Tibetan Buddhism. Its study includes Astronomy along with ordinary Astrology. While we don’t teach certain subjects such as chemistry in our academy, the fundamental theories are included in our curriculum by some Dharma masters who have specific expertise in these areas. Also, many specialists are invited to give talks on related topics. Some religions regard science as part of their education. In a similar way, we also have dialogues with scientific scholars.

Is Tibetan Buddhism just for the Rich?

Question #2

Thank you very much for your time and discussion. I don’t know much about Tibetan Buddhism, but I feel more enlightened today. I’m glad to hear that more and more Chinese people are becoming interested in Tibetan Buddhism. You mentioned that there is a trend, particularly in China, where economic development is driving people into an empty and meaningless life. This kind of fast-food life brings people so much pressure and makes them feel empty, which is one of the main reasons why they are attracted to Tibetan Buddhism.

This point is very common in the sociology of religion, but at the same time, it also raises another question. That is, at least to me, it seems that your religion is more attractive to richer people, the people who have the luxury of realizing that the life is not all about money, but also about something else. However, a lot of other people who are poor, and thus only see the need of putting food on the table, don’t have that chance to think that they want to have a more meaningful life. Is that true?

Khenpo Sodargye:

I think Chinese adherents of Tibetan Buddhism are from diverse backgrounds, including many senior citizens. Since Buddhism emphasizes teachings on what happens after death, it attracts many seniors. It also attracts the poor, who have suffered in life and have come to Buddhism for help. Additionally, there are also intellectuals who feel that in this world there must be a much more profound knowledge that remains beyond their grasp. They’re very rational yet open to the possibilities, and, of course, there are also rich people who are interested in accumulating various spiritual merits.

As far as I know, Buddhism has always attracted various kinds of people. But what is of keen importance is that when most ordinary people encounter suffering, they become frightened, yet once they have practiced Buddhism, they accept suffering as a natural phenomenon and can actually find peace in suffering. Before studying Tibetan Buddhism, many people have become apathetic or unhappy whether they are rich or poor. Afterwards, when they realize that life depends on various causes and conditions, and no matter what happens in life, they eventually have courage to face anything. I think this is an important reason.

Is It Reasonable to Treat Tibetan Buddhism as a Fast-food Culture in the West?

Question #3:

First of all, thanks for the talk. It’s great having you here.

I am interested in the discussions relating to the growing interest in Buddhism, and particularly Tibetan Buddhism in China and its relationship to the growth of fast-food cultures and so forth. You also mentioned the growing interest in Buddhism, and particularly Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Of course, we invented the fast-food culture, so maybe it goes along with people’s growing dissatisfaction with this type of lifestyle.

I would also say, having lived in California, that I know that a lot of westerners are interested in Buddhism, but they themselves just like to take small bits of it to get an instant gratification. Do you see this as particularly problematic, or is a little bit of Buddhism good for people or could there be great misunderstandings and problems arising from just taking small bits of Buddhism for a kind of instant gratification?

Khenpo Sodargye:

We have to admit that the fast-food culture easily satisfies people. I also want to point out that, because people are extremely busy in our modern society, if we teach for too long or too elaborately, many Buddhists, including ones that I know personally, would lose interest and fall asleep at such teachings. However, they do accept what benefits they may glean from the teachings.

We know that fast-food culture originally is a western term which itself indicates some of the benefits of this kind of culture—it is simple and convenient. In the context of Tibetan Buddhism, there are different examples of people who follow this tradition. I once had a conversation with a western scientist whose impression of Tibetan Buddhism was that many master-disciple relationships began with some kind of impulsive emotion that would later break apart as soon as the infatuation had exhausted itself.

On the other hand, some people have made great progress in learning the Buddhist teachings. These teachings are not obtained by just taking refuge, performing some rituals, or simply by offering incense or prostrating in a monastery, as these are just formalities. As I mentioned earlier, the most important thing to understand is that the Buddhist teachings are truly profound. Both I, a student of Buddhism for many years, and many other scholars, acknowledge that the Buddha Dharma is truly unfathomable. When you realize the meaning of these teachings, you will then become an authentic Buddhist.

Therefore, in my opinion, fast-food culture may disappear just as quickly as it is appeared, but as for studying the Dharma, there are still some cases in which people not only attain instant benefits, but are also nurtured in the long term by its profound meaning. Eventually, through the Dharma they develop inner strength. It is not only that, as a Buddhist, I’m praising Buddhism. It’s that I am trying to explain its value in words that can be more readily understood in the western culture.

Tibetan and Han Buddhism, Conflicting or Complementary?

Are There Competitions with Other Religions in the Propagation of the Buddhadharma?

Question #4:

I also want to thank you so much for your wonderful teaching today. I especially appreciate that you shared some dialogue correlating both the religious and the scientific, as well as the traditional and the modern.

I’m particularly interested in inter-religious dialogue or competition among different religions. It seems that you are focusing on university students and intellectuals. In my understanding, universities have been always a place where different kinds of religious missionaries competed for student converts. I was wondering whether you have encountered any kinds of difficulties in teaching Tibetan Buddhism in universities that were caused by other, for example, Christian missionaries, or Christian mission groups in the universities. Maybe in China there are some, maybe not official, but still sanctioned in-house churches, campus chapels or missionaries that are actively operating. So I was wondering how to deal with or whether you have experienced those kinds of encounters. How do you deal with this interreligious or intra-religious dialogue and competition?

Khenpo Sodargye:

As I’ve mentioned earlier, nowadays, Buddhism has spread throughout the world and has not actually encountered any major obstacles. For instance, in China, traditional culture includes Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, which is called Ru Shi Dao in Chinese. Historically, there were, of course, some debates between Taoists and Buddhists. But nowadays, many Taoists accept and acknowledge Buddhism quite respectfully. And, in turn, Buddhists have also learned some ideas from Taoism.

I’ve read the Tao Te Ching and Standards for being a Good Pupil and Child. Actually, I translated Standards for being a Good Pupil and Child into Tibetan. So when I give talks in universities or in other Dharma centers, I haven’t met any obstacles. As we know, Han Buddhism has its own monastic system and is independent of Tibetan Buddhism. However, I’ve been to many ancestral temples of Pure Land and Zen Buddhism and have been warmly welcomed by their senior monks.

Historically, there have been many conflicts between religions, as well as between religions and non-religions. But in our modern society, most people are very open-minded and inclusive. This is especially true of the younger generation, who are very receptive to different cultures. Regardless of religion or science, most people can accept new ideas with an open mind. In my own experience, I can’t remember meeting any difficulties from any major religion or ever being affected by that.

Accept or Conquer Suffering?

Question #5:

My question relates to your statement concerning suffering and how students are taught to accept it in the Buddhist mode of thinking. This question comes from my interviews, my preliminary research among some members of Soka Gakkayi in Singapore.

As you know, Soka Gakkayi is perceived and presents itself as a very modern form of Buddhism. Its tradition is Nichiren Buddhism, but is very modern in terms of its practical applications. I think one of the reasons that Soka Gakkayi Buddhism is attractive to many young people in Singapore, is that it teaches them to overcome things, to have a conquering spirit so that suffering is not the issue, the issue is really how to conquer the challenges in life, the challenges in school, the challenges in the work place, and so on. Since Buddhism says that suffering needs to be experienced as part of one’s life, I think this form of Buddhism may run counterintuitive to the traditional Buddhist understanding of suffering and so is very modern in that sense. Am I right?

Khenpo Sodargye:

In Buddhism, there are many methods to deal with suffering. Different levels have different explanations; Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana each have their respective explanations.

People usually think that life is happy or that, at the least, that they want to pursue happiness. But there are so many unhappy moments in our life. When an unhappy situation occurs, we can use two methods to deal with it according to the Mahayana teaching. One method is to observe where such suffering comes from. Suppose you are looking for the mind that is suffering: Does it have a color or shape? What does it really look like? Scientists believe that the mind is based in the brain, but that has been hard to prove. When I watch my own mind, I can’t find suffering at all. This is a kind of sophisticated and abstract method.

The second method is to realize that stresses will naturally arise in our life, and that this is part of life. It’s nothing to do with inequality. Nowadays suicide is quite common among young people. But, in life there are so many possibilities. If we just focus on one thing, such as relationship stress or work stress and become strongly attached to it, then we will only end up with suffering. So, in this sense, recognizing the nature of suffering is very essential to us.

If you have a high-level perspective, when you are looking for your painful heart, you will find that it doesn’t exist anywhere. If your perspective hasn’t yet reached this level, it’s important to understand that your suffering is not necessarily worthy of suffering. We shouldn’t try to escape from suffering when we experience it or to solve it in some extreme way. Instead, we should accept suffering as a fact and face it with wisdom.

Tibetan and Han Buddhism, Conflicting or Complementary?

Question #6:

First, I want to thank Khenpo for giving us today’s talk. I am studying the sociology of religion in Peking University. As there is a distinction between Tibetan Buddhism and Han Chinese, not many Tibetan lamas come to Mainland China. Do you think this will cause any difficulty in spreading Tibetan Buddhism in the future? And what’s the role of Han Buddhism in the spread of Tibetan Buddhism?

Khenpo Sodargye:

I’ve mentioned this issue before. It’s very simple. Tibetan Buddhism does not intend to rule over any religion or to convert others, religious or nonreligious, into Buddhists. There are some religions or ruling classes, who, in order to meet their own needs, keep enlarging their own communities through propaganda and education. I think that most Tibetan Buddhist scholars, including myself, don’t have such a purpose. We all regard Buddhism as a pure spiritual education.

Based on my own experience, I believe the essence of Buddhism, including its wisdom, compassion and tolerance are exactly what humanity needs. It is a highly civilized spiritual treasure. Given that this is a spiritual treasure, on the one hand, we need to dispel misunderstandings about it, because some people regard Tibetan Buddhism, or Buddhism itself, as a very old-fashioned and conservative religion or as having become overly secularized. So we have to correct all these misconceptions. On the other hand, if a religion can bring benefit to human society, our hope is that its philosophies and teachings can be acknowledged and understood by most people. That’s why I have continued promoting Buddhism for so many years.

As to the last question, what is the role of Han Buddhism? So far as Tibetan and Han people are concerned, there are many ideological and cultural differences. However, Buddhism itself is not narrow-minded. From a Buddhist perspective, I don’t find any apparent obstacles preventing it from proliferating anywhere. Most people are happily and freely willing to learn Buddhism. I myself have continued learning more about Han Buddhism as well as other religions and the various social sciences of non-religions. I believe that to continuing to be open to learning is quite necessary.

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