Talk Categories Practical Buddhism | Talk Locations Duan Hua Chinese School

How to Find the Coordinates of Life?

Everyone is in pursuit of happiness and a reasonable lifestyle. What is the orientation and direction, the purpose in our life? If there are five words that can help you find the coordinates of life, what are they? Please follow Khenpo Sodargye to explore the meaning of life and you will find the answers in this talk.


“What are the coordinates of life? Morality, wisdom, compassion, strength, and faith. I feel that for human beings living in this world, with a lack of the connotations of these five words, life might not be very meaningful.”

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

What Makes You Beautiful?

Speech from the Host and the Principal

Speech from the Host

We warmly welcome Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche and his team to our school. Now let’s begin today’s event.

Dear students, since Duan Hua Chinese School resumed classes about 20 years ago, led by the Chinese Teo Chew Association and with the support and leadership of President Oukgnar Duong Chhiv, the school has grown at a steady pace. Duan Hua Chinese School has trained and prepared a large number of talented students for society. These students have gone on to make great contributions to Cambodia’s construction and development industry and in turn, contribute value to our economy. Now let’s welcome the principal of DHCS Mr. Li Huiming, to give the opening speech.

Speech from the Principal

Respected Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche, distinguished guests, all of the deans, teachers and students present here, good afternoon! Today is an auspicious and special day, as we are honored to have the world renowned Buddhist master, educator and philanthropist, Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche, come to visit us at DHCS and graciously give us a speech. On behalf of all the teachers and students, I’d like to give the warmest welcome and most sincere greeting to the honorable Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche and to all of our distinguished guests.

Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche has been travelling the world and tirelessly spreading the Dharma to benefit all beings. In particular, Rinpoche has been  engaging in dialogue with college students and professors. He has given lectures at Tsinghua University, Peking University, the University of Hong Kong, Harvard University, George Washington University, and many other prestigious universities, where he left the audience with good memories and much thought provoking dialogue.

Today Rinpoche comes to us with a sincere intention to preserve and to propagate traditional Chinese culture throughout the world. With that, Rinpoche will kindly give a talk to the 530 students titled How to Find the Coordinates of Life to encourage young students to make continuous efforts to fulfill their aspirations. Meanwhile, Rinpoche will also donate 2000 dollars to the welfare fund of our teachers in appreciation of their contributions to the cause of education in our Chinese-speaking communities.

Dear students, it is our honor and privilege to have Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche with us and to listen to his talk. This is also the first time that our school has invited such an honorable Buddhist master. So please be quiet and listen attentively to Rinpoche and try to remember his words by heart. It will be immensely valuable for your studies and for your future careers. It will act as a compass of wisdom for your life. Once again, I would like to show our heartfelt appreciation for Rinpoche’s high attention to education and for his noble spirit and compassion. Without further ado, please welcome Rinpoche. Thank you.

Five Words for a Meaningful Life

Respected principal, respected teachers and students, good afternoon. Today is really an auspicious day. This is my first time coming to Cambodia. During this trip, I have the feeling that this country has a strong connection with Buddhism. Today we have teachers and students from the University of Phnom Penh, Duan Hua Chinese School and other universities. We are gathered together to discuss the coordinates of our lives. Everyone must have one’s own life orientation and direction. I’m sure each of us here has a purpose in life and has the coordinates of life. Regarding myself, as a Tibetan monk wearing traditional robes, I am also concerned about this issue.

As we come into this world, there must be some causes leading us here. As we live in this world, we must have our own direction and our own set of values towards life. As we are about to leave this world, how will these directions or values guide us toward the unknown future? With this question, today I’d like to discuss the coordinates of life with all of you. I actually have been thinking about this for quite some time. I’d like to share five words with you on this topic.

Which five? The first one is morality. The second is wisdom. The third is compassion. The fourth is strength. Finally, the fifth is faith. I feel that for human beings living in this world, with a lack of the connotations of these five words, life might not be very meaningful. Most of you present here understand my Mandarin. We also provide translations into English and Khmer. So firstly I’d like to share with you my personal thoughts and viewpoints.

Inner Morality Is More Important

What Makes You Beautiful?

I believe each of us, whether men or women, Easterners or Westerners, cannot lose our sense of morality. With a lack of morality, even if one is very beautiful or extremely rich or possesses high status, actually he has lost his spirit and his value as a human being. So, I encourage everyone to pay more attention to the importance of moral education. In today’s 21st century, people are excessively seeking material wealth rather than inner value. It is an age of moral decline. At this point, we should use our intelligence to analyze the major issues in today’s society. If we don’t have proper moral education, no matter how beautiful we appear on the outside, we still lack the real meaning of life.

This is very well explained in a Buddhist text called the Sujata Sutta. I’m not sure if you have heard of it. In this sutra, there is a prominent lay-disciple named Anathapindika who had a daughter-in-law named Sujata. Sujata was as beautiful as a goddess. She was so proud of her beauty and thought there was nobody as beautiful as her in the entire world. After she married Anathapindika’s son, she did not behave properly towards the whole family, including her mother-in-law. On one occasion, the family invited the Buddha to their house to receive their offering. She deemed the Buddha not worthy of the offering so she didn’t come out to welcome the Buddha.

When the Sangha were receiving the offering, Sujata sneakily took a look at the Buddha. At that very moment, she realized that Shakyamuni Buddha demonstrated extraordinary dignity and exhibited the most exquisite beauty. So beautiful, in fact, his magnificence surpassed that of Sujata’s beauty. Sujata then came out and prostrated herself towards the Buddha. After the prostration, the Buddha told her that the beauty of a person was determined not only by external beauty, but more importantly by traits of inner beauty such as warm-heartedness, righteousness and compassion. Only with these qualities could she possess both external and internal beauty. That is to say, she had not only a beautiful look, but also a beautiful heart. When Sujata heard the Buddha’s teaching, her previous pride and arrogance that had made her feel she was marvelous were completely gone and that left her with a pure and clean mind.

Why do I share this story with you? These days, many young people pay much more attention to their outer appearance, such as external beauty. Many people spend a lot of money on face-lifts and all kinds of cosmetic surgeries. Actually, the external beauty of the body will eventually fade away after several years. As time goes by, your face will get more and more wrinkles, your hair will turn whiter and whiter, and you will lose your teeth one by one. Nobody can break the natural law of aging. However, the morality that you possess will never get old as time goes by. Morality is so important for everyone living in this world.

The Unexamined Life Is Not Livable

The famous philosopher Kant once said that two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe. One is the starry heavens above him, and the other is the moral law within him. He was greatly impressed by both of them and only these two things had touched his heart.

Most of you are also familiar with the philosopher Socrates. He once said that, “It is the greatest good for a human being to have discussions every day about virtue and examining himself and others. The unexamined life is not livable for a human being.”

So with a lack of morality, even if one is very rich, he would not use his money to benefit the welfare of society. On the contrary, if one has good moral virtues, even if he becomes very poor and unfortunate, his moral virtues would still be admirable rather than become faded. Therefore, Socrates pointed out that it is such a great thing to have discussions about virtue every day. I myself am also very pleased to discuss morality and share my thoughts with you today. I deeply believe morality is an essential inner quality worthy of our promotion.

These days in every corner of society, while people are blindly seeking rapid material progress and thus enhancing material culture, we should also be aware of the importance of spiritual culture. Moral ethics, whether it is taught in Buddhism or in Confucianism or in any other religion, can provide us all with inconceivable power. We should familiarize ourselves with this kind of energy and let it be deeply rooted in our hearts.

Do you understand the habit-energy? As explained in the Lankavatara Sutra, inconceivable transformation takes place due to inconceivable habit-energy. When this kind of energy inconceivably permeates our minds, then wherever we go, the energy of morality will guide and control us. This is essential. So morality is the first word that I share with you.

These days in every corner of society, while people are blindly seeking rapid material progress and thus enhancing material culture, we should also be aware of the importance of spiritual culture. Moral ethics, whether it is taught in Buddhism or in Confucianism or in any other religion, can provide us all with inconceivable power. We should familiarize ourselves with this kind of energy and let it be deeply rooted in our hearts.

Obtain Wisdom Rather Than Knowledge

Obtain Wisdom Rather Than Knowledge

One Thing More Valuable Than Diamonds

Secondly I want to briefly talk about wisdom. Each of us may spend a lot of time during the day and night gathering knowledge and increasing our intelligence. Our daily courses at school focus mainly on Chinese, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and many other specialties. This is what we learn day to day. Without being well educated, it would be hard for a person to survive.

A while ago, I read that about 60% of Cambodian adults were illiterate or semi-illiterate. I believe all of you must be very intelligent to be able to study here. So you have very good fortune to be here. Having said this, you shouldn’t feel content with your current situation and instead, you should make persistent efforts to seek wisdom. The wisdom you obtain through study cannot be taken away by anyone in the world. In our whole life, the most valuable, powerful and meaningful thing is our own wisdom.

As we know, during World War II, Hitler slaughtered a large number of Jews with the intention to exterminate the race. But it turned out that the Jewish people not only survived, but can be found in every corner of the world. They live a life of great courage and great wisdom. Why is that? It is because in their values of life, wealth and position are not at the top of the list. Rather, wisdom is the most essential thing they seek.

For example, Jewish parents always ask their children, if a time should come when they must leave without taking anything with them, not their money, nor their house and so on, when nothing can go with them, what can they rely on? In reply, the children may suggest taking something valuable such as diamonds with them. Then the parents would tell them that at that time diamonds or gold could absolutely not go with them, but there was one thing more valuable than diamonds that they could take away, and that was wisdom. Wisdom is the most meaningful and the most valuable thing in the world. Through such education, from a very young age children cultivate a good habit of learning and seeking wisdom. That’s probably why there are so many great renowned people who are Jewish, such as Einstein, Freud and so on. There are so many great Jews  outstanding in history.

Strict Teachers, Talented Students

Similarly, in Tibet, during the process of learning, parents always encourage their children to study hard. In order to acquire wisdom, they should not be afraid of hardships or feel frustrated, because acquiring wisdom is the most meaningful thing in life. Just like a metaphor used by the Tibetans, teaching a child is equivalent to feeding gold into his mouth. A teacher is a person who sends plenty of gold to his students without any expectation of being rewarded.

Do you agree with this? Some of you may consider teachers as someone who may punish you, scold you or simply annoy you, and as someone from whom you would rather be distanced from because of their strict requirements. This is not the case. As the old saying goes, talented students are trained by strict teachers. Only strict teachers can cultivate excellent students. On the contrary, if a teacher just shares a few simple stories in class, is not rigorous in teaching and does not really focus on the students’ learning, these students may only have fun in class instead of gaining any useful knowledge.

I used to be like this when I was young. I didn’t like those strict teachers and I didn’t want to attend their classes. But today, as I reflect on my life, I realize I was wrong. Those teachers who were not so strict indeed ruined their students’ futures. On the other hand, the teachers who were strict in nature, who seemed to be tough and rigid and sometimes even punish students with a stick, actually really cared about their students. They enriched them with valuable teachings that would remain within them for their entire lives. So, I believe teachers are very noble in the way that they help people to seek wisdom. For example, we have several teachers here who have been teaching for thirty or forty years from the war period until now and have nurtured many students in their lifetimes.

Earlier on, a teacher told me that some Vietnamese monks believed that a doctor and a teacher were the two professions most closely related to Buddhism. I also repeat this statement in different schools and on different occasions. Why do I agree with this? When I read the biography of Shakyamuni Buddha, I noticed that when the Buddha was in his causal stage as a layperson, he tried to find a meaningful profession. Then he realized that only a teacher or a doctor met his requirements. With an altruistic attitude, teachers and doctors can greatly benefit others. So I repeat this idea quite often. Some of you may become teachers or doctors in the future, or you may make different choices for your career. Regardless of what work you will do, you have to acquire wisdom.

Say No to Evil Intelligence

Exactly what kind of wisdom do we need? It is the wisdom that is able to bring happiness to both ourselves and others. This is essential. Your wisdom should never be used to harm others or even yourself. In the history of Cambodia, some so-called wisdom was indeed not beneficial to people and even worse, was inhumane. Today, when we reflect deeply on history, we find that those events were horrible and unbearable.

Take mass graves for example. A huge number of intellectuals were slaughtered, and almost no intelligent people survived from that. The same scenario is described in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It describes how more than 17,000 people were horribly deprived of their lives. During the same period in Cambodia, it was estimated that about 3 million Cambodians or, one third of the entire population died from the violence. Such terrible history was certainly related to the politics of the Khmer Rouge regime. So we can say that when politics is manipulated by evil intelligence, those politicians will be condemned as sinners in history.

When I visited the mass graves, I felt extremely terrified. The feeling was indescribable. Due to certain historical reasons, those leaders were maniacally driven by evil wisdom and ended so many lives. Just one grave site may contain the remains of one to four hundred victims. Some were beheaded, and some were buried alive. What a horrible history.

We are so lucky not be living in a time of war. All of us present here are not suffering from famine, and are not living in those terrible times. This is our good fortune. What is more, each of you here do not have much to worry about. Wearing nice uniforms and having the opportunity to study at school should encourage you to be joyful and appreciative of your life. Please do not think that you are currently stressed with study, in the future you will be stressed with family, and there will be all kinds of pressures that can suppress you and make you unhappy all day long. You are indeed very lucky, aren’t you? At this point, we must know that it is genuine wisdom that we should seek. This will result in happiness.

Knowledge Is Not Wisdom

So what kind of happiness are we looking for? We might encounter many unpleasant things in our life. Some people who appear to be very intelligent may also experience all kinds of sufferings. In this case, we should have our own wisdom to deal with these sufferings with a peaceful mind.

Once someone asked a master about his confusion. He said that in his life, he had learned all kinds of worldly knowledge while he felt more and more afflicted and more and more irritated. He asked why and how to solve this problem. The master told him, what he had acquired was just knowledge, not wisdom. If one’s knowledge is used to discriminate between this and that, he may come across many afflictions and unpleasant circumstances. However, if one obtains genuine wisdom then no circumstance would annoy him or her. Such a person would not experience immense suffering. So I wish that everyone here will study hard and seek wisdom. Knowledge alone won’t give you inner strength. You must have wisdom to deal with life. Such wisdom can only be cultivated from within, and not be bestowed by an outside certification, such as a PhD or anything like that.

These days, many people maintain good external images while they are spiritually empty and void. I feel that such a superficial and false image is not very useful. The most essential thing for us is to cultivate moral integrity and to generate wisdom from within. Once you have these inner qualities, the troubles in life won’t bother you as much.

Some of you may be narrow-minded and may easily get caught up with trivial things that can make you feel frustrated for lengthy periods. Where do such afflictions, sadness, and anxiety come from? They come from ignorance, and a lack of wisdom. When you possess genuine wisdom, however, no matter what kind of occasion, or circumstance you find yourself in, you can always live a happy and joyful life. Similarly, no matter which major you study, you can dedicate all your time and energy to it and thus achieve a satisfactory result. Therefore, I wish that everyone here would diligently seek for wisdom during your study and be aware that knowledge by itself is not enough to provide you with pure and genuine wisdom.

In our lives, when we encounter trial and tribulations, how can we face them bravely? This is an essential question that deserves our reflection. No matter what you are engaged in, whether studying or anything else, I hope you can develop a powerful strength from within, which will support your entire life, lift your spirits, and banish the blues. Otherwise, we can hardly succeed in doing anything.

Building Up Inner Strength

Developing More Compassion

Those Less Fortunate Than Us

Thirdly, I would like to talk about compassion. Compassion is also a key factor, because without compassion, morality and wisdom are inadequate. We are living in this world together with so many beings who are closely connected to us. During this trip to Cambodia, I visited five orphanages. I visit orphanages quite often. Having met with so many orphans during my visits, I experience several emotions within my heart.

I encourage you to remove yourself from the comfort of your daily environment and to spend time with people less fortunate than us. This will help you fathom the reality of others’ suffering. I encourage you to step out of your own space, to read more, to learn more, and to have more communication with people from all walks of life. Sometimes it is necessary to talk with some people at a high level, and sometimes it is also necessary for us to communicate with those from lower social backgrounds, such as beggars, the disabled, homeless people, and farmers in poverty.

When I was in one orphanage, I asked a child how he felt about his current situation. He told me that he felt a sense of inferiority. The reason was that when he was very young, both of his parents died while fishing and he could only live with his grandma without any support for basic living needs. Besides the meals provided in the orphanage, he doesn’t know what else he can expect or what kind of future is awaiting him.

Later on in the day, the children in the orphanage sang an old song from Sihanouk’s time which touched not only myself but also our tour guide. Although he takes lots of tourists to visit all kinds of attractions all day long, he was really touched by these children, and on the way back he kept weeping in the car. I myself also felt deeply sad. So I suggest all of you focus not just on the bright side of society, but also be aware of the dark side. By doing this, you will find out how sunshine can penetrate the darkness and furthermore how much darkness still lurks behind the sunshine.

They Deserve Our Attention

In Cambodia there are many opportunities for us to help others. There are many families and communities currently suffering. In some villages, families of men, women and children live in terribly poor sanitary conditions. These families deserve our attention. We also need to concentrate on the people living in floating villages, those who fled Vietnam and became refugees and can only make a living on boats. When these refugees fled Vietnam by boat, the Cambodian government condemned them to not settling ashore. Further, the government also ordered the arrest of any non-conforming refugees and those caught evading the regulations would be sent to prison. Refugees were also stripped of their national citizenship, which prohibited them from returning to Vietnam. As a result of the war, many lost their families, they lost access to their homeland and many were left to fend for themselves. Today, these refugees who live in the floating villages eat raw fish and drink cold water to survive. Such is their current situation.

There are also many refugees in other parts of Cambodia. If we look at the entire world, today the number of refugees has reached 45.2 million. You can imagine the life of these refugees who have lost their nationalities, lost their freedom, lost members of their families, and even worse, have no support for basic living needs. It may be necessary for us to travel to places such as Afghanistan or Africa to see and appreciate how difficult it is for refugees to make a living.

Sometimes you may feel that the food you are eating may not be so delicious, and you become slightly fussy. Or you may feel that your clothes don’t fit very well. Such things may happen, but you needn’t take them seriously if you have sincere compassion towards others. Instead, you will be aware of so many less fortunate people around you and you will genuinely care about them and offer your help.

Such compassion may also extend to animals and to those who died during the war or in other circumstances. We may reflect on how they lost their precious lives. Therefore, I truly hope all of us can have more compassion from within. Without compassion, wisdom alone or other inner qualities alone are far from enough. This is the compassion that I share with you.

Building Up Inner Strength

The fourth point I want to talk about is strength, which is required by all of us here. What kind of strength exactly do we need? It is the strength that will enable one to sustain oneself and help others as well. Without these two kinds of strength, I feel it might be difficult for most people to survive in this world. So it is indispensable for us all.

Generally speaking, as a student learning to acquire knowledge, one needs the strength of persistence and diligence. As a teacher to lead students to knowledge, one needs the strength of determination, otherwise one may want to give up when encountering difficulty. Similarly, being a monk as myself, I do need such inner strength, because without it, my determination would be shaken by circumstances. As for each of you present here, in order to be well educated, you may need to finish your studies from middle school up to college level, and even a Master’s or Doctoral program. So you have to rely on your inner strength to go through the whole process.

Without such inner strength, one will find it extremely hard to live in this world. You may take inspiration from those who are disabled. I have been inspired to be stronger by the way that they live with great strength and courage.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this story. During the earthquake of May 12th, 2008, there was a teacher called Liao Zhi in Deyang who used to teach dancing classes. During the earthquake, she was buried in the ruins together with her baby and mother-in-law, both of whom died beside her. When she was finally rescued, it turned out that her legs had to be amputated as they were too badly injured, in order that she could live.

At that moment, her husband left her, because he could not accept the reality of having lost his closest family members. As it turned out, her husband did not accompany her to hospital where she was left to authorize the surgery to amputate her legs. She was then fitted with two prosthetics. When I heard the whole story, I was amazed at her strength and toughness and wondered what a marvelous person she must be. So what became of her later on? She returned to the dancing stage with her strong will and continues to perform on stage with her prosthetic legs.

In our lives, when we encounter trial and tribulations, how can we face them bravely? This is an essential question that deserves our reflection. No matter what you are engaged in, whether studying or anything else, I hope you can develop a powerful strength from within, which will support your entire life, lift your spirits, and banish the blues. Otherwise, we can hardly succeed in doing anything. As I mentioned earlier, such strength is the spiritual strength that everyone should possess. With a lack of spiritual strength, you can hardly overcome any difficulties you may encounter.

Faith Is Indispensable for Everyone

Faith Is a Pillar of Life

Lastly, I want to talk about faith. I don’t know if everyone present here and especially Han students have a religious faith or not. In Cambodia, religious people account for a large portion of the population. This is very rare in many other countries. From history, Cambodia was thrown into chaos by war, especially during the Khmer Rouge regime. This chaos brought immense suffering to the people, their families and to the whole country and put the entire nation into an abnormal state. Nevertheless, today more than 90% of Cambodians follow Buddhism and I believe such devotion is certainly a pillar of life. Each of you here is very lucky to have grown up in such an environment and should be really joyful.

As I grew up in Tibet, our customs are quite like yours here. For instance, laypersons in your country will take off their hats and join their palms as a greeting when they see monks. In Tibetan Buddhism we have the same tradition. When people visit monasteries, they will also join their palms and do prostrations. Even your nation’s Kings, both King Sihamoni and King Father Sihanouk had been ordained and practiced in monasteries for a long time. As the King follows Buddhism in such a devoted way, all his people, including intellectuals, would have more chances to learn Buddhism properly, instead of directly considering it as superstition as people from many other places do due to their ignorance.

I saw on TV that the King gave respectful greetings to the Supreme Patriarch and monks along with other high officials, including the Prime Minister, all of whom attended Buddhist activities in monasteries and made offerings to the Sangha. Seeing this, I really rejoice that Cambodians are so fortunate to be supported by their faith. During a conversation earlier today, a professor also said that faith is indispensable for everyone because if one lacks faith, when any kind of difficulty and disaster befalls him, he would hardly be able to handle them with any worldly knowledge, which would not lift him up from the pain. I truly believe his words.

Buddhist Education in Modern Times

Furthermore, all students present here should not only have faith on a superficial level, but also learn and understand the Buddhist teachings, which are explained in the Tripitaka in Twelve Divisions and which should be included in your curriculum. In Cambodia, ever since 1947, Buddhism has been the established religion of the nation. It is said that this year the Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed that today it is not sufficient for Cambodia to rely solely on radio or television to spread Buddhism, but that Buddhism must keep pace with the age of science and technology and thus promote Buddhist education by the modern means of the Internet and multimedia.

I think this is extremely important. For each of you here, whether in the future you become a doctor or a teacher or choose any other profession, it is all great as long as you keep your faith in Buddhism and do not abandon it. You may not realize the happiness that Buddhism brings to you at such a young age, but as you get older, you will appreciate its genuine value. So please keep in mind the vital importance of faith.

How Can Buddhism Deal with Suffering?

Some may have the question, and actually I have been asked on different occasions, why is it that the proliferation of Buddhism cannot stop disasters and cannot change the situation of economic underdevelopment?

I answer in this way. Essentially speaking, economic backwardness and all kinds of disasters are not directly related to Buddhism. However, if you regard Buddhism as a source of wealth or a powerful tool to get money, then you may assume that the growth of Buddhism will cause an economic boom. It is only because your value is more materialism-oriented that you have such doubt in your mind. Instead, if you accept Buddhism as an education of truth, you will have no doubt that everyone deserves such truth, regardless of whether they are in a developed or undeveloped region, and regardless of how much suffering they are going through.

I have asked many students here if there were student suicide cases in colleges, and most of them replied no, even going on to express that such things never happen in their colleges. However, in many other countries where material progress is advanced, there are ironically many suicide cases. Why? Certainly it is not a sign of happiness. So, can you lead a happy life without beliefs and especially without Buddhist beliefs? This is a big question.

I have also asked many locals whether there were many cases of divorces. They answered that there were some cases, but very few. The answer again inspired me. As you know, according to surveys in various countries, particularly a survey released this year 2013, the divorce rate in China has exceeded the marriage rate for the first time in history. The divorce rate in Beijing has reached 39%, and it is 50% in the US and 42% in the UK. It seems that the divorce rate increases with economic development. Given this current situation, we can ask whether divorces are due to happiness or suffering? In most cases, they must have gone through a lot of suffering.

Being students, it may be hard for you to imagine such feelings since you don’t have such experiences. It is the same for someone like me as a monk. But as I learn more about their stories, I can realize their suffering and understand that it is a social issue that needs our attention. Under such circumstances, how can Buddhism help and guide people and send them positive energy? Actually, Buddhist philosophy can help people deal with any issue related to emotions or morality and lead people to happiness.

During wartime in Cambodia, China and many other countries, Buddhism encountered outright catastrophes. During those times almost no monasteries remained, and just a few monks were left alive across the country. However, today’s situation has completely changed. Today, there are many monasteries in Cambodia. The King and his high officials and the people of the whole nation take refuge in the Three Jewels, and are joyfully blessed with the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I feel that in Cambodia, even hotel attendants are completely different from those in other countries. There is a big difference between religious countries and non-religious countries. People in religious countries are more likely to show sincere respect to others and to have a heartfelt respect for the opinions of others. Their smiles are not specifically trained for the purpose of service, but are genuine smiles rather than fake smiles.

Passing on the Wisdom of Buddhism

I sincerely wish that all of you here develop a true faith when you are still young and energetic. If you think having no religious belief is something admirable, I may have to tell you honestly that this thinking is wrong. My answer may offend some nonbelievers, but it should be fine as I have my right to express myself. I respect nonbelievers equally as I do believers, yet I do not accept their choices. The reason is that it is very easy for nonbelievers to get frustrated when faced with difficulties, while believers can remain very strong in the face of obstacles and have effective methods of dealing with them.

Therefore, it is great that in Cambodia you can learn about all different religions freely and openly. And in particular, since you are so close to Buddhism, it is most essential to pursue the study of Buddhism. Of course such study should not be merely based on faith. Just as in Tibetan Buddhism, it should be incorporated with both faith and the wisdom of reasoning and analysis. Faith with a lack of wisdom is superstition. Likewise, tolerance with a lack of wisdom is a kind of ignorance. So, I wish each of you would come to extol Buddhism through the means of systemic study.

As a matter of fact, historically, Tibetan Buddhism has not thrived in Cambodia. Therefore, on this visit to Cambodia, as a symbol of what Buddhists call dependent origination, I brought a statue of Padmasambhava to your homeland. I hope with the blessing of Padmasambhava, Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, as well as Theravada Buddhism will all prosper together and demonstrate the real value of the state religion. Buddhism should not be limited to rituals or other external images, but more essentially, it should pass on the wisdom contained in the Tripitakas in Twelve Divisions. Through the actions of listening, reflecting and meditation, not only in monasteries where ordained people will continue to seek wisdom, but in local communities, their people and intellectuals will come to possess a genuine wisdom that shines on the world.

So these are the coordinates of life that I expect, which in short are morality, wisdom, compassion, strength, and faith. That’s all that I have to share with you today. If you think some of my words are useful, please keep them in your mind and think more about them. If you feel my talk is meaningless, then just forget it and that is fine with me. Tomorrow I will leave Cambodia, and besides taking up some of your valuable time, I didn’t expend too much effort.

That’s all. Thank you.

Question & Answer Session

How to Get Along with Others?

Right Path of Life

Question #1:

Respected Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche, when we are standing at the crossroads of life, how can we make the proper choice and go in the right direction? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

Actually, all of us may find ourselves standing at the crossroads of life at a certain time. I once wrote a song in which I said, we are all standing at the crossroads of life; one direction leads to brightness and another to darkness, and it is up to ourselves to choose one of them. So when I need to make a decision for my life, if I have pretty good wisdom, then I can choose my path in life on my own.

But if I don’t have a clear idea and feel aimless or even a little bit lost, I shall consult those who have had rich life experiences, such as my teachers, parents and the elders. They can give me valuable advice for my life because they have probably experienced situations similar to mine. For instance, just now I talked with a few teachers, and although we only spoke for a short time, I learned that they have had very precious life experiences as they lived through the war and experienced life’s ups and downs. So they will understand your current state exactly, and they may point out a path that works better for you with just a few words. Therefore, it is essential for young people to consult their elders when standing at the crossroads of life.

Another way is to read books of great wisdom. This can also lead you to the right path. You’d better not spend too much of your time watching television, obscene and violent videos or comics and animations. Most of these things that meet your sensory satisfaction may not provide you valuable life advice. When you become sixty or seventy years old, you will probably realize that TV and movies can only provide negative impacts rather than positive influences on your life. What you love to watch the most will not necessarily bring you the most benefits while those you don’t like can bring real benefit to you.

For instance, acquiring knowledge might be a hard and painful process for some of you, yet it is definitely beneficial to you. And believing in Buddhism currently looks like something that could never happen to you, yet it does have great meaning for your life. Therefore, although some paths of life initially seem difficult to follow, actually as long as you get through the difficult part, you will be led to a promising future. While some other paths seem smooth and wide, they will not necessarily lead you to happiness.

The Meaning of Life

Question #2:

Hello, Rinpoche. From your point of view, what is the meaning of life?

Khenpo Sodargye:

The meaning of life varies for each one of us. If you are a doctor, the meaning of your life can be manifested through curing illness. If you are a teacher, it can be manifested through teaching and educating. If you are a farmer, planting, reaping and harvesting can be a meaningful life. However, after seeing some refugees and poor people, I have come to feel that the meaning of life is simply to live in this world freely and healthily, which turns out to be so simple.

On the other hand, if we are looking for a higher level of meaning, we have to rely on faith because a reasonable and good faith can be an antidote to most afflictions and negative emotions and can help us face sufferings and deal with all kinds of anxieties. Otherwise, if you lack faith, no matter how rich or how pleasant you are, these conditions cannot last forever. When you are about to lose them, you will suffer badly from that.

So I think the meaning of life can vary over a wide range, and when judging from different aspects, it will have different meanings.

How to Get Along with Others?

Question #3:

Respected Rinpoche, could you please offer me some advice on how to get along with my brothers, sisters and friends? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

In order to get along well with your brothers and sisters, as well as your friends, you should not quarrel with them, but be kind and sincere to them. Warm-heartedness is a key to getting along well with others. Okay?

How to Reconcile Differences?

Question #4:

Respected Rinpoche, when something unhappy occurs between friends, and both parties are unhappy with each other, how can we reconcile our differences?

Khenpo Sodargye:

As we know, different people grow up in different environments and have different habits and predilections. Also, their virtuous roots and causal conditions are quite different, so it is natural that sometimes people have inharmonious relationships.

I personally believe the best practice is forgiveness, because if you forgive someone, you can better understand that person without any negative emotion. Then again, a better understanding of this person will help you to genuinely forgive him. When we see people around us not getting along very well, we should try our best to help them understand and forgive each other.

If we ourselves have some conflicts with others, we should open our minds and be more tolerant of others’ behavior. In fact, inharmonious relationships are rooted in people’s attitudes. If we can hold good attitudes and have concern for others, all disagreements can be easily resolved. Even those conflicts between countries and nationalities usually come from people’s inner desires and hatred. Actually, any kinds of desires and hatred can be controlled by adopting an altruistic attitude.

How to Treat Family Members?

Question #5

Hello, respected Rinpoche. Could you please give us some suggestions on how to treat our family members, such as our parents? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

We’d better treat our family members, parents and friends by following the ways of our traditional culture. In traditional culture, the most essential tradition is to respect your parents. I don’t know how much you have applied it in your life. Actually with an altruistic mind and behaving filially and respecting others, you won’t find any difficulty in getting along well with parents and other family members.

What Keeps You Giving Speeches Across the World?

Question #6:

Respected Rinpoche, for what reason or with what strength can you ignore your own well-being and keep giving speeches across the world to spread the Dharma?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Actually I’m not totally neglecting myself because I really enjoy the communication with teachers and students. Through these communications, I can gain a lot of new knowledge from them. In different places, people all have their own unique wisdom. So I can learn a lot from each individual I meet. This is a great help to my practice and to my life and means a lot to me.

Sometimes during the talk, students ask me many different questions, some that I can answer and some that are difficult for me. So for those difficult questions, I will think more about them for some time, “Oh, this is a very good question, and how can I answer it properly?”

Also when I meet some teachers, their persistent compassion and dedication to students always leads me to reflect on myself. Once I thought to myself that I had been teaching for more than 20 years and that it might be time to retire and have more time for myself. Later, I met some teachers who had been teaching for 20, 30 or even 40 years and still insisted on teaching. They really encouraged me to keep on going. Therefore, through learning the stories of many others, I have gained a strength which enables me to cast aside what should be abandoned and courageously strive to do what I should do.

Hence, I think it is also important for you students to connect to more people. During this process, however, you must have a kind of strength, which means that you should be able to protect yourself from accumulating bad habits. Any bad habits will do no good but only bring harm to your life. Therefore, when getting to know other people, we should be very careful to avoid those who have bad habits. And instead, we should learn more from those who possess good qualities.

Learning from each other is very necessary in today’s world of globalization and openness. Everyone should keep an open mind. But meanwhile, such openness requires certain restrictions and selectivity; otherwise, it is very possible for people to lose their common sense of morality. So, we should know where to draw the line when getting in touch with others.

Back to you question, I’ve been to many places and met with many teachers and students from whom I’ve learned a lot of new things. I collect many questions asked by teachers and students and in doing so, I gradually find the best position for myself in my coordinates of life.

Inner Development and Social Progress

Inner Development and Social Progress

Question #7:

Respected Rinpoche, could you talk about how Buddhism can promote the development of society? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

This is a very good question. These days some people think that Buddhism, or religions in general, are of little use to the development of society. But in fact, Buddhism can promote the progress of society to a great extent. I believe that the development of society should not be limited to increasing GDP or material prosperity.

In some countries, while skyscrapers are getting taller and taller, people feel less and less happiness, and their happiness index is dropping. So we may wonder whether it is a sign of progress or regress. You can also think more about it. Buddhism emphasizes a balance between spirituality and materialism. Material progress should be supported by spiritual development. With a lack of spiritual support, material progress alone could bring more sufferings to people.

The inner development addressed in Buddhism can hardly be found in science. Even today science still has a gap in this area. It is because science only has a history of two or three hundred years, and during this short period, scientists have rarely focused on the study of mind. So, if we want to learn more about our inner hearts, perhaps we need to turn to the ancient Eastern cultures and especially Buddhist philosophy instead of other subjects in science.

When we reflect upon history, we notice that in some countries there are many sovereigns who have used their power and wealth to exploit or suppress their people. This was very common in the past when we look back at history. So, I want to point out that when speaking of social progress or social development, please do not believe that gaining more money equates with progress, having more advanced cars equates with progress, or living in taller urban buildings equates with progress. These are not very wise thoughts.

With a lack of spiritual support, even if you drive the best car, you may still experience suffering. Or even if you have a fat bank account, you may not bring any benefit to people around you. Just like those very rich people in today’s world, some of them have been accumulating money that accounts for a large portion of the wealth of the whole nation. But if they won’t use it for the benefit of others, we could only say that what they’ve achieved is personal progress rather than progress for society overall. And even worse, it could lead to more corruption. Many social evils such as corruption and other issues result from the lack of inner values and the lack of awareness of morality, which cause an imbalance between materialism and spirituality. Such imbalance has become a global issue in today’s world.

In contrast, probably most Buddhists may not suffer from this issue. As I mentioned just now, most college students in your country seldom think about suicide. This should be a benefit of Buddhism. If one does not have a religious faith, one may choose suicide in the face of certain difficulties. And if someone were to commit suicide, no matter how much money they possess, it’s all useless because nothing is more precious than life. So, from this point of view, I think the inner development addressed in Buddhism is a much more essential part of social progress. If people don’t have faith and they lack the wisdom of Buddhism, no matter how much money they have, honestly speaking, I wouldn’t admire them at all.

Theory of Success

Question #8:

Hello, respected Rinpoche. My question is, what do you think makes a person successful?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Speaking of success, today some people consider success as being a leader or a wealthy entrepreneur, that is success. So the so-called “Theory of Success” today focuses mainly on business management.

From my point of view, a successful person should be happy and be able to benefit both oneself and others. He can bring peace and happiness to his family and eliminate bickering or fighting among his family members, and  he himself won’t wear a sad face all day long but be happy and joyful and able to embrace every aspect of life with courage and strength. Meanwhile, no matter how many people need help, ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand, as long as they need help, a successful person can always take altruistic action and have a sincere concern for others’ needs.

Furthermore, such an altruistic mind should not be limited to humans but also extend to animals, to all sentient beings in the world. Having such an attitude of benefiting others is an important criterion of success. So, I may have a different definition from most of those people who relate success to huge amounts of money, good looks, high positions, and so on. Actually these are all impermanent, and even when someone possesses all of them, when encountering difficulties, he or she may turn out to be very vulnerable. If the most fragile part is hurt, this person may become so very desperate and completely fall down. Therefore, a truly successful person should have both wisdom and warm-heartedness, and the ability of helping others. That is my point of view of success.

The Strength of Beliefs

Question #9:

My question is why should people believe in a religion?

Khenpo Sodargye:

There are a variety of religious beliefs, and in terms of the major religions, we have Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and so on. These days people have a common thought that faith in money could also be a choice of belief, as money means everything to them. From my point of view, religious beliefs have a great deal of influence and impact on society, which can be demonstrated in our daily lives. So, I always emphasize that from a very young age, everyone needs to develop a belief. A belief should not be demanded by doctrinal teaching or propaganda. Rather, it should be a natural development influenced by parents, teachers, and other communities. Such influence is of great value to the whole of society.

Some of you present here today may not have religious faith. I certainly respect your choice. Even back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, a majority of Indians were nonbelievers across the country. Although Buddhism is the established religion in Cambodia, other religious followers do exist as everyone has a right to choose their belief. For myself, I really respect other religions and welcome dialogues with others to learn from them. And I also respect nonbelievers and accept their attitudes toward religions.

However, I sincerely wish you think more about this issue. Once I was in a school, and a student told me that, he felt that he was great because he didn’t follow any religion. I told him he better not think in this way because believing in nothing was not something admirable and one should look further into life to find the answer. Then he took my advice and after spending some time thinking, he turned to Buddhism. So in light of that, I dearly hope each of you have a deep understanding of beliefs and appreciate the strength of beliefs.

The Reincarnation of Life

Question #10:

Respected Rinpoche, could you explain where life comes from and where it goes after death? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

If you believe in Buddhism and learn more about Buddhist teaching, you will find the answer. As stated in the Surangama Sutra, life does not fall from the empty sky without any cause or condition. Nor does it spring up out of the ground for no reason. It is the force of karma that causes different forms of life to manifest in this world. So from the perspective of Buddhist teachings, the formation of life is rooted in self-attachment, karma and afflictions, all of which have brought us to where we are and will further take us to the next destination. Virtuous activities generate your happiness, and unvirtuous activities generate your sufferings. Your present life is the result of the past life. Your next life will be a consequence of this life. This is stated in the sutra. So if you want to understand the reincarnation of life, you’d better study more about the Buddhist philosophy.

My Biggest Success

Question #11:

Hello Rinpoche. My questions are what has made you successful, and how have you maintained your success? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

My success is that I have been a Buddhist monk, which is the biggest success in my life. And how am I keeping this? I’m wearing my Buddhist robe to protect myself from losing it.


The Ending by Host:

Dear students, it’s about time to wrap up. Please join me in thanking Rinpoche for his wonderful talk.

In recent years, Rinpoche has given talks to students on various topics, such as environmental protection, world peace, morality, religious harmony and so on. He has initiated and organized the World Youth Buddhist Society, which has been integrating the Buddhist teachings together with modern science with the aim of enhancing the well-being of all beings, and of guiding young students to dedicate their efforts persistently to their goals. Rinpoche is respected and admired for his dedication to education and his compassion for all beings. Thank you, Rinpoche.

Now we’ll exchange gifts with Rinpoche. In appreciation of the contributions to the education in Chinese language & culture, Rinpoche will donate US$2000 to the welfare fund of our teachers at DHCS. We sincerely appreciate Rinpoche’s kindness and generosity. Dear Students, please stand up and thank Rinpoche for his wonderful talk.

Duan Hua Chinese School