Eastern Wisdom and Western Life
In the globalized and internationalized world of today, it seems that distinct cultures have begun to blend into one another. While increased contact between people of different cultures has created more opportunities for people of different cultural backgrounds, and different mindsets, to associate with each other, it has also created the necessity for everyone, especially those living in a completely new cultural environment, to begin to think of how to simultaneously integrate oneself into the multi-cultural environment while at the same time, preserving one’s own cultural traditions. In this talk, Khenpo Sodargye shares with us the ideas that a greater understanding of our differences will lead us to a greater sense of acceptance of those differences. He also reminds us that through the wisdom of Buddhism, we will be more able to open our minds to a greater appreciation of the diversity that we find around us and expose our minds to a fuller understanding of life’s underlying truths.
“Although it may take a certain amount of time to adapt to something new, with an open mind and a willingness to understand, you will soon find yourself opening to a new appreciation of that which was once unusual and unfamiliar. This is the nature of life. It’s all up to you and your attitude.”
Speech by Khenpo Sodargye
Buildings and Culture
Introduction by the Host
Respected guests and dear friends, good evening. It is our great honor today to invite Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche to Paris to speak with us on the subject of the integration of Eastern and Western culture.
In today’s world, communication and various kinds of integration among different cultures has become more and more frequent. Therefore, as modern people, the integration of diverse cultures is a shared interest that is deserving of our consideration.
Our guest today, the Venerable Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche, plays a leading role in just this sort of integration. Khenpo Rinpoche, who is a renowned and respected Tibetan Buddhist master, has been teaching the Buddhadharma to Han Chinese Buddhists for almost 30 years and over that time has gained a deep understanding of the preferences and habits of the Han Chinese community. Khenpo believes that although there are many differences between the customs of different cultural groups, the teachings of the Buddha are sufficiently inclusive to transcend all of these differences.
We are from different nations, different countries; we speak different languages and each of us has our own personal history, yet we have all chosen to live together in the beautiful land of France. Therefore, it is a worthwhile endeavor to ponder, both for the benefits to ourselves and one another, how best to integrate ourselves into the multi-cultural environment in which we all live, while at the same time, striving to keep and maintain the values and traditions that make us unique and individual.
Now, please join me in welcoming the Venerable Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche to share his deep thoughts on this topic with us.
Buildings and Culture
Khenpo Sodargye: I first came to Paris more than 20 years ago, in the autumn of 1993. At that time, I was accompanying H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and we had a short stay in Paris to Sogyal Rinpoche’s Dharma center, Lerab Ling, which is located about an hour to the northwest of Montpellier. We stayed there for about 10 days before returning to Paris to board our flight to Hongkong. So, to return to Paris once again, and to recall that first trip more than 20 years ago, evokes a strong feeling in my heart, as my guru, (and great teacher that I accompanied so many years ago,) is no longer in this world.
Seeing Paris again after more than 20 years of absence, my general feeling is that its outward appearance, its buildings and urban infrastructure, has not changed much—it remains an attractive and amazing city. It is in the mindset and culture of the people that there seems to have been the most obvious changes. One of the biggest differences in people’s lives that I can see has to do with the use of mobile telephones, which is so widespread and popular these days that nearly everyone seems to have one. Twenty years ago, mobile phones were only affordable for rich people, and were seen by many as an indication that “Big Brother” was gaining control. I still recall the deep impression that it made on me that most of the Parisians that I saw sitting in the outdoor cafes, had a coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. These days, it appears that most are holding a mobile phone.
Speaking of construction and buildings, I think Europe has done a good job of preserving its old buildings, many of which have been around for many hundreds of years. Yesterday we visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was built in 1163, which is really quite a long time ago. To preserve such an ancient building for so many years would be very rare in the East.
While I believe that the preservation of historic structures is important, I’m personally more concerned about the preservation of non-material culture. Architectural construction can be seen as an external expression of a nation’s material culture, while a person’s mindset and thoughts should reflect the integration of both traditional and modern values. As I was feeling curious about whether the traditions of western culture have truly been well-preserved, I asked many scholars about this. In their responses, it seems that some believed that after WWII most aspects of traditional culture had been lost, others believe that they have been adequately preserved.
It is, however, undeniable that we are now living in a modern age that has seen the blending together of Eastern and Western cultures. Communication and exchanges between Easterners and Westerners are more frequent, and, in some cases, take place on a daily basis. And so, in today’s “global village”, almost every aspect of our lives has become globalized and internationalized. This globalization has become a hallmark of modern life.
In speaking about Eastern and Western culture, when we use the term Eastern culture, we are likely to be referring to cultural traditions of India, China, the Israeli and Arab world as well as those of North Africa, while what we describe as Western culture would refer to the cultures of Europe, North and South America, as well as those of Oceania.
It is obvious, even with the most casual observation that there are many differences between Eastern culture and Western culture. Seen from certain perspectives, the traditions and values of one may seem to be a direct contradiction of the other’s. If we fail to understand what is behind these differences, at some point we may find ourselves in conflict with others over these apparent contradictions.
Between Eastern and Western Culture
According to some scholars, Eastern culture is generally recognized to be based on a farming culture, that is to say, a culture that is based on traditions that arose from cultivation of the land. Asian civilization has been farming for many millennia. Its farmers have been sowing seeds in early spring and harvesting their crops in the autumn, in a cycle that has existed year in and year out since the dawn of humanity. This has led to the development of a culture that is founded on the principles of long-term planning.
Western culture, on the other hand, is often referred to as arising from a fishing or ocean-oriented culture. Once a fisherman has finished bringing in the catch, his job has been completed. Consequently, the West has developed a culture that emphasizes creativity. Looked at in this way, Western culture has focused more on individual elements that contribute to creative problem-solving rather than on the interdependence and sustainability of the community and its environment.
Indeed, Easterners and Westerners are quite different in regard to their ways of thinking, their lifestyles and their habits. As a result, their histories and cultures have developed in ways that reflect these differences.
One example of this is in the way that people from different countries greet each other. While Chinese will usually greet one another by asking, “Have you eaten yet?”, the French are more likely to greet one another by asking, “Where do you live?” Meanwhile, the British are more likely to greet one another by making a comment about the weather.
From my observation, I would say that one noticeable difference in the mindsets of Easterners and Westerners is that people from the East are more likely to be sentimental, more emotional and more easily excited than Westerners, who, for the most part, are more rational, even to the point of sometimes appearing to exhibit a kind of indifference. Generally speaking, they are not quick to express emotion themselves nor are they comfortable around the dramatic expression of emotion by others.
Another difference is that Easterners place greater value in the opinions of their parents, the traditions of their ancestors and the viewpoint of their superiors, including those in government. They tend to follow and obey the rules set by their elders, while Westerners tend to be more free of the restrictions of the past and to put a greater emphasis on individuality even if that means arguing with their parents, their teachers or even their President, if they should happen to disagree with them. I have even heard of a small child who was still in kindergarten that wanted to make some suggestions to the President because he was worried that the President was going to let him down at some point.
These are just a few examples of the many differences that exist between Western and Eastern culture. Suppose that someone raised in France and someone raised in China were to share a house. It is likely that the French citizen would have complete confidence that their system of values were absolutely correct, while the Chinese would be equally confident that their traditional perspective made the most sense. This divergence could easily cause them to argue with one another about such things as a preference for collectivism versus individualism.
When encountering differences in the behaviors and lifestyles of differing cultural groups, it is necessary for us to first understand the traditions and underlying values, of those whose actions and behaviors appear different to ours.
Understanding Is the First Step
Understanding Is the First Step
When encountering differences in the behaviors and lifestyles of differing cultural groups, it is necessary for us to first understand the traditions and underlying values, of those whose actions and behaviors appear different to ours. It is important to recognize that one’s way of thinking is largely determined by one’s educational background. For example, Chinese are raised from a very young age to believe that it is important to be filial to one’s parents, that it is their responsibility to care for their parents when they grow up, and that they should not act in such a way that is seen as going against their parents will, etc. Westerners are just the opposite. Western legal systems give them the right to make their own decisions after the age of 18. Certain situations may even have led them to rebel against their parent’s wishes much earlier in their life. The underlying cause of many of these cultural differences is rooted in different ways that children are educated in the West and in the East.
A noticeable feature of Western education is its emphasis on individuality, liberalism and scientific verification. This encourages those of the West to think for themselves rather than following the examples set by earlier generations. In fact, kids in the West are encouraged to develop their creativity and to express their individuality as much, and as early, as possible.
The benefit of this type of education is that, even as a child, one is encouraged to be strong, independent and self-confident, and for this reason, Western children are often confident when speaking out about their own merits. On the other hand, when Eastern children are praised for their skills or accomplishments, they tend to become embarrassed and shy, to the point that oftentimes they will deny their own intelligence or ability. Indeed, for Easterners, humility and modesty are virtues that they are encouraged to cultivate. When faced with this type of reply from an Easterner, someone from a Western background might feel insulted or confused, and may therefore ask, “If I think you are smart and compliment your ability, aren’t you insulting my intelligence when you deny it?”
Without doubt, an education that teaches self-confidence offers many benefits. You gain confidence in your ability to make decisions on your own, even to the point of questioning whether your advisor or teacher is always correct. The same can be said for your parents or for those in government. Sometimes, we need to discover our own innate gifts and learn how to depend on ourselves to create something new. Therefore, the cultivation of creativity or the development of an individualized style can be very beneficial.
I have a Canadian friend who is a teacher. He told me that, in his experience, Eastern students are generally more obedient. For instance, if they’re told to enter the classroom through the back door, they will do just as they are told without questioning it. Their obedience makes a teacher feel very comfortable. However, when it comes to doing their homework, students from the East are more likely to simply write down exactly what the teachers have taught them, without relying on their own thinking. Western students, on the other hand, if they’re told to enter through the back door, are likely to feel that they should be able to choose which door to enter through themselves and may even ask the reason why they have to enter through one door rather than the other. This makes them more of a challenge for a teacher to manage, but when doing their homework, they will often come up with some wonderful and creative thoughts. This reflects cultural differences related to ways of thinking.
If we are aware of these differences, when we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation, we will find it easier to be tolerant and accepting. This is one of the most important practices in Buddhism.
See Causes of Suffering by the Wisdom of Buddhism
Although Buddhist philosophy is a type of ancient Eastern wisdom, it can be of great benefit to people of both the East and the West. If applied in their daily lives, it can help lead to the achievement of true happiness.
After more than 30 years of studying Buddhist philosophy, I firmly believe that not only is it strongly convincing in its theoretical perspective, but that it is adaptable enough to serve the needs of anyone who chooses to pursue it. For people from either the East or the West, Buddhism can certainly help them make an essential change for a better life.
Among the many kinds of suffering that we experience, is the suffering caused by anger or by misunderstanding the intentions of others. This might include quarrels among family members, conflicts or warfare of all kinds, including those considered to be “cold wars”. A “cold war” is one during which people refuse to speak with each other for several days or even longer. Sometimes they are forced to break their silence for certain reasons, but since they don’t want to speak with one another, they will just send a curt message or text with a single word answer like “yes” or “no”. This type of behavior is caused by anger.
Another kind of suffering is caused by desire or attachment, which results in the desperate pursuit of something beyond one’s reach. For instance, if an unattractive man desires a girl of unmatched beauty, he is certain to feel pain if he is rejected.
A lot of my Chinese friends admire the lives of those who live in Paris, considering this to be a romantic and beautiful city. The thought of living in Paris is like a dream of being in heaven for them. The other day I asked a friend who lives in Paris about his feeling on this. He said that while Paris may seem to be romantic and that romance always sounds attractive, the truth is that this is not a realistic view of life here. He told me of a couple that he knew that were having dinner on the boat-restaurant on the Seine. After eating, the husband found that he did not have enough money to pay the bill and his wife angrily refused to pay for him, so he was forced to call his friend and ask for help. My friend asked, “If you found yourself in this situation, would you think that it was romantic?”
Regardless of where we are from, we may not feel that the place where we live is wonderful or perfect, while those that live elsewhere may think that our place is amazing. I’ve been to Australia and Canada, two ideal countries for living in, in the eyes of many Asians, but while I was there, heard from many of those that lived there that they long for the blue skies and white clouds of the Tibetan plateau. Many confided in me their sincere wish to travel to Tibet even just one time in their life even though they knew very little about life there. Similarly, a lot of Tibetans have the desire to live somewhere else, like the nearby city of Chengdu. A Tibetan friend once told me that for him, Chengdu is an amazing city and he dreams of going there at least once in his life.
The universe of the mind is vast and infinite. If you open ourselves to its wonder, you will find that it is vaster than the sky and deeper than the ocean, whereas a narrow and rigid mind will always bring us pain.
Passing on the Wisdom of Tolerance
I believe that it can be said that many people who live in France feel a kind of admiration for certain foreign countries even though they may never have visited them. In fact, this type of attraction to different people and different cultures is quite common. Moving to a new place is not always easy, and many Han Chinese and Tibetans have had a difficult time learning to integrate themselves with the local culture, language, as well as customs and habits. In this case, it makes it much easier to gain an understanding of how find our way in a new environment when we can learn from each other.
There are some people who move to a new place, but are unable to adapt to the local culture. They keep to their own culture and habits in spite of being in a new place. I know of Chinese students here in Paris, who eat only at Chinese restaurants, speak only in Chinese, and because they find it difficult to blend in with the locals, end up isolated and alone. After graduation, in large part because they have not learned to adapt to local culture, they cannot find a job and end up with no other choice than to return to their home country. So, the ability of being able to adapt to a new environment and the skill of communicating with others are very important lessons to be learned. If you are not willing to develop these skills, it would be better not to go abroad or to live with people of different cultures.
There are some people whose tendency is to complain about others. You can hear them saying things like, “I don’t find these people to be easy-going enough”, “Their habits are weird” or, “Life should not be like this”, etc. This kind of complaint only creates more anger, which doesn’t benefit anyone. For Easterners who now live in France, you should not complain about the environment here because it was your decision to live here in the first place. You were not forced to come here as refugees. Since you chose these people to live with, chose this place and culture to live in, you should be courageous enough to adapt to the environment in which you find yourself. No environment will ever change simply to suit your desires. I have heard that there are about 600,000 Chinese living in France. France has a total population of 65 million, who will not adjust their lives to ensure that you get the life that you want. Since you chose to live here, you’d better develop the ability to integrate yourselves with their habits and customs.
At Larung Gar, there are many Han Chinese students. Some of them complain that Tibetan butter tea smells bad and tastes weird. I often joke to them, “If you cannot accept Tibetan stuff, you’d better reconsider your choice of coming here.”
For myself, no matter which country I go to, I am more than happy to try the local food. While it sometimes happens that some foods do not fit my taste, nevertheless, I think of it as a good chance for me to appreciate their culture. For instance, as I am now in France, I will try to enjoy the local French cuisine. When I visit the Netherlands, I’ll also try their special cuisine. When I go to Italy, certainly I’ll be looking forward to their pasta and pizza.
Passing on the Wisdom of Tolerance
Food is certainly important, but even more important is the necessity for us to become tolerant and open-minded. The wisdom of Buddhism offers us this opportunity, although it also requires long-term study and practice. Most Chinese or Tibetans living here (in Europe), especially many young people, may not be able to easily receive Buddhist teachings in English or have the access that would allow them to directly study the Buddhist texts in original Chinese or Tibetan. In this case, if you cannot enrich yourself with any spiritual food, it will be a big loss for your life. Although the outer appearance and external things are important to us, inner wisdom and belief are indispensable, and are more important to pursue.
To study Buddhism, I suggest you pursue it in a systematic way. As we are talking about the practice of tolerance, I would like to recommend a great text called The Way of the Bodhisattva. If you really want to understand the Buddhist philosophy of tolerance, The Way of the Bodhisattva is a great text to study seriously, as it can dramatically change your attitude and behavior.
To understand a philosophy or a religion, systematic study combined with contemplation and meditation are of great importance. If we do not follow a systematic approach to study, religion can only remain an external form. Although, there are many Christian churches in the West, if the wisdom of Christianity had not been transmitted from one generation to the next, it is likely that churches would be nothing more than a place where a few older people come to say their prayers while only a very few would understand the deeper meaning behind this practice. What is important for each of us, is to grasp a spiritual tradition’s deeper and more profound meaning through study and practice. I want to stress how important this is for young people.
Sometimes, I ask young Christians about the teachings of their religion. Most of them are unable to answer such questions as, “How do you know that God exists”, “Why do people go to heaven or hell after death”, “Will they stay there (in heaven or hell) forever or will they take rebirth in other places” or “Do human beings only have these two choices”. I can’t help but feel that if they were to seriously study the teachings of Christianity, they would certainly find satisfactory answers and explanations to these questions.
Similarly, although many Han Buddhists go to the monasteries to burn incense and pray to the Buddha, when they are asked such questions as, “How did the Buddha become awakened?”, “What are the benefits of practicing the Dharma?”, or, “How do people reincarnate in the wheel of samsara?”, they seem to be confused about these essential Buddhist teachings.
Tibetan Buddhists inherited the original Buddhist teachings over 2500 years ago and have preserved them uninterruptedly until the present day in much the same way as the historic architecture of Europe has been preserved for these past hundreds of years. Religious teachings can help one to find discipline and to chart a path towards bettering oneself. As I’ve mentioned previously, excessive desire, hatred and anger bring us suffering, yet all of these negative emotions can be alleviated through the Buddhist teachings, especially those instructions that are found in Tibetan Buddhism.
Never Undervalue the Inclusiveness of Your Mind
Overall, I think that regardless of whether you are from the East or the West, or in which country you presently live, we all need the practice of tolerance. When one has internalized this practice, regardless of what kind of people or environment you are associated with, you will be always happy.
My hope is that for those that were raised with the values of the East, that you will not forget your own traditions, as these can be very beneficial, both for yourselves as individuals, and for society at large. If you knew little about them before, study them seriously and put them into practice. Thus, you will be able to handle your negative emotions and increase your happiness.
The universe of the mind is vast and infinite. If you open ourselves to its wonder, you will find that it is vaster than the sky and deeper than the ocean, whereas a narrow and rigid mind will always bring us pain. Some complain about the small size of their apartments in Paris, but when one has a broad mind, one can feel spacious even in a small room. By contrast, with a rigid mind, one will still suffer, even if one possesses a big house.
Each of us should strive to hold onto our traditions, our culture and our values, even as we embrace this multicultural world and seek to integrate ourselves into it, because each of us is an integral part of the whole of life.
It is possible that in the beginning, we may feel uncomfortable when faced with something new, but after some time, we may come to find that we have grown quite fond of it.
Although it may take a certain amount of time to adapt to something new, with an open mind and a willingness to understand, you will soon find yourself opening to a new appreciation of that which was once unusual and unfamiliar.
This is the nature of life. It’s all up to you and your attitude. Thank you.
Question and Answer Session
What if You, A Buddhist Master, Were to Live Among Catholics?
How to Face the Loss of a Loved One
I have been living in France for 6 years, and I feel I have integrated well here. But recently, the loss of my father made me question my decision of leaving my hometown and moving here. My heart is torn apart because of my father’s death, and I don’t know how to handle this. Could you, please, give me some advice?
Either in the West or in the East, death and dying is an unbearable suffering during which we can’t maintain a peaceful mind. It also brings tremendous sufferings to the friends and relatives of the deceased that may cause mental and emotional problems, difficult to handle. From the Buddhist perspective, birth, old age, sickness, and death belong to the natural process of being a human. So, if you have received any Buddhist teaching or training, you will be able to go through it, because you will know that losing the loved ones is a normal thing that everyone experiences. I don’t think you’ve made a wrong choice by living abroad, away from your father, because you have to face the death of a loved one wherever you are. Therefore, don’t feel remorse for that.
I hope you can study Buddhism and integrate it into your mind. Only in this way, you can rely on the Dharma and work with your problems. Many Dharma friends have benefited from the systematic Buddhist studies, relying on the Dharma to alleviate or even get rid of the sufferings that used to bother them so much, like the suffering due to mental depression or the suffering resulting from losing family members. If you are interested, I would like to recommend that you study The Way of the Bodhisattva and The Words of My Perfect Teacher. In the latter book, there are teachings about the sufferings of samsara, impermanence of human life, etc., which reveals the true reality of life and gives you the power to face whatever happens, either the loss of a loved ones or a failure of a relationship, because you will be aware that it is normal, it is a part of life. Otherwise, without gaining a true understanding of the reality of life, always clinging to different things, you may even lose your motivation to live when faced with the unexpected.
Therefore, I sincerely wish young people to study Buddhism, because it will bring much benefits to them. With a proper view on life itself, you will be able to face the impermanence of life more easily.
Living in a luxurious house will not necessarily make us happy. On the contrary, enriching ourselves with spiritual food can make our lives better. The place where we are today is a catering company providing delicious food and drinks. If we enjoy spiritual food and drinks like we enjoy ordinary food and drinks, our life will be much happier.
Can We Pray for Worldly Wishes?
I’ve noticed that I constantly desire a fulfillment of different things, depending on the occasion and the daily experience I am in. Because I am a longtime Buddhist student I wonder if I can use the Dharma to fulfill my desires? Will Buddhist Deities become annoyed if I try to fulfill my own desires, to achieve my worldly goals by reciting mantras for example?
Praying to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to satisfy our own needs is somehow not greedy. Although ultimately speaking, it belongs to attachment that should be abandoned, it is needed at this moment. We all know that when we arrive at the shore, we don’t need the boat any-longer. However, we must rely on the boat while crossing the river. This is the same with our worldly needs. We can ask the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to bless us so we can fulfill our wishes, which is an attachment that has to be abandoned in the ultimate sense, but at the present, it is a skillful means. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas won’t feel annoyed because their only wish and career is to benefit all sentient beings, and they have acquired the ability to effortlessly accomplish any activity that brings benefit to beings, unlike us, ordinary beings who feel annoyed and irritated when being faced with too many requests and expectations from others.
What if You, A Buddhist Master, Were to Live Among Catholics?
My question is connected with today’s topic of applying eastern wisdom to our western life. I wonder if you, as a great Buddhist Master, would accept to live on Mont Saint-Michael surrounded by Catholic practitioners? If yes then how would your life look like after 1, 10 or even 30 years?
Sometimes I also imagine a similar situation. As I often visit prisons in Tibetan and Han areas, I wonder what would I do if I was given a life sentence? If not being allowed to practice Dharma, I might choose to recite mantras silently. Meanwhile, if I am given an opportunity to help others and make them happy, I would enjoy helping them as much as I can. If I can do this, then I am already practicing the Dharma and I am already behaving as a Buddhist.
Likewise, if I live in a Catholic monastery, if I am allowed, I will recite Buddhist mantras. If it is forbidden, I can still recite them silently. Meanwhile, I will try to help others, bring them happiness and persuade them to abstain from negative deeds. I am sure that I will be able to live an easy and happy life.
When I ask myself whether I would be happy if I have to spend the rest of my life in prison, I feel that I will be happy if I am treated in a normal way (without physical torture of any kind). Why? Because life there is very simple and many prisons provide good food, pretty good for us vegetarians.
Life can be quite simple but happy, yet it can be complicated if one desires too much. Life can be either simple or complicated; it’s all up to our attitude towards it.
Wet Market & “Triply Clean Meat”
I’ve heard that Han Buddhism allows Han practitioner who are not prepared to become vegetarians yet, to eat the so called “triply clean meat” but not engage themselves in the act of killing the animal.
In Europe, we buy food in supermarkets and meat is already packed. So, although I still eat meat, I do not engage myself in the act of killing. However, people in China traditionally go to the “wet” markets and they choose the animal they want to eat and ask the seller to kill it in front of them so they can take it home. In comparison with this, does eating packed meat from supermarkets accumulate less negative karma or not?
As you said, many people in China would go to the wet market and order the animals they want to eat and ask the seller to kill it for them; that definitely is not “triply clean meat”. In China, like in Europe, there is also an availability of frozen packaged meat and manufactured meat in supermarkets, which can provide people with “triply clean meat”.
Anyway, it is always the best for us to completely stop eating meat, as no negative karma will be created, because the animal will remain alive. Eating meat requires killing of animals and due to this, negative karma is created. Those who kill the animal, do this for the people who want to eat it. If nobody eats meat, there won’t be a necessity to kill animals. So, the negative karma is already in the mind of a person who wants to eat an animal. However, if it is still too hard for you to completely stop eating meat, it is absolutely necessary to avoid kill or order live animals for eating.
Tolerance vs. Cowardice
Why Not Talking About Something Profound?
I am new to Buddhism. I see that many people came here to seek your advice on how to deal with their current problems, and that you are here to give them guidance on this. I personally think that we have to deal with our own problems, our life is our own responsibility and we have to refrain from asking others to tell us what to do. When I participate on a spiritual conference, I expect to hear teachings about our true identity as human beings, the meaning of life and profound things like that. I feel a little disappointed now. I believe you know the things that I expect to hear. I wonder why you didn’t talk about that? Do you think that the majority of people here won’t understand that?
You are right. Today, I did not talk much about Buddhist practices or the profound Buddhist philosophy. I am afraid most of you won’t understand it. I appreciate that you directly speak about your feelings. Open and sincere communication is very good for the western culture. Thanks for your direct expression.
I am afraid that if I’ve chosen to talk about something profound, you would have seen my teaching as abstruse, becoming even more disappointed. Plus, if we all already know how to deal with our own problems and we feel that we don’t need any advice from other people, then we would feel bored with any kind of speech, whether it is profound or not. Communication would become futile because we would all know how to live our lives, we would already have our own way of doing things and we wouldn’t need other’s opinion on anything.
Khenpo’s Wishes for the Tibetan Community Abroad
Khenpo Sodargye: Today many Tibetan friends are present here. Though I did not arrange a private meeting with you or a separate teaching for you, I do have few wishes for you.
My first wish is that, no matter where you are, in France or anywhere else, as Tibetans, please respect each other and help each other, as much as you can. Be united and show solidarity with each other.
My second wish is that, no matter where in the world you are, please never forget the Tibetan culture and Buddhism; try to preserve them well.
The third wish is that you work hard and diligently. People of other nations, like Han Chinese, study and work very hard. We should adopt these good qualities from them and work hard in preserving our own culture and studying the Buddha-dharma well. We should also try to learn the language of the country we live in. Thus, wherever we are, we should show our excellence.
All in all, I hope you can maintain a positive image of the Tibetans and work hard in every aspect of your life. If you encounter some difficulties, please help each other instead of holding jealousy or grudge towards each other. Be open and learn from Han Chinese, who use social media platforms like WeChat group to help each other when someone falls into difficulties. So, work hard and help each other! Good luck and happiness to all of you!
Tolerance vs. Cowardice & Study Brings About Understanding
During the speech, you spoke a lot about tolerance. A Buddhist friend told me that being tolerant doesn’t mean being a coward. Sometimes in our life and work, we choose to be silent in order to maintain a harmonious environment. Could you please tell us how to distinguish tolerance from cowardice? This is my first question.
The second one is related to the Sanskrit language in the Tibetan prayers. While you were chanting the refuge prayer in Sanskrit, although I am not a Buddhist, I felt a magical power. Many Tibetan scriptures are in Sanskrit. So, I wonder how can we study and absorb the essence of these texts if we don’t understand the Sanskrit language?
As for your first question, there are big differences between tolerance and cowardice. Cowardice means having a weak mind, being indifferent to work and life. Tolerance means facing unfavorable conditions with wisdom and courage, instead of being overwhelmed by the feelings of fear and anger that usually arise within us in these circumstances. Accepting negative situations with a smile on our face, using wisdom to face others’ offenses or the difficulties others bring to us, is tolerance.
For the second question, Tibetan is not Sanskrit. They are two different languages, although Tibetan originates from Sanskrit. Anyway, when we chant mantras or scriptures, the chanting sound has a power which is called a blessing. Sometimes it is necessary and beneficial for us to chant together, so we can multiply the blessing. You might not understand the reason behind. This is why I suggest everyone to study Buddhism, otherwise much confusion will arise and you won’t be able to understand its value. Whenever we study something, be it the Dharma or a language like Tibetan or Sanskrit, we should consider it as a valuable knowledge and commit ourselves to study it on a long-term. Only in this way, can we get a deep understanding of it or have complete mastery of it. Therefore, when learning Buddhism, please be serious and diligent in both, your study and practice.
At the beginning of our session, I’ve heard you chanting Wangdu. It sounded really good. When H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche came to Paris in 1993, there were few Tibetans chanting exactly the same Wangdu prayer. I wish that all of you chant loudly this prayer on my departure. May tonight’s event end with the sound of this prayer which brings special blessings to everyone who hears it. This has a very auspicious meaning.