Talk Categories Happiness | Talk Locations Université Inter-Âges du Dauphiné

The Happiness of Life

In this speech, Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche discusses a wide range of subjects including the importance of education in contributing to a happier society, the benefits of continuous education (both in spiritual and worldly knowledge) and various techniques to develop stronger mental dispositions in each of us. These were discussed by Rinpoche to equip the audience with tools to be ready to meet the multi-faceted socio-economic challenges associated with aging population in many countries.


“We human beings should create happiness by ourselves. Otherwise, more and more confusion and afflictions will arise in our hearts as we age. Aging is an inevitable change. If we fail to deal with this change, we would have to endure more sufferings.”

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

Embracing Change, Appreciating the Elderly

Introduction by the Dean

About Université Inter-Age du Dauphiné

As the coordinator of this lecture, The Happiness of Life, I would like to begin with a brief introduction of the Université Inter-Age du Dauphiné. The university was founded in 1977, so 2017 will be a year of great festivity as we celebrate its 40th anniversary.

We currently have 6000 members, 52 paid teachers and 150 volunteer teachers. It is the complementary nature of these two forms of teaching that allows for a great diversity of lectures.

I’ll briefly describe the management and administrative structure of this university. There is a president, a director, an office run by 10 volunteers, with various positions and tasks such as secretary, treasurer, internal communications, external relations, development strategy, administration (there are six positions), and travels and pedagogy, of which I am in charge.

We offer a great variety of courses through the various departments. We have the Department of Plastic Arts teaching painting, binding, floral art and etc. In the History of Art Department, we offer a variety of courses including the history of arts and civilizations of every civilization such as Egyptian and Greek. There is also a large computer department with a big video, visual design, internet and tablet hub, and a large language hub, comprised of a vast variety of language courses such as German, English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Modern Greek, Italian, Japanese and Russian. We have Department of Letters and Philosophy, which teaches about ancient Greek, spelling and general philosophy.

The Department of Sciences provides opportunities for further studies in astronomy, archeology, astrophysics, biology, botany, geology and quantum mechanics. There is also Humanities and Social Sciences Department where we study Arab-Muslim and Judeo-Christian civilizations. Other courses offered here include law, languages, memory, psychology and psychoanalysis. In addition, there are miscellaneous courses on music, beekeeping, sewing and cultural outings. In total, our university offers approximately 480 courses.

This was the introduction of our university.

About Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche

Now, it is a great honor to have Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche with us tonight. Rinpoche was born in Kham, Tibet in 1962. He was ordained as a monk at the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, located in Sêrtar County, Sichuan Province of China and currently the largest Buddhist university in the world.

There, he studied and received his training under H.H. Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, who was one of the most eminent Buddhist masters of his time. After extensive studies of philosophical treatises in traditional Tibetan Buddhism, he went on to study the complete corpus of the teachings of tantric transmissions of Tibetan Buddhism. He was then put in charge of the Institute and became one of its principal teachers. During the course of the life of H.H. Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche was his chief Chinese translator and was in charge of teaching the Chinese disciples.

Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche is one of the most renowned Buddhist masters of our time. He is a Tibetan Lama, erudite Buddhist, teacher, Tibetan-Chinese translator and contemporary Buddhist thinker. He is known globally for his interest in integrating traditional Buddhist principles with global and modern life issues.

A big thank you to Master!

Comprehensive Education for the Society

Respected President and dear students, it’s a great honor for me to have such an opportunity to be here for a dialogue with all the students and teachers who are present today. The Dean has just given us a nice introduction of the Université Inter-Age du Dauphiné, covering its history, from its establishment in 1977 until now, its vast and rich curriculum, its well-equipped faculty and so on. I am very impressed. As a Buddhist I have also been engaged in promoting education by establishing elementary and middle schools, and starting organizations for young Buddhists around the world, as well as communities for the elderly. My focus is closely aligned with what the Dean has presented just now and I listened with great interest.

I have visited many universities around the world but such a university with a great diversity of cultures and people of all ages is rare. I hope I can have a chance to build a similar inter-age university in the future.

During my travels, I had opportunities to visit some wonderful middle schools and some outstanding elementary schools. I made aspirations to build similar ones and now they’ve all come true. At the moment, I am embarking on a project to start a technical school. I believe such schools are of great importance as education can offer great meaning to the life of individuals and the society in which they live in. Yet, such education facilities are rare in some parts of Asia.

Embracing Change, Appreciating the Elderly

In Buddhism we are taught the four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. Whether one is a Westerner or Easterner, one has to go through the experience of being born into this world, then growing up and aging, and finally becoming decrepit in the final years. During our lifetime, we inevitably get sick from diseases caused by imbalances of the four elements of earth, water, fire and wind. At the end, during death, one is forced to leave this world. These are the four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. Everyone has to go through them without exception.

If a person is positive and aspirational, every stage of his or her life will be wonderful and colorful. They will have special meaning and beauty for him or her. For example, we may find our childhood memories to be quite sweet and nice; the period of our youth can be full of passion and enthusiasm, and also the elderly stage has its own beauty. So each phase of life has its own particular significance.

In some of the places which I visited, such as the US, I gathered that the elderly in these countries in general, feel not only deep loneliness in their hearts but also a sense of abandonment by the society. There are such phenomena in some places. Yet in the eastern culture, especially in our Tibetan tradition, we have a completely different attitude with respect to aging. For example, when Tibetans notice wrinkles appearing on their faces or when their black hair turns grey, they would proudly say “I am old now.” They regard aging as something worthy of honor and celebration. Maybe it’s due to different cultures of different places. In Tibetan culture, people consider their parents and grandparents as the most precious jewels in their families. As people grow older, they are likely to be richer in life experiences and wiser in making decisions as well as having a wider breadth of knowledge. Therefore, the elderly are respected and held in high esteem by both their families and the society.

If a person is positive and aspirational, every stage of his or her life will be wonderful and colorful. They will have special meaning and beauty for him or her. For example, we may find our childhood memories to be quite sweet and nice; the period of our youth can be full of passion and enthusiasm, and also the elderly stage has its own beauty. So each phase of life has its own particular significance.

Inner Strength Transcends Aging

Inner Strength Transcends Aging

There are many outstanding people in the world who have made substantial contribution in the spiritual, scientific and medical fields after they turned 60 or even 70 years old. Although, some may think that after turning 60 or 70, it may be difficult to contribute anything useful to the society. On the contrary, with great inner strength, everything is possible.

For example, during Tang dynasty, Wu Zetian became the only woman in Chinese history to assume the title of “Huang Di” (Emperor). She was crowned at the age of 67 and she ruled for 15 years before passing away. Another example happened in India in very recent time. India had been independent for 60 years when Pratibha Patil was elected as the President of India in 2007. She was 74 years old at that time and held office until 2012. So she assumed the role of the president at a very old age. India and China are both huge countries but Pratibha Patil and Wu Zetian were able to run their countries in their 70s. Pratibha Patil had devoted herself to administering the state for 5 years. Therefore, if we’re able to cultivate our inner strength, then age is not necessarily a problem.

In our Tibetan tradition, there’s a great master by the name of Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche who lives in Nepal. As a yogi he often meditates in a cave and he’s already 102 years old. Few days ago when I was in the Netherlands, I met a Swiss Buddhist who had met Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche in Kathmandu. Rinpoche is really in good shape and can even climb the mountains by himself. Wherever he goes he moves flexibly and with ease. At the age of 102 he still continues to meditate and provide Dharma teachings to others. Therefore, it’s very important for us to have great confidence in our perseverance and wisdom.

Another example is Master Ben Huan in Han (Chinese) Buddhism. He was over 100 years old when I had the opportunity to meet him. After our dinner, we proceeded to circumambulate a stupa together. He walked so fast that I could hardly catch up with him. The master lived a long life and passed away at the age of 104.

So, just as physical exercise is necessary for a healthy body. We need to exercise on a daily basis by engaging in activities such as running, climbing mountains or stairs, or doing prostrations (if you have a religious belief). By exercising, we can prevent our muscles from getting rigid, and maintain a healthy and flexible body. We also need to exercise and train our mind to become tolerant and joyful. Examples of mind exercises are practicing yoga, doing prayers and visualizations according to Christian or Buddhist traditions, or just doing simple meditation. This is an efficient way to have some spiritual exercise to train the mind.

Importance of Lifelong Studies

I wish that most people, especially the elders, could spend their remaining years engaging in studies and activities that could benefit others. Learning is very important. As a Tibetan saying goes, even if one is to die the next morning, one must still study today. Even though what you have learnt may not be put into use in this life, it can still be used in your future lives, just like saving money in your bank account. As you’ve probably seen from TV shows or somewhere else, most Tibetans believe in Buddhism and they have a sense of purpose in their lives. That’s why they always have sincere smiles on their faces. The majority of Tibetans enjoy their old age and do not feel lonely. They tend not to complain about their situation or any dissatisfaction with their families. They seldom have such feelings. I’m not trying to propagandize something but this is the situation in Tibet.

I have built two nursing homes in my home town, one of them houses 200 people and the other one houses almost 100. The people living there all have a rich and fulfilling life. They study, pray and meditate on a daily basis. Before moving there, they might have been idling at home but now they feel vibrant and energetic, and have a sense of belonging. Among all the charities that I have started, these two nursing homes stand out as a source of happiness for me. Every time I visit the nursing homes, the residents would welcome me warmly. I always feel happy and delighted seeing them in good spirits.

I think it is good that after a certain age, everyone should study in formal educational institutions or facilities where one can get access to various knowledge. As the Dean had mentioned, a wide variety of subjects such as religion, philosophy, art and science are taught and group studies are formed to facilitate the learning process. It is impossible for an individual to accomplish such comprehensive studies across various subjects on his or her own.

I feel that when people mingle with others, they tend to dress better, look more energetic, become more beautiful and happier than usual. At the same time, in today’s society many things can only be accomplished by working together. In China, there is a popular saying by Confucius about learning: It’s never too late to learn. Therefore, one should keep learning until his or her death. Also, the great French philosopher Rousseau believed that as people age, they are more knowledgeable and wiser. Thus, whether in the East or the West, people are supposed to study throughout their lifetime in order to have a fulfilling life.

Do Not Procrastinate

We should not put off studying, as the saying goes: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today! Some may think that learning can be delayed until they are retired and have free time. This is a mistaken view and there is a story during Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime that illustrates this.

At that time, there was a very wealthy man who was about 80 years old. The old man was building a luxurious house that was designed to be cool in summer and warm in winter. This old man was very talented and he kept designing and building the house all by himself. Buddha Shakyamuni through his clairvoyance knew that this old man had only a short time to live and wanted to give him some teachings for his liberation. Hence, Buddha Shakyamuni walked to him and said: “Please stop for a moment as I would like to share with you a truth.” But the old man declined Buddha’s offer to teach, by saying: “I don’t have time, I’m busy. Let’s do it later.” The very next day, the old man died while building his house.

The fact is, whether from the perspective of Buddhism or any other religion or even just based on our common sense, our lifespan is limited. We may pass away unexpectedly at any moment. Therefore, as long as we are alive we should study earnestly and enrich ourselves with knowledge and do meaningful things for our families and society.

The fact is, whether from the perspective of Buddhism or any other religion or even just based on our common sense, our lifespan is limited. We may pass away unexpectedly at any moment. Therefore, as long as we are alive we should study earnestly and enrich ourselves with knowledge and do meaningful things for our families and society.

Mani Mantra: The Secret to Happiness of Tibetan People

Mani Mantra: The Secret to Happiness of Tibetan People

The main goal of spiritual practice is to calm our mind. All of our afflictions such as anxiety and fear are induced by our conceptual thoughts. When we are able to calm our minds and deal with situations with openness, our life will be filled with happiness. I have no idea whether you meditate or not. The other day, at the foot of the Alps, I noticed a number of Christians and Buddhists who were in retreats all year around in the caves there. Even though this may not be realistic for urban dwellers, meditation practices as taught by any religion is very beneficial. One method of meditation is single-pointedness meditation which tries to reduce external distractions to gain a more peaceful state of mind.

Chanting mantras, all kinds of mantras, is another way of meditating. A study conducted by researchers from University of Maryland indicated the benefit of mantra chanting that brain waves become more active and blood circulation improves, resulting in a healthier body. So it’s necessary for us to chant mantra on a daily basis.

There are many mantras that we can chant. One of them is the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, Om Mani Padme Hung, which existed even before the time of Buddha Shakyamuni. We often simply call it the “Mani mantra”. Indeed, not only the essence of Buddhism but even the essence of other religions and worldly truths have been inconceivably integrated into this mantra. Therefore, in order to be healthy physically and mentally, I hope you can chant it frequently. By chanting this mantra Om Mani Padme Hung on a regular consistent basis right after we get up in the morning or before we go to sleep in the evening, we will be able to gradually reduce the chaotic thoughts and afflictive emotions in our mind.

Hence, this mantra can be regarded as a type of spiritual medicine, likened to Western medicine or traditional Chinese medicine for our body. We have all kinds of medicines for the body. But in terms of medicines for the mind, religious prayers and mantras as well as religious liturgies play a significant role in healing our mind. Non-believers may not think so. But religious belief does have a capability to heal.

Some may wonder, what’s the secret of happiness of the Tibetan people? Why are both the old and the young so happy? My answer would be the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung. They frequently chant this mantra which is endowed with numerous merits. The other day when I was in a museum in Turin, Italy, I saw some descriptions of its merits in a Tibetan scripture dating back to the 15th century. Since it has boundless merits which cannot be elaborated in a short time, I would like to encourage you to study more if you’re interested.

Work Together to Face Population Aging Problem

We human beings should create happiness by ourselves. Otherwise, more and more confusion and afflictions will arise in our hearts as we age. Aging is an inevitable change. If we fail to deal with this change, we would have to endure more sufferings. Today’s society is faced with the aging population problem. This problem is severe in Japan. I’ve read in some news, that the number of people aged 65 years or older was 33 million in 2014, accounting for 26% of the whole Japanese population. So, the aging population in Japan will create pressure on the society sometime in the future.

China is facing the same problem, The Vice Minister of Civil Affairs of the PRC, said in a news conference that China’s population is aging quickly, with 65 years old and above accounting for more than a third of the population by 2050. Due to the effects of the one-child policy that was implemented for many years, younger generations now face an unprecedented burden of care for the elderly. Many European countries including France and Britain are also facing the same problem.

I saw a picture which illustrated the ‘4-2-1 phenomenon’ which is a result of the one-child policy. A single child of the family has to work to support two parents and four grandparents who are in retirement. Such burden can only be relieved through collective efforts from all of us.

Whatever happens in your family or in your own life, I hope you can face all situations with a calm and wise mind. In our lives, we may encounter troubles, afflictions, pains and other types of insecure situations. But if we can remind ourselves of their true causes by applying the natural law of cause and effect, then we can easily face these situations with an open mind.

Meanwhile, we should try to do meaningful work for our society as much as we can. The other day, I have read a news from the US about an old lady who was nearly 100 years old. She had made 1000 dresses for needy African children over a period of three-and-a-half years prior to her 100th birthday. Thus with strong inner strength, one can indeed make a difference to the people around them.

In general, I think we should spend our entire life seeking the truth of existence and acquiring relevant knowledge especially those related to traditional cultures and modern technologies. I’ve heard that you are learning meaningful science subjects such as computer technology. As learning is of great importance, I wish that all of you can keep a positive mind and acquire knowledge that can benefit yourselves and others. This will lead us to a happy and joyful ending. My thanks to all of you.

Question & Answer Session

Is Aging a Hindrance for Lifelong Learning?

Is Aging a Hindrance for Lifelong Learning?

Question #1:

Venerable Master, you mentioned a lot about investing in learning, etc. But don’t you think that there are limitations as aged person may not be able to continue to invest in learning and developing herself in every aspect of her life?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Different people may face different situations. Some people may give up their studies when they get seriously sick or when they encounter some unusual circumstances in their lives. But some people persist in learning even in extremely difficult times. I know of a great Tibetan master who had cancer and had to stay in a hospital in Beijing. Despite the doctor telling him that he had only 15 days left to live, he was very focused in reading a very big book. It looked as if he wasn’t suffering from his illness at all. He continued to read and learn until his death. His behavior really shocked me. And I truly hoped that in the future I will not give up learning, no matter what circumstances I may find myself in.

My own health has also not been very good and I had to recuperate in various hospitals. During these hospitalizations, I completed the translation of a few Tibetan texts into Chinese. I translated a shastra (a treatise or commentary on the words of the Buddha) during my stay in Shanghai Renji Hospital. I also completed three other shastra translation projects in the hospitals in Beijing, Chengdu and Hangzhou accordingly. Despite my poor health, I persevered in studying and translating the shastras, which were of varying volume, while in hospitals. I’m not blowing my own horn. Many Han Chinese know this because it was documented at the end of the translations.

Definition of Old Age

Question #2:

You have talked about the elderly but in your own opinion, when do we become old? Does it depend on the individual or…?

Khenpo Sodargye:

According to the definition of the UN, all those who are 44 years old and under are not included in the old age group.


Is it a scientific research or something else?

Khenpo Sodargye:

It’s a data from the WHO.

Two Recommended Books

Question #3:

Venerable Master, which book would you recommend as the first book to read to begin our learning process before we are too old? Thanks.

Khenpo Sodargye:

One book that I want to recommend is The Monk and the Philosopher which records the dialogues between Matthieu Ricard and his father. Although you have asked for one book, I would like to recommend two books. The other one is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, a Tibetan scholar who has lived here in France for a long time. These are the two books that I suggest you to read.

Carry Knowledge into Future Life

Question #4:

Good evening. When you talk about knowledge, were you referring to worldly knowledge or the knowledge of wisdom? My second question is, if we don’t benefit from our knowledge when we die, does it mean that in a future reincarnated life we could benefit from it? Could you please tell us more about it? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

With regards to the first question, I can’t give you a definite answer as there are many differing beliefs, whether religious or not, of the audience here today. Those who have religious belief like our Tibetan people, when they reach a certain age, their primary concern would be their next life. Hence, they may learn more teachings about cultivating good deeds and the instructions on dying. As for those who have no religious belief, the most meaningful thing is to keep learning as it is the most valuable part of one’s life. That’s why I encourage you to keep learning.

As for the second question, what I’m going to say may not be deemed useful by those who do not accept the idea of reincarnation. However, both Buddhism and Christianity acknowledge the existence of reincarnation. Although in Christianity there’s no further detailed description other than declaring that doing good deeds will result in a rebirth in Heaven and doing bad deeds will lead to a rebirth in Hell. Comparatively, in Buddhism there’re much more detailed and clear elaborations on reincarnation.

With regards to the question on how to make use of the knowledge that we’ve learned in our next life, it is simple. Some may be very proficient in a certain knowledge since their childhood as they can comprehend the meaning without much effort but others find it too difficult to understand. This suggests that the latter ones have not familiarized themselves with the relevant knowledge in their previous life. Similarly, the reason why someone who is quick in learning pop songs or is able to sing and dance without learning is very much related with their previous life. Actually, if you conduct deeper research into this area, you’ll notice that this is not an issue of religious belief but rather a fact of the true existence of human mind.

How to Chant the Mani Mantra?

Question #5:

Good evening, Khenpo Sodargye. What interests me is that you just spoke of a really prodigious and magical mantra for us—for everybody from our parents to all human beings. Could you teach us how to pronounce this very magical mantra so that we could recite it at home and teach it to others who are interested?

Khenpo Sodargye:

This mantra is pretty simple. It has two versions, one of them is a six syllable mantra and the other consist of seven syllables. Om Mani Padme Hung or Om Mani Padme Hung Hrih. Since she has requested, I can lead you all to chant it. Please chant after me: Om Mani Padme Hung, Om Mani Padme Hung Hrih.

Altruism and True Happiness

Question #6:

Dear master, after my study of Buddhism, I discussed with my husband on various philosophical topics. From the Buddhist point of view, I told him that one should pay less attention to one’s own happiness and more to others which will then generate true happiness. However, as a French, my husband is pragmatic and he questioned why he should give his own happiness to others. The happiness of others seems to conflict with the happiness of oneself. So, I hope Rinpoche can talk about the definition of a happy life as well as your opinion on this seemingly contradictory idea.

Khenpo Sodargye:

There may be a slight difference between the eastern and western thinking style. But in terms of some specific points they may not be in conflict with each other. Many Chinese also have the idea that they can’t bring happiness to others if they themselves are not happy. In fact, according to the real nature of altruism when we help others or just wish to bring happiness to others, we will naturally attain a lot of happiness. The reason is that most of our sufferings come from a selfish mind. When we are attached so much to the self, we can hardly feel happy.

Many old people have this experience of forgetting their own sufferings when helping others. Regarding the different ideas like you have mentioned in your family, they will gradually transform into agreement and unification. Just like the conflicts between different countries back in the 20th century, so much have changed since the 21st century. I feel that happiness is a sense of satisfaction. If drinking a cup of Cappuccino or tea makes me feel very happy and satisfied, then that is happiness. Otherwise, without this sense of satisfaction even hundreds of millions of dollars will not necessarily bring me happiness. So happiness resides in our mind.

Boomerang Children

Question #7:

Dear master, my question is related to the elderly people. In China and even in the whole world, there are so many old people who have no reliance and no support. In China, the phenomena of “boomerang children” are very common. The young people may transfer their social stress to the elderly, pressuring them in order to release their own stress. So some old people are forced to work outside. I’m wondering what’s your opinion on this and do you have any suggestions? Thank you!

Khenpo Sodargye:

No matter in China or in the world in general, the conditions of the elderly may vary. In some places the elderly are well taken care of and are well respected. I’ve seen many cases like this. Whereas in some other places like Japan, many old people who used to live in big cities are now required to move to smaller towns or remote places. There is such a policy in Japan. Some people refer to this as Ubasute, which is allegedly a custom of abandoning the elderly in a desolate mountain. Although there are such specific phenomena, it doesn’t mean there’s no hope around the whole world. Despite the fact that nowadays the closeness between people may have declined, including even the relationships between parents and children, we can improve the situation by constantly promoting the traditional culture and the education of loving-kindness which we have inherited from our ancestors. Therefore, we should treat situations differently rather than jumping into a conclusion based on just some individual cases.

Proof of Existence of the Buddha

Question #8:

Dear master, this question is asked merely out of my curiosity. As a Buddhist master, do you really believe in the existence of the Buddha? Since the discovery of antimatter may have suggested that there is a possibility of the existence of a Creator, I have become really curious about this. Do you really believe in the existence of the Buddha and the Creator? Thank you!

Khenpo Sodargye:

For me as a Buddhist, from the perspective of Buddhism, the Buddha did exist in the world. If you go to India, you will find the sites of his birthplace where he attained Buddhahood and where he turned the Dharma Wheel. Moreover, the Dharma taught by the Buddha has been well recorded and its authenticity has already been confirmed in history.

As for the existence of the Creator, you can consult other religious people who agree on the existence of the Creator. They will give you a more reasonable answer.

Université Inter-Âges Du Dauphiné, Grenoble, France