His Holiness the Dalai Lama Visits the Northwest Tibetan Association in Portland

May 13th 2013

Portland, Oregon, USA, 12 May 2013 - Before leaving Portland, His Holiness the Dalai Lama paid a visit to the Northwest Tibetan Association (NWTCA) and spoke to about 1000 people, among them 70 Mongolians. The sky was overcast and a light drizzle was falling, which local people described as more typical of Portland than the bright weather of the past few days.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama is greeted by young children on his arrival at the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association in Portland, Oregon on May 12, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
NWTCA - the Tibetan Community of Oregon and Southwest Washington - have built a new Bodkhang or Community Center. In His Holiness’s honour they had put up a ceremonial gateway and he was given a traditional Tibetan welcome on arrival. He smiled and teased the children lined up to greet him. Tibetans were assembled in each of the rooms of the new building as he was escorted through. In the temple he paid his respects before the image of the Buddha and at the door of the assembly hall he unveiled a plaque to symbolically declare it open. Once he had taken his seat, he was presented with a written report of the Association’s activities, a Tibetan song was sung, and students presented an exemplary debate about the characteristics of the Tibetan people and their culture. 

His Holiness was then asked if he had any advice for the assembled members of the community:

“Today, I’m happy to spend a short time here with you,” he began, “and I’m glad to see that you have been able to construct this new building and are using it for Sunday Tibetan School and other community functions.”

Turning his attention to the Land of Snow, he said that archaeological findings suggest that there have been people in Tibet for the last 7000 years, although drawings in caves in Western Tibet may be 10,000 years old and tools and artefacts found in Amdo may be 30,000 year old. Clearly, human habitation of the Tibetan plateau dates back many thousands of years. His Holiness recounted a Chinese archaeologist he met in Harvard University many years ago secretly confiding that in his opinion, Tibetan civilisation had evolved on the Tibetan Plateau itself, not anywhere else.

“Traditional accounts date Tibetan writing to the seventh century and the efforts of King Songtsen Gampo and his ministers, although there may have been some kind of writing prior to that. There are different dialects in different parts of the country, but all have in common the written language that was modelled on an Indian mode of writing. It was designed to capture the nuances of spoken Tibetan, while able to convey the sophistication of Indian, particularly Buddhist, thought. The Chinese had an existing complex culture and when they introduced new ideas from India, they adapted them to suit existing Chinese ways of thinking. In Tibet, on the other hand, the language had been specifically designed to be able to accurately express the ideas contained in the original Sanskrit.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association in Portland, Oregon on May 12, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“When Shantarakshita came to Tibet, he insisted that if Tibetans were serious about their interest in Buddhism they should translate its books into Tibetan. Despite his age, he himself set about learning Tibetan so he could participate in the process and Tibetans followed his advice.”

His Holiness explained that this is how Tibet came to be the custodian of the Nalanda Tradition. He stressed that anyone interested in Buddhist logic and epistemology today has to consult the sources only available in Tibetan. And because these texts are not easy to follow, they will also have to consult the Tibetan commentaries. At this point, His Holiness asked whether the volumes of Kangyur and Tengyur wouldn’t be better kept in the classrooms than in cabinets in the shrine room.

“Buddhism is one of the world’s great religions and Tibetan Buddhism is a significant part of it that has much to contribute even today. For example, in my conversations with neuroscientists it has become clear that Tibetan Buddhist literature and practice has much to contribute to an understanding of the nature of the mind. Meanwhile, there are other topics like the scriptural account of cosmology which modern science shows to be mistaken and which we can just let go. Scientists also tell me that they have a subtle understanding of matter that corresponds to what we find in the writings of masters like Nagarjuna.

“As far as history is concerned, Tibet was a powerful unified nation up to the 8-9th   centuries, comparable to China, but after that it became fragmented. During the time of Chogyal Phagpa, Tibetan rule was re-established in Tibet in connection with the Mongols and the Yuan dynasty in China. When I grew up in Amdo, Central Tibetan authority did not extend there, but shared Tibetan language and Buddhist culture was unifying factor.”

Nowadays, he said, there is growing interest in Buddhism in mainland China, one report suggesting that there are now 300 million Buddhists in China, while another says the number may be 400-500 million. Many mainland Chinese who come to visit His Holiness weep and beg him not to forget them.

“Buddhism is a source of wisdom not just a set of rituals to be performed in the temple. Use it to transform your mind. If you want to make its knowledge part of your life, you need to study. Keep up your studies of Tibetan language as you are doing, and try to read the scriptures. You don’t need to call on a lama all the time you can set up study groups amongst yourselves.


Members of the Tibetan community listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association in Portland, Oregon on May 12, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
His Holiness then took some time to explain the circumstances and the careful thinking that had given rise to the Middle Way Approach. He said he was taking the opportunity to explain the background to it, which he considers it his moral responsibility to do, rather than appealing for support.

“In the 60s there were several resolutions on Tibet at the UN, but none led to any concrete resolution of the problem. Consequently, we decided to rethink our strategy. Whatever we do, we have to consider its ramifications for the people in Tibet. Yes, we 100,000 or so Tibetans in exile live in free countries where we are free to express ourselves, but we have to think of the repercussions of whatever we say for the 6 million Tibetans in Tibet.

“The Middle Way Approach has attracted a great deal of support and encouragement from governments, members of the international community and well-informed thinkers and intellectuals among the Chinese people. Look at the example of India, where people in the four directions preserve their language, culture and unique identity, while enjoying equal rights, protection and the benefits of development under the Indian constitution. This is what I wanted to say.”

His Holiness then proceeded to give a brief Buddhist teaching based on the four line verse for taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta.

From Portland he flew to Rochester, Minnesota where he will undergo his annual medical check up. Arriving at the Mayo Clinic, hundreds of Tibetans young and old were gathered to greet him. Moved by their affection and the hours they had been waiting he expressed a wish to speak to them, which he did using the public address system of one of the attending police cars.

Tomorrow he will travel on to Madison, Wisconsin, where he is due to give a Buddhist teaching and participate in a program on Sustainable Health and Well-being.
 

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