Consecration of Drepung Gomang Institute and Engaging Compassion in Louisville

May 20th 2013

Louisville, Kentucky, USA, 19 May 2013 - In the quiet low light of early morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama left New Orleans and flew to Louisville, Kentucky today. He was received at the airport by Mayor Greg Fischer and his wife and the Drepung Throne Holder, Khensur Lobsang Tenpa. He drove directly to the Drepung Gomang Institute, where children offered him a traditional Tibetan welcome. Responding to requests, he proceeded to perform consecration prayers in the temple and then turned to address the assembled people.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama is offered a traditional Tibetan welcome on his arrival at the Drepung Gomang Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 19 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“It’s wonderful that you have been able to establish a Drepung Gomang Institute here. I was invited to visit last year, and now I’ve been able to fulfil the request. It’s also very good that the Drepung Throne Holder, a former Abbot of Gomang, has travelled to be here too.

“There are different religious traditions specific to different parts of the world and here in the USA, with its historical links to Europe, the predominant trend is Judeo-Christian. However, the growth of a global economy and large scale tourism means that previous boundaries are less clear. Interest in Christianity is on the rise in Asia and in the Judeo-Christian areas there is growing interest in Hinduism and Buddhism. One reason for the increased interest in Buddhism among more educated people is that it depends less on faith and more on reason. The Buddha himself advised his followers not to take what he said on trust but to examine it carefully for themselves.

“Although there is interest in Buddhism, sometimes misunderstandings prevail so the establishment of a soundly based Gomang centre may be very helpful. The connection to Drepung Gomang Monastery also means that there will always be qualified teachers available to teach here.”

He said that something he has emphasised across the Himalayan region is that monasteries no longer be dedicated only to performing rituals, but should become centres of learning. He mentioned that this includes nunneries and noted that we are about to see the graduation of the first Geshemas, qualified female teachers. He remarked that when we think of Nalanda, we do not think of a place where ritual and chanting took place, but of a place of learning. This is what we should aspire to in our monasteries and nunneries today. Traditionally a distinction is made between scriptural teaching and understanding and spiritual realisation, but realisation will only take place on the basis of learning.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his visit to Drepung Gomang Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 19 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
His Holiness asked if the Institute had a copy of the Kangyur and Tengyur, the Tibetan edition of the canonical scriptures, and when he heard that they do not said that he will see if he has a spare copy for them. He explained that those scriptures can be seen as dealing with Buddhist science and philosophy on the one hand and Buddhist practice on the other. He suggested that the science and philosophy can be of interest to anyone, not only Buddhists, and encouraged the Institute to consider offering academic courses in these areas, something he has lately encouraged Maitripa College in Portland and Deer Park in Madison also to do.

“If you can do this,” he said, “you’ll truly be representing the Nalanda tradition."

After lunch, His Holiness drove to the KFC Yum Center, where he had been invited to speak as part of a series of events under the banner Engaging Compassion, which is also taking place in conjunction with the annual Festival of Faiths. When Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer took office in 2011, he stated his three top goals for the city: health, education and compassion. He cited as his inspiration the reputed Trappist monk and scholar Thomas Merton, who lived much of his life in an abbey nearby, and who, incidentally, His Holiness counted among his friends. Since then, Mayor Fischer has signed a resolution adopting the international ‘Charter for Compassion,’ making Louisville the largest city in America to take such action. Mayor Fischer introduced His Holiness to the spiritual representatives already gathered on the stage and to the audience of 14,000 in the Yum Center as a man radiating peace and joy, and asked him to say a few words.

“Respected spiritual brothers and sisters, esteemed Mayor and my dear brothers and sisters in the audience,” His Holiness began, “I am very happy to be here in Louisville again. I came here once before to visit the monastery of my good friend and spiritual brother Thomas Merton and laid a white scarf on his grave. He contributed immensely to a closer understanding between the Christian and Buddhist monastic traditions. And although he is no longer physically with us, his spirit, his hope and determination, lives on.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama gestures during his talk on "Engaging Compassion" at the Yum Center in Louisville, Kentucky on May 19, 2013. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
“I am very impressed that Louisville has adopted the Charter for Compassion, we need more action like this on a global level. The twentieth century was a period of great technological advancement that increased our comfort in many ways, and yet because it was also an era of unparalleled violence fear increased too. Consequently, we need to exert ourselves to make the twenty-first century a more peaceful, less violent time. This relates directly to developing greater compassion and concern for others. Of course, conflicts will still arise, but when we are faced with disagreements, we need to bear in mind that our opponent is also a human being like us, and on that basis seek a solution through dialogue.

“We need to foster more warm-heartedness and compassion. A compassionate community will not be achieved only through prayer; I pray myself, but I accept its limitations. We need to take action to develop compassion, to create inner peace within ourselves and to share that inner peace with our family and friends. Peace and warm-heartedness can then spread through the community just as ripples radiate out across the water when you drop a pebble into a pond.”

His Holiness explained that if we are open-minded and warm-hearted ourselves then peace of mind will arise from within. He said that all the major religious traditions convey a message of compassion, and because there will be obstacles on the way, they also counsel tolerance and forgiveness.

“I am very happy to see such a gathering of followers of different religious traditions here. And I’d like to share with my spiritual brothers and sisters something I learned once at a conference in Argentina from a Chilean quantum physicist. He told me how much he valued his field of study, but that he had also learned that he could not afford to become attached to it, because attachment clouds our judgement. I thought this was wonderful advice. I realised that I am a Buddhist, but I should not allow myself to become attached or biased towards Buddhism, because it would obstruct my view of other traditions. So, although I am a Buddhist, and I hope a sincere Buddhist, I welcome the variety of our spiritual traditions and have great respect for them all.”


Some of the more than 14,000 attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talk on "Engaging Compassion" at the Yum Center in Louisville, Kentucky on May 19, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Among questions from the audience was one expressing difficulty with forgiving the perpetrators of the recent bombings in Boston. His Holiness said that in practical terms we have to bring such people to justice, but pointed out that he is a signatory to the Amnesty International campaign to abolish the death penalty. He said we have to distinguish between the action and the agent who carried it out, reminding ourselves that the agent also remains a human being.

Another member of the audience asked His Holiness to recall his favourite moment with Thomas Merton. He remembered that he came to visit for three days in 1968 and they sat together for 2-3 hours each time, sipping tea and having serious discussions about Christianity and the Christian monks’ rule and way of life. His Holiness recalled that Thomas Merton was wearing big, heavy boots and a strong leather belt and that the top of his head was shiny - but his face was radiant.

“I think of him as a strong bridge between the Buddhist and Christian traditions. He was a wonderful person and his death was a great loss, but his spirit lives on.”

Rajiv Mehrotra, who is the secretary and founding trustee of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India and who has been moderating the meeting of spiritual representatives invited His Holiness to give advice about inter-religious harmony, to which His Holiness responded:

“I think each of our religious traditions is a different expression of the same fundamental message, just as a garden is made more beautiful by a variety of flowers. All our religious traditions are aiming to create better human beings. Notions of one religion, one truth and several religions, several truths seem to be contradictory. However, it is appropriate for an individual to think in terms of one religion, one truth, while at the same time acknowledging the reality that in our human community we have several traditions and several truths.”

Rajiv Mehrotra then introduced representatives from Science, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam who shared expressions of compassion from their own traditions, each of which drew warm appreciation from the audience. Jazz pianist and composer Harry Pickens played a piece he had composed especially for the occasion and he was followed by the St Stephen Temple Choir who brought events to a joyful end with their rousing rendition of ‘O Happy Day.’
 

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