A Seventy-Day Trip
A Short Report on Khenpo Sodargye’s Oversea Lecture Tour 2014
On September 23, 2014, right after finishing teachings on the Hundred Verses of Advice for Tingri by Padampa Sangye and the Ornament of Clear Realization by Maitreya, Khenpo Sodargye set out on an extensive lecture tour. He had received invitation letters from twenty-two universities in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
First Stop: New Zealand
After a ten-hour flight across the ocean, a bright sun and a warm sea breeze welcomed Khenpo Sodargye to his first stop – New Zealand, the fairy-tale like, beautiful islands that are now famous as the Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings movie series.
After a day’s rest to adjust his biological clock, Khenpo began his tour at the world’s most geographically eastern and “Embarrassing Sunshine University”, Massey University, in Auckland on October 3rd. There Khenpo gave a lecture on “What Faith Means in Buddhism” and introduced the importance and methodology for choosing and refining one’s faith with wisdom. Khenpo said, “Buddhism is neither theism nor atheism. The Buddha is the discoverer instead of the creator of truths…The truths that the Buddha discovered 2,500 years ago can fit with modern science and can stand up to scrutiny by science.”
On October 4th, Khenpo went to New Zealand’s most influential university, Auckland University. There he led professors and students through an analysis between Christianity and Buddhism. This lecture, entitled, “When God meets the Buddha”, highlighted eight key similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, and advocated that on top of not changing one’s own religion, our responsibility to the future of the world, as followers of a religion, is to get along with everyone, no matter what religious beliefs they may hold.
One student directly asked, “What would really happen if God met the Buddha?” Khenpo cracked a smile and responded slowly, “If God met the Buddha, there would be no fighting, no hatred or jealousy, but only wisdom and compassion. That moment is beyond our imagination, yet it would be beautiful.”
In the morning of October 5th, Khenpo was invited to Pu Shien Charitable Trust, a Buddhist Center in Auckland, where he lectured on “How to Practice in Illness”. In this talk he elucidated how to cultivate a healthy attitude in general and how to turn unfavorable conditions into the path.
That afternoon and for the afternoons of the 7th, 9th, 11th, and 12th, Khenpo gave a series of lessons on the chapter on “Patience” from the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and instructed the audience on how to rationally overcome afflictive emotions in daily life.
In the evening of the 11th, Khenpo also lectured on the “Importance of Group Study” and emphasized that study in a group could help Buddhist students have a more lasting interest in studying.
In the morning of October 12th, Khenpo gave refuge through the traditional ceremony and also the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara.
During the entire twelve days’ stay in New Zealand, besides lecturing, Khenpo only went out twice. The first was on October 6th when he visited the famous One Tree Hill and enjoyed the sights of cherry trees and the Western Springs. The second was on October 8th when Khenpo went to released numerous sea creatures that would have otherwise been killed back into the ocean.
Having completed his obligations in New Zealand, Khenpo flew to Australia for the next leg of the tour on the morning of October 13th.
The Second Stop: Australia
(October 13 – 22)
After a four hour flight, Khenpo arrived in Sydney, Australia; a city the early Chinese immigrants called “Snow Pear” because of its pronunciation.
Khenpo began his activity in the afternoon of October 15th, with a lecture on “Meditation in Action” at the University of Technology, Sydney. Basing his explanation on ancient and traditional meditation practices, Khenpo introduced his audience of modern technocrats to the efficiency and dynamism of meditation. He then encouraged everyone to remain in the state of meditation at all times, even while studying and working, and in this way, they would gradually experience the ease of meditation. Having said this, Khenpo removed the prayer beads wound on his wrist and started to move them one by one saying, “In Tibet, you can see folks holding prayer beads and chanting mantras everywhere, while they are driving, talking, and circumambulating. This is the meditation in action for Tibetan folks.”
The evening of October 16th brought Khenpo to Australia‘s oldest university, Sydney University, which has been praised as the “Oxford University of the Southern Hemisphere”. There he lectured on “How does Buddhism see the material world”. In this talk Khenpo established Buddhist views on the material world from basic to advanced levels using the methodology of the Abhidharma, Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Madhyamika schools. He also used the logical reasoning known as the “six particles surrounding the center particle” to refute the intrinsic existence of the indivisible particle and compared this theory with findings by modern science. When Khenpo noticed that some of the audience seemed confused by these six particles, he pointedly asked, “Are you following me?” In response, everyone burst into laughter. Finally, Khenpo said sincerely and earnestly, “It is very important for us to understand the outer material world in which we live, but please do not forget that what is more meaningful is to understand our inner world.”
Khenpo visited the landmarks of Sydney, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge in the morning of the seventeenth. That evening, at the request of a Buddhist group in Bexley, a suburb in southern Sydney, Khenpo lectured on the “Contemporary Mission to Spread the Dharma” and answered all their various questions.
On October 18th, Khenpo flew south to Melbourne. In the afternoon of the following day, Khenpo lectured at Melbourne University, which has more than one hundred organizations and centers for scientific research. There he spoke on “Compassion and Happiness in Tibetan Buddhism”. Taking Tibet and Bhutan as examples, Khenpo rationalized that happiness is not realized by external means, but rather it is only through removing selfish thinking and generating the bodhichitta of great compassion that one can gain genuine happiness.
On October 20th, Khenpo was interviewed by ABC Radio Australia.
In the afternoon of October 21st, Khenpo was received by the Department of Psychology at Melbourne University for a panel discussion with professors and students on Buddhist Psychology. Afterwards the students were excused and Khenpo went into a more detailed discussion with the professors on the current situation and cause of psychological diseases, as well as effective treatments found in Buddhism. When professors mentioned that many graduate students in Australia suffer from depression, Khenpo lamented, “Actually, there are lots of wonderful treatments that can cure these mental diseases in Buddhism.”
Due to this dependent origination, when Khenpo was requested to teach a local Buddhist group in Hawthorn, an eastern suburb of Melbourne, that evening, he chose to give a talk he dubbed, “Curing Mental Diseases with Buddhist Medicine”. In this talk he introduced how to use Buddhist teachings to improve the mental health of oneself and others and also how to spread Buddhist teachings with a stable personality.
The Third Stop: Canada
(October 22 – November 6)
After a twenty-one hour flight, Khenpo arrived at his third foreign stop of this oversea lecture tour, in Toronto, Canada, where the autumn maple leaves were in the height of their colorful display. This was not Khenpo’s first time in Canada. Back in 1993, Khenpo had accompanied the Dharma King Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche to Halifax in Nova Scotia, “It is a very beautiful seaside city”, Khenpo recalled.
Khenpo began his lectures in Toronto on October 24th at York University. There, Khenpo gave a lecture titled, “Meditation: Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind”. Khenpo explained, “Nowadays, meditation is very popular in universities, companies, and many other places, but relying solely on mindfulness meditation will only suppress negative emotions; in order to uproot them, we have to recognize the nature of mind and remain in the genuine meditative state that surpasses bliss, clarity, and the absence of thoughts.”
In the evenings of the 25th, 26th, and 31st, Khenpo was requested to teach on the first chapter of the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, which is the chapter on the benefit of bodhichitta. He also transmitted the bodhisattva vows in the traditional way at the oldest and largest Chinese Buddhist Temple of Canada, Cham Shan Temple.
On October 27th, Khenpo visited the world-famous Niagara Falls. There, a seagull stood in front of Khenpo for a long time, so Khenpo took a picture of it and shared it on his Weibo (microblog). Interestingly, many people commented: This dove is so big!
In the afternoon of October 29th, Khenpo lectured on “Cosmology in Tibetan Buddhism” at the largest public university of Canada, the University of Toronto. In this talk, Khenpo combined the discoveries of modern cosmology and astronomy with the different descriptions of the universes in the Kalachakra Tantras, Avatamsaka Sutra, and Garland Tantra as a way to explore the methodology and necessity of learning about the external and inner worlds. Greatly inspired, a professor stated, “I have been studying cosmology for years, but today, from your lecture, I have learned so much about Buddhist astronomy and cosmology that I have never heard about. I am so inspired and would like to study these books; would you please write down the titles of these books on the board?” Very glad to hear this, Khenpo wrote down the titles immediately.
In the evening of October 30th, Khenpo was invited to the University of Toronto again to lecture on “The Mystery of Past Lives”. In this lecture he combined Buddhist logic with modern science in order to analyze the cause of the existence of past and future lives and the process of rebirth.
In the afternoon of November 2nd, Khenpo taught “Start the Practice from Yourself” and emphasized that in order to serve others better, we should do our best to perfect our own listening, reflecting, and meditating.
The next day, Khenpo flew to Montreal in Quebec Province, where French is the city’s official language. The next afternoon, at the request of a local Buddhist group, Khenpo gave a lecture on “How to Be a Happy Person” in the conference room of the Holiday Inn in Downtown Montreal.
On November 5th, Khenpo lectured on “Women in Contemporary Tibetan Buddhism” at the oldest university of Canada, McGill University, which also has been praised as the “Harvard of Canada”. Khenpo analyzed the strengths and advantages of women, the practice and treatment of women in Tibetan monasteries, and interpreted the description of women in some Buddhist sutras. Afterward, Khenpo visited the famous Redpath Museum on McGill campus.
Early in the morning on November 6th, Khenpo flew to the USA, the last stop of his overseas lecture tour.
The Fourth Stop: America
(November 6 – 24)
On November 6th, Khenpo commenced his tour of the United States at the home of Hollywood blockbusters – Los Angeles.
The next morning, Khenpo fittingly visited the world-famous Hollywood Universal Studios. He even rode on the Transformer and Mummy Returns roller coasters, about which Khenpo said, “Riding roller coasters in the dark with many scary images running at you is similar to the fearful and uneasy experiences of the intermediate state.” During the entire three-hour tour of Universal Studios, Khenpo was quietly chanting the Prayer which Magnetizes All that Appears and All that Exists for world peace and happiness. He said, “Hollywood is a very small place but has a great impact on the whole world; Larung Gar is also a very small place, but also has great influence on the Buddhist community. In this aspect, these two places have some similar dependent origination.”
On November 8th, Khenpo gave a lecture entitled “The Ladder to the Pureland” at the Pasadena Scottish Rite Center and emphasized that people should not seek individual rebirth in a pureland selfishly, but rather should generate bodhichitta – one of the four causes for rebirth in pureland – and avoid repulsing other traditions and their teachings narrow-mindedly.
November 9th brought Khenpo to the University of Southern California, the oldest private research university in California, where he lectured on the topic of “Living through Suffering”. Using the current social situation of America as his example, Khenpo analyzed the pervasive three primary sufferings and eight secondary sufferings and advised the audience to face everything through mind training.
On November 10th, Khenpo went to the University of California, Los Angeles, which has educated 14 Nobel laureates and 106 Olympic Gold Medalists. At this illustrious university he gave a talk he called, “Pureland in Samsara: Larung Gar”. Through Bodhivajra’s prophecy about the Dharma King Jigme Phutsok, Khenpo introduced the establishment, development, education system, student composition, graduation direction, and social contribution of the Larung Buddhist Institute. At the end of the lecture, rather than summarize the future plans for the monastery and complex, Khenpo instead left his audience with questions to ponder.
That evening Khenpo lectured on “The Foundation for Spreading the Dharma” for a group of local Buddhists in Hacienda Heights and emphasized the importance of harmony and group study.
Khenpo then flew to New Haven, Connecticut where he arrived on November 12th at 2:00 AM. Despite his late night, Khenpo had a full day that began by visiting the Yale University Library, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and a Buddhist meditation center. Following these tours, Khenpo answered questions raised by student representatives and offered them practical advice on effective time management and, for the senior students, job expectations. Khenpo gave this advice, “Fresh graduates should not set their expectations for their jobs and accomplishments too high; rather, they should have an attitude to learn from their first job, and to slow down and not go too fast.” A professor agreed, “Khenpo’s advice is absolutely right! It is indeed that many students now are just competing for who is busier.”
Afterwards Khenpo lectured on “Mindfulness and Meditation in the Modern World” and introduced a step-by-step meditation on the nine methods for resting the mind. Khenpo said, “If you can tame your own mind, you can tame everything. If you cannot calm your mind, it is impossible to benefit yourself, so how can you talk about benefiting others? Only when you can calm your mind can you be happy and only then can you help others to be happy.”
After the lecture, Khenpo had dinner with a number of the professors. In this informal setting, they discussed world religions and how to increase the harmony among them. One professor showed a pie chart of the thirteen major religions and their respective following at Yale. Khenpo immediately noticed how few atheists are at Yale, with only 1.6% of the population. Then the same professor gave Khenpo a bracelet imprinted with symbols representing these thirteen religions. Khenpo wore it immediately, and said, “This is very good; it indicates that different world religions can get along well with each other.”
After dinner, Khenpo hurried to yet another venue to give a lecture on “The Methods to Benefit Self and Others”. He also gave an empowerment of Padmasambhava and other oral transmissions.
November 13th began early again with a lecture at the Yale Department of Religious Studies. Most fittingly, since this day also marked the day when Buddha Shakyamuni descended from Tushita Heaven, Khenpo lectured on the “Life of the Buddha”. He approached this topic by interpreting the Twelve Deeds of Buddha Shakyamuni. Right after the class, graduate student representatives had lunch with Khenpo and shared their research on Tibetan Buddhism and what they had learned from reading Patrul Rinpoche’s Words of My Perfect Teacher. When asked by some students, “What part of this book impressed you most?” Khenpo said, “Contemplation on Impermanence”. The students asked curiously, “Why?” Khenpo answered with smile, “Because it is going to happen soon.”
At 2:30 PM, Khenpo hurried to leave for Princeton University in New Jersey. At 6:15 PM, Khenpo arrived at Prospect House on the Princeton campus. This house, which was where President Woodrow Wilson lived before he became President, is now where Princeton’s distinguished guests are received. While having dinner with professors and student representatives there, Khenpo answered their questions on various topics, such as why all phenomena are the projection of mind, the hidden treasures, meditation, the equality of sentient beings vs. individualism, and poverty.
On November 14th, Khenpo was invited to the McGraw Center of Teaching and Learning at Princeton University. There he exchanged ideas with educators on training well-developed students and teachers, establishing fair criteria for evaluation, and building healthy relationships between students and professors. Afterwards, Khenpo visited the classroom where Einstein had lectured and the East Asia Research Center. Then, Khenpo gave a lecture entitled “Bodhisattva’s Path-Practice and Action in Modern Society”. Here he emphasized the significance of compassion, altruism, and vegetarianism in the current age.
After this lecture, Khenpo traveled that very night to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the morning of November 15th, Khenpo gave a lecture on “Buddhist Meditation on Emptiness” at Temple University. Using conventional approximate emptiness as the stairs to reach the high tower of ultimate great emptiness, Khenpo explained analytic and calm-abiding mediation with pith instructions, and even gave precious tantra instructions on mediating on emptiness and recognizing the nature of mind in accordance with the Zen tradition.
Toward the end, Khenpo said, “Today, very secret and precious instructions naturally came out. In the past, my guru Dharma King said, ‘The instructions obtained from Mipham Rinpoche with great difficulty are supposed to be kept as secret, but here they were spoken out before I knew it.’ However, I believe there must be some reason: First, some faithful listeners have come to every lecture on my tour from Canada to here. Second, I noticed that the professors and students here have a very strong faith in great Tibetan tantra masters, like Mipham Rinpoche and Venerable Longchenpa. Therefore, due to the meeting of various causes and conditions, extremely precious instructions were naturally taught.”
After a lunch with the hosting professors, Khenpo walked to Independence Hall and saw the Liberty Bell.
On November 16th, Khenpo arrived at Charlottesville, Virginia. After a brief rest, Khenpo visited the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and the Alderman Library, with its special collections of Tibetan books, such as the complete Kangjur and Tangyur. Afterwards, Khenpo met a group of Tibetan students and answered questions on their study and life in America. Then he met with another group of American graduate students studying Tibetan culture and answered their questions about the practice and study of Tibetan Buddhism.
In the afternoon of November 17th, Khenpo lectured on “Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Meditation in China”. In this talk he explained that the original Tibetan Buddhist education based on the five principal treatises is what Chinese people really need. Afterwards, Khenpo met with numerous scientists who have been studying reincarnation for many years and exchanged ideas with them on the current research in this field.
Khenpo then flew back to the West Coast on November 18th in time to give a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, which is the top public university in America, on the “Relationship between Chan and Dzogchen”. In this lecture, Khenpo directly pointed out the inappropriate attitude toward tantras that a number of Western scholars have. Khenpo said, “At first, I was indeed very happy to see so many Western scholars speaking fluent Tibetan. But later, I found some scholars did their thesis and academic papers on very profound tantra teachings. In this way, Tibetan Buddhism cannot be preserved or propagated, but has the possibility to be destroyed. At this time of crisis for Tibetan culture, let me say from the depth of my heart, ‘Please respect our tradition and protect our culture.’”
Right after this lecture, Khenpo hurried to Orgyen Dorje Den in Alameda, and gave an empowerment of Vajrakilaya.
In the evening of November 20th, Khenpo visited Stanford University. There he spoke informally with the professors from the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies on the current situation and future plans of their Buddhist studies program. Then he gave a lecture on “The Popularity of Tibetan Buddhism in China”.In this talk he extolled Dharma King Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche’s foresight not only in training monastic educators as early as the 60s and 70s, but also in founding Larung Buddhist Institute in the early 80s.
The next evening Khenpo returned again to Stanford, to their Department of Music and gave a speech at a concert called “Imagining the Universe”. Khenpo’s message at this forum was that while art can temporarily relieve mental disease, everlasting happiness can only be obtained by mastering the nature of mind.
In the morning of November 22nd, Khenpo lectured on “Reaching Happiness and a Meaningful Life through Dharma” to a group in Mountain View, just south of San Francisco. Afterwards, Khenpo hurried to the airport to leave for Seattle.
The next afternoon Khenpo lectured on “Buddhist Philosophy and Modern Business Management” to elites from various high-tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google, and Boeing, at the Meydenbauer Conference Center. To this audience, Khenpo asserted that altruism should be the basis for the development of any business, and that the ultimate management is mind management.
That evening, Khenpo concluded his overseas activity with an Avalokiteshvara empowerment and other transmissions at the request of a group of local Buddhists in Mercer Island, west of Bellevue.
Nov. 24: Khenpo arrived in Shanghai after a thirteen-hour flight.
Nov. 26: Khenpo was interviewed by L’OFFICIEL HOMMES magazine and flew back to Chengdu.
Nov. 27: Khenpo attended the Conference for the Prevention and Cure of AIDS for Minority Groups.
Nov. 28: In the morning Khenpo attended a meeting on the preparation needed for constructing Likhog Middle School. In the afternoon he attended another meeting on the construction plans for Larung Gar.
Nov. 29: Khenpo set out from Chengdu and arrived at Larung Buddhist Institute on December 1st.
Till then, Khenpo’s Oversea Lecture Tour 2014 was perfectly completed.
It was seventy days exactly from his departure on September 23rd to his return to the institute on December 1st. In this tour, he flew for 95 hours or 56,898 kilometers, and rode in cars for 98 hours. The total journey was equal to circling the earth twice.
During this time he gave 42 lectures, held question and answer sessions with various professors, students, and scholars 16 times, gave empowerments 4 times, went sightseeing 4 times, and released captured marine creatures one time. All this was done at 16 universities, 4 Buddhist centers, and 9 conference venues, in 21 cities, and 4 countries.
The University of Chicago and Northwestern University in the United States, the University of Ottawa in Canada, and Oxford University in the United Kingdom also invited Khenpo, but because Khenpo had promised his domestic students to resume teaching on Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind of the Great Perfection at the beginning of December, he had to put them aside for this time.
In this trip, Khenpo travelled through many different time zones, several seasons, and even the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth. Even so, no matter how long the flight, Khenpo always preferred sitting in economy class seats. Sometimes, though his feet were obviously swollen, he would say, “This is very comfortable, there is no need to sit in business class.” On average he would sleep only three to four hours each night, yet every time he was asked if he was tired, his answer was always “No, I’m great.” Nonetheless, more than once it happened that during a meeting, Khenpo would fall asleep mid-sentence, only to wake up after a few seconds and finish the rest of his sentence. In order to save time, usually Khenpo had boxed meals. When nice fruits or food were prepared for him, Khenpo would refuse gently, “Do not waste time on food and accommodations!”
There is no doubt that this tour was very meaningful and successful. His Tibetan-English translator in America, who has served for over thirty years many great masters from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and who even translated when Dharma King Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche taught in America in 1993, observed with great emotion after Khenpo’s lectures, “The older generation of Tibetan Buddhist masters who propagated the Dharma in the West have passed into parinirvana one after another; now, Khenpo is presenting the original Tibetan Buddhist teachings in its traditional way to the West. This is undoubtedly perfect! From his style of teaching, his way of communicating with Western people, and his own charisma, I can see a brilliant future for him in propagating the Dharma in the West! This is beautiful!”