A lesson in Dharma

By MATT FURBER, Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer, Sept 9, 2005

Tibetan Buddhism is the practice of compassion

Sun Valley, Idaho (USA) -- Most every pupil needs a break from study. When he was young, a favorite diversion for His Holiness the Dalai Lama was tinkering with watches and clocks. In his early explorations of Western technology and science, the 14th Dalai Lama explains in his new book, "The Universe in a Single Atom," he eventually progressed to review of automobiles that he inherited from the 13th Dalai Lama.

<< The 14th Dalai Lama regularly travels internationally, meeting with foreign dignitaries and citizens to spread his message of compassion.

Recognized at age 2 as the 14th Dalai Lama, his primary task, however, was the study of Dharma, a lifetime pursuit.

Dharma is a Sanskrit word that means teaching, truth, doctrine, spirituality or reality. The literal meaning of Dharma is "that which supports or upholds." Also defined as "the truth of things as they are," it is likened to the ground one stands on. Another meaning of Dharma is "that which remedies, alleviates, heals and restores," states a Web page for the Dzogchen Center, a place where Westerners seeking the lessons of Dharma in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition can begin their study.

"The truth embodied in Dharma teachings heals what ails us on the very deepest level," the definition reads. "Buddha Dharma refers to the teachings of the compassionate, enlightened Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, who lived in the fifth century B.C. in northern India."

Tibetan Buddhists believe that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is an incarnation of Avalokiteshvar, the Buddha of Compassion.

"This is the 14th time this guy has come back," said Dean Sluyter, the New Jersey practice leader for the Dzogchen Center. Sluyter explained in an interview that the lessons of Dharma in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of the Dalai Lama, one of four lineages, are passed on through various Lamas, a general term for one who is a teacher or guru.

According to tradition, a Tulku, a person who has been recognized as a reborn Lama, is sought after a monk dies.

"The teaching is that all beings are reborn innumerable times and that most of us do it unconsciously. We have no memory of past births," Sluyter said. "Supposedly some of these people who have very great consciousness (come back to continue the teachings of Dharma.) Tulkus made a commitment to keep coming back."

When the 13th Dalai Lama was near death he left some hints as to where to find the 14th Dalai Lama. It is said he was chosen after he correctly identified a rosary belonging to his predecessor, not because it was displayed to him but because he noticed it hanging deceptively around the neck of a Lama.

The Dalai Lama has reached out also for lessons in the West, particularly through his study of science, seeking to better understand where science and spirituality converge. Similarly, Westerners, including Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, recognized as the first Tibetan Buddhist monk in the lineage of the Dalai Lama, have sought lessons from the East, a rapidly growing movement in the United States.

Some Western Buddhist practitioners have gone beyond the study of the lay practitioner to become Lamas in their own right. One such Guru is Geshe Michael Roach who led workshops with his yoga partner Christie McNally, at the 8th annual Sun Valley Mountain Wellness Festival. Roach is the first American to have completed the 20-year training for the degree of a Geshe (Doctor of Theology) in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, and is now a yogin monk in the ancient tradition of Naropa. He is an honors graduate of Princeton University and has received the Presidential Medallion at the White House.

Roach is a scholar of Sanskrit, Tibetan and Russian, and is the translator and author of more than 30 textbooks for the Asian Classics Institute, and of the international best-selling Buddist business book "The Diamond Cutter." He and McNally participated together in a three-year retreat including a great deal of silent meditation, which at their level is also a regular part of Buddhist study.

The Dalai Lama would not say that a person must be a Buddhist to practice compassion, said Sluyter, who has been a lecturer on Buddhism since the 1960s and a regular practitioner since the early 1990s.

"It's not what you are, it's what you do," he said. "Practice meditation and compassion. What's important is that you practice kindness."

Sluyter, like many Buddhists, considers himself simply a Buddhist practitioner, but he is the Buddhist chaplain at Northern State Prison in Newark, N.J., where he practices with about 15 prisoners a week. He is also the author of "Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies."

"If you want to practice, you should practice," he said. "The United States has become one of the best places to practice Dharma in the world. There is a wealth of books, teachers and Web sites."

The percentage of Buddhists who are monks is very small. Therefore, it is considered an auspicious opportunity to meet someone who is a Lama or carries the honorific title of Rinpoche, at the end of people's names, which means "treasured one" or "precious one."

The multitude of resources available for people seeking to learn more about Buddhism includes links to organizations such as Tibet House, started by Thurman, Diamond Mountain University, started by Roach, and Tibetan Centers around the United States, such as the Dzogchen Center. More information is also available through the Tibetan Government in Exile.

The 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Dhondrub on July 6, 1935, in a small village called Taktser, in northeastern Tibet. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognized at the age of 2, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the rebirth of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama. In 1950 at age 14, while still undergoing his formal education, the Dalai Lama was called upon to assume full political power as the head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people after soldiers from the Peoples Liberation Army (of China) invaded the country. After nine years of struggle to find a peaceful solution to the Chinese-Tibetan conflict, a growing resistance movement broke into the largest demonstration in Tibetan history on March 10, 1959, in Lhasa. The Chinese army crushed the uprising. His Holiness escaped to India where he was given political asylum. Today, there are more than 120,000 Tibetan people in exile. Since 1960, the Dalai Lama has resided in Dharamsala, India. He regularly travels internationally, meeting with foreign dignitaries and citizens to spread his message.