Monday, July 12, 2010

Tenzin Gyatso Instute: how ancient teachings on wisdom and compassion can bring happiness to the modern world

The weekend of June 17/18th marked a pretty remarkable event in Berne, NY. On a piece of land where previously there was nothing, a group of almost 500 Rigpa students, local residents from the area of Berne, and Tibetan and Himalayan people came together to attend the inauguration of the Tenzin Gyatso Institute (TGI). TGI is a new center dedicated to bringing the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism in the modern world, and to making it live on. The day was marked by celebrations, uniting three different flavors: Tibetan culture, Western science, and its connecting bridge, the Buddhist teachings.

The event was enlivended with Tibetan music provided by the lovely Tenzin Kunsel (see picture), speeches by the eminent Tibetan leaders Lodi Gyari Rinpoche, Lobsang Nyandak, and Rinchen Dharlo, who all emphasized the historic nature of this event. Very encouraging was the fact among the Tibetan and Himalayan people there were many young people, who wanted to reconnect with their religion and culture. They felt very happy that Sogyal Rinpoche was a modern lama who at the same time upheld an authentic lineage. Young people are particularly important because the group of Western students that is drawn to Buddhism tends to be quite old ;-)

On the theme of science, Daniel Goleman discussed some scientific studies about the nature of happiness, and about what it means to be a good human being. He has been instrumental in the development of the Mind & Life Institute, a research collaboration and public dialogue on the scientific study of contemplative practice, of which I also have been lucky to be a part. It turns out that those two are quite closely related, and that Tibetan Buddhism has quite some expertise in developing these skills. Finally, on the theme of Buddhist teachings, Tsoknyi Rinpoche then showed how some of this expertise develops, when
he taught in his characteristically humorous way about the difference between education of the emotions and education focused on cognition. Whereas the West has mostly focused on the latter, the ancient wisdom of Tibet has strong insights in the former. Sogyal Rinpoche gave a complete teaching about meditation and the way we can
find inner peace and contentment, which is the source of happiness. All we have to do is to remember to turn our mind inwards.

After the celebrations were over, the teachings continued for a smaller group of long-time students of Sogyal Rinpoche. To mark the importance of this event, Sogyal Rinpoche shared some of the highest teachings in the Tibetan tradition, and he was even joined by Mingyur Rinpoche on one day, who charmed us all with his phenomenal facial expressions, as was able to in a very short span of time convey us some very deep knowledge and experience. We all felt it was a remarkable and life-changing

It was wonderful to see how, maybe for the first time, large groups of Tibetan and Himalayan people came together with dedicated Western students of Buddhism, united under the wish to preserve this "ancient wisdom for the modern world."

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