Geshe Lhakdor — His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s former religious assistant and English translator — led a panel discussion that explored why Tibetan monastics are crucial in the 21st century on Tuesday evening.
“In the modern society, the buildings are growing taller and taller, but human values and compassion are growing smaller and smaller,” he said to an audience of roughly a hundred in the warmly-lit Michael C. Carlos Museum’s reception hall.
Mostly faculty members, graduate students and other adults from the Emory community as well as a sprinkling of monks in deep-red robes intently listened to Lhakdor’s talk, which marks the second day of Emory’s 15th annual Tibet Week organized by the Emory-Tibet Partnership — the University’s initiative to join Western and Tibetan Buddhist intellectual traditions.
At His Holiness’ request, Lhakdor, who holds various degrees involving Buddhist philosophy, became the director of the Library of Tibetan Work and Archives in Dharamsala, India, dedicating his life to the preservation and dissemination of Tibetan culture.
Along with Lhakdor, Gillian Hue — a postdoctoral fellow in Science Education and Ethics at Emory involved with the Emory-Tibet Partnership — and Sonam Choephel — a Tibetan monk studying science at Emory through the partnership — spoke on the panel. Michael Romano, a cognitive scientist who works with the partnership, moderated the talk.
Lhakdor laid the groundwork for his talk by elaborating the values that Tibetan monks consider their “lifeline.”
“The whole Buddhist philosophy is based on the law of nature,” he said. “If you live in harmony … with nature, you will flourish, you will prosper, you will be successful. If you try to be extremely clever and go against nature, you will suffer.”
With a modern negligence of these values, we risk losing compassion, genuine love and other crucial spiritual values, he said.
“We are so intelligent that we forget to live like human beings,” he said. “We live like animals … using physical force, stockpiling arms, destroying or threatening the other nation, the other individual.”
Lhakdor described to the audience, intensely engaged in his words, a scene of three criminals who are to be executed in several hours and are treating each other without compassion. While we judge these convicts, he said, for wasting their last hours, we are only living 40 or 50 years more than them.
Beyond Tibetans’ contributions to the 21st century model, the panelists explored science’s offering to Buddhist philosophy.
“One of my goals is to see Tibetan monastics working as real scientists,” Choephel said, adding that one of his fellow monks, despite some shortcomings, “talks like a real scientist.”
Both Choephel and Lhakdor discussed the concept of the 21st century monk. Choephel said he read an article that described it as a monk who wears a robe and has a Facebook, to the audiences’ laughter. “I said, ‘that’s easy.’ I’m a 21st century monk.”
Lhakdor explained further: “A 21st century monk is not just a monk in the 21st century. It’s a monk who doesn’t study tradition without questioning.”
Jampa Khechok, a Tibetan monk who has spent two years at Emory through the partnership and attended Tuesday’s event, said that his stay at a university in the United States has shed new light on this topic.
“Meeting people from different culture[s] and backgrounds,” he said, “has really opened my mind and strengthened my philosophical basis that we are the same … regardless of color and culture … [We] desire happiness and don’t want suffering.”
Khechok said he is working to become a 21st century monk, which he describes as a bird with one wing of modern knowledge and one of traditional knowledge.
“The monks should open their heart and mind to learn from another tradition,” he said.
Zoie Taylor, a senior from Agnes Scott College who attended the talk as a field trip for a class, was pleased to find that the panel gave her a new take on her international relations major.
“I got to see it on an individual level,” Taylor said. “Sometimes in politics, you are looking at the big level.” She added that it was interesting to see people “from different nations sharing knowledge.”
— By Executive Editor Karishma Mehrotra