Story by Megan Ellis
After being persecuted for decades, a prominent Tibetan Lama has managed to remain positive.
His understanding of Buddhism stems past just what he says and into the way he leads his life.
Arjia Rinpoche entered the Cowles Library Reading Room at 7 p.m. on March 5 to a crowd of community members and students.
His presentation titled “Achieving Eternal Peace through Non-dualistic View — Buddhist Concepts and Meditation Practices” should have had a somber tone, as the speech topic transitioned to the tribulations that he and Tibetan Buddhists encounter.
Instead, the presentation was littered with jokes and cheeriness and topped off with slideshow complete with cartoon images.
“They shut down all the monasteries and churches and everything, so they arrested all the priests and the lamas and the teachers. Then, the monks, all monks, were forced fully to disrobe and then go to a field to work. I was sent to school, a Chinese school, so I went with a red scarf,” Rinpoche said.
That red scarf was the uniform for the monks forced to attend school and was cut and dyed from the monk’s former robes.
Rinpoche had lived with the KumBum monastery since he was 2 years old.
Then a new Chinese campaign hit Tibet, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) that put Rinpoche into a labor camp for 16 years.
Mary McCarthy, an assistant professor of politics and international relations, explains that the relationship between China and Tibet is tense.
The two have had conflicting views on how Tibet should be governed for a long time.
China wants to govern Tibet, while Tibet would prefer to be self-governed with the Dalai Lama in charge.
In order to create conformity between the two countries, China sent the Red Guard, a paramilitary movement of young people, to establish authority and discourage the old customs and cultures of the area.
The goal was to focus attention on communist ideology.
“Tibetan Buddhism is the greatest influence on Tibetan culture. The Chinese government seeks to control religion in the country,” McCarthy said.
During the 80’s, monks were allowed to return and monasteries were able to reopen.
Even with the victory, Rinpoche’s problems didn’t stop. During this time, the Panchen Lama passed away.
Traditionally, the Dalai Lama then locates the next reincarnation.
Controversially, the Chinese government picked and recognized its own reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, which conflicted with the Dalai Lama’s choice who came up missing.
The Chinese government then chose Rinpoche, who had attended college after leaving the labor camp, to educate the Chinese Panchen Lama.
Because he didn’t believe in China’s appointment, a moral dilemma was presented for Rinpoche, so he fled China in a disguise.
Even with all the hardships, Rinpoche was able to speak easily about the problems he faced and even make the audience erupt in laugher with some clever quips.
Detachment from hardship is a vital piece of Buddhism.
Leah Kalmanson, assistant professor of religion, explains that the purpose of Buddhism is to overcome suffering.
Everything, including emotions such as happiness, is seen as temporary.
Buddhists see attachment to fleeting things as the cause of suffering.
Buddhist teachings acknowledge that suffering is inevitable, but people can control how they handle it to greatly minimalize suffering that is experience by how they respond to suffering.
“There is one early teaching that Buddha talked about getting hit with a dart. And he says the dart hits you and that hurts, but there is a second pain, right?” Kalmanson said, “The second pain is you going, ‘Oh my gosh. I don’t want to be hit by a dart, right?’ Being upset and being angry and all those sort of negative emotions that come up.”