Layers of Tibetan Buddhism Unknown in the West
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Watching Krista’s conversation on stage with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, you may have noticed a demure man in a dark suit seated next to him, a man constantly at his side. He’s the Dalai Lama’s chief English translator, Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Krista sat down with him while in Atlanta for a rare chance to hear him speak from his own experience and perspective.
Thupten Jinpa has inhabited this ancient tradition of Tibetan Buddhism at its most esoteric. His life story parallels the tumultuous modern history of the Tibetan people. In 1959, the then-23-year-old Dalai Lama escaped Lhasa in secrecy under fear of capture by Chinese troops. Thupten Jinpa’s parents followed one year later, with their four-year-old son and his two siblings in tow. He entered a monastery as a boy, studied philosophy and religion at Cambridge, and was a practicing monk for more than 20 years before he left his monastic community in India to become a husband and father living in Montreal, Canada.
He’s created and directs a project to bring Tibetan Buddhism’s classic texts into the world’s languages. He’s also involved in teaching and research at McGill University and at Stanford. And he’s a core member of the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Institute. This is an ongoing global project that brings scientists and Buddhist practitioners into dialogue, with their very different approaches to human consciousness and knowledge.
The Dalai Lama listens to his interpreter, Dr. Thupen Jinpa, while leading a discussion during the Seeds of Compassion Conference at Key Arena on April 11, 2008 in Seattle, Washington. (photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
There are whole layers of Tibetan Buddhism that are unknown in the West. Thupten Jinpa discusses what happens when these metaphysical and human worlds meet modern science and contemporary lives. And, he adds complexity to these popularized concepts of this tradition. Once some of these terms go mainstream, he says, they become a victim of their own success. The nuances in an English context get left out. He explains the limitations of terms popularized in the West, concepts such as the nature of consciousness and how reincarnation fits in, the discipline of compassion, and the reduction of the word “meditation” in mainstream culture:
“People tend to immediately think of meditation as someone sitting quietly, emptying their mind. But if you look at original Sanskrit term, bhāvanā, and the Tibetan term, gom, from which this term meditation is kind of being used now as a translation. Bhāvanā has the connotation of cultivation. It’s like cultivating a field. So there is this connotation of cultivation, and the Tibetan term gom has the connotation of familiarity, a process of familiarity. Meditation can be, as His Holiness often points out, analytic where it’s not simply sitting down and quieting your mind, but it can actually be a process where you use kind of discernment and move from stages and stages to, in some sense, uncovering layers and layers to get to a point.”
Thupten Jinpa also talks about how much “tougher it was to have an intimate marriage partner and to live in a truly sharing life” than living in a monastic community. And, at the same time, he experiences “a certain visceral feeling of love and compassion” for his two daughters that would “take ages to cultivate” for most monks. It’s during these moments that I sense his great happiness and how he truly puts into practice what he’s learned from his Buddhist instruction. And, working in the presence of the Dalai Lama, he’s able to contribute and be part of the transformation he sees as necessary in the world today.
Compassion comes from the recognition that all of us are vulnerable.
— Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and an associate professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, from his TEDTalk at the United Nations to mark the one-year anniversary of Karen Armstrong’s launch of the Charter for Compassion. You can watch his entire talk, along with ones from Krista, Karen Armstrong, and others.
[via TED Blog]
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Krista’s TED Talk at the United Nations and the Charter for Compassion (Live Video)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
when: Thursday, November 18th, 2010
time: 11:00 a.m. ET
where: United Nations (New York, New York)
Well, we’re live streaming another event, and this one should be a must-see simply because of the line-up of speakers, including Karen Armstrong and Krista. Oh, and it’s a TED event, which almost always means great speakers! The topic? Creating a compassionate world.
Words matter. They shape the way we see ourselves, interpret the world, and treat others. And as essential as compassion is across our traditions, as vivid as many of us know it to be in particular lives, the word “compassion” is a problem — watered down in culture, suspect in the field of journalism, too safe and too sweet for the power that the 21st century needs unleashed in this virtue. Krista will name that — break “compassion” open into its kindred and component qualities and describe its universe of attendant virtues. In ideas and images drawn from her conversation partners across the years, she will suggest an expanded definition of “compassion” as vital, visible, and embodied.
Please join us here or on our live events page and watch our stream from the United Nations. We’ll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out!
Understanding Happiness with the Dalai Lama, a British Rabbi, an Episcopal Bishop, a Muslim Scholar: A Twitterscript
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
On October 17 of this year, Krista led a lively conversation with four dynamic religious leaders: the His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr on “Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society.”
Trent and I sat in the media section of the Woodruff Physical Education Center at Emory University and our live-tweeted some of the special gems from discussion. You can also listen to the event’s full audio.
- We’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s panel w/ @, @RabbiSacks, Rev. Schori, + Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Intros are beginning; discussion to start soon.
- Krista and religious leaders have taken the stage, followed by the @DalaiLama. All are standing in silence with one pair of hands clapping.
- The topic of this session: understanding and promoting happiness in today’s society. Smiles everyone!
- “The reason different religious traditions developed is not for misery but for deep satisfaction (happiness). That’s very clear.”-@DalaiLama
- The @DalaiLama finally put on his classic deep red visor. He said to Krista - “Now I can see you clearer. There is a bright light in here.”
- “If we could learn 1 thing from you - how to laugh the way you do - it would increase the happiness in the world.” @rabbisacks to @dalailama
- “Simha tells us that happiness is part of the tenure and texture of relationships.” @rabbisacks on Jewish definition of a shared happiness
- “Consumerism making us feel bad for what we lack is the most efficient system for the manufacturing+distribution of unhappiness” @rabbisacks
- “The paradox of the world is that to listen to a lecture on #happiness people have to stand in line unhappily for 2 hours to get in.” -Nasr
- “#Happiness comes from this right relationship - from knowing you are not God and therefore not putting yourself in the center.” -Rev Schori
- Some people have the idea that just following the truth is enough. #Islambelieves what’s important is to attain #happiness.”-Seyyed H. Nasr
- “The environmental crisis is due to this substitution - believing #happiness is to have, want more and more.” - Seyyed Hossein Nasr
- “Once it was asked to a great #Sufi master ‘What do you want?’ He said ‘I want not to want?’ That’s the epitome of #happiness.” -Seyyed Nasr
- “Happiness is a permanent state of the soul, and we are here to attain it.” -Seyyed H. Nasr to the @DalaiLama
- “That’s why all the pain can lead to #happiness when you say to the bad times: I will not let you go until you bless me.” - @rabbisacks
- “Happiness is not finding joy in death. It’s taking what is, and insisting that great happiness for all is possible.” - Rev. Schori
- RT @EmoryUniversity ”Say to the bad times, I will not let you go until you bless me.”—-Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
- “In Arabic, beauty and virtue — and the word goodness — are all the same word.” -Seyyed H. Nasr
- “The #Arabic word for beauty, virtue, and goodness is the same. Beauty drives us to the divine…Beauty makes the soul happy.” - Seyyed Nasr
- “Just by existing, we’re responsible towards other creatures, humans, nature, and God himself.” -Seyyed Hossein Nasr
- “Buddhism is in some ways atheist, but some say atheism means anti-God. In that sense, #Buddhism has respect for all traditions.” @DalaiLama
- “Sometimes we don’t have to pursue happiness, we have to pause and let it catch up to us.” - @rabbisacks
- “There is a religious challenge in things that don’t look beautiful.” -@RabbiSacks
- “Happiness is a right. The purpose of our life is happiness. It may be simple but it’s what I think!” @DalaiLama
- “When a person lives with hopelessness, they commit suicide. So our life depends on hope for happiness.” @DalaiLama
- A nice segue by Krista from @RabbiSacks’ fabulous point about slowing down for happiness to the @DalaiLama’s teachings on meditation.
- “I almost drowned on my honeymoon, so when I wake up, I know what it means to pray: Thank you #God for giving me back my life.” @RabbiSacks
- “We can face the future of fear if we know we do not face it alone.” @RabbiSackson praying to #God and knowing God is with you
- Just realized there’s a person signing this wonderful discussion at Emory. Her just to hear + translate must be incredibly difficult. Kudos.
- “Our modern culture makes it very hard to fail.” -@RabbiSacks at The Interfaith Summit on Happiness
- “Train the body so the mind, the self, and the soul can do it’s job more effectively.” - Rev. Schori on #running as body meditation
- “ #Judaism has a whole approach on the physical dimension of the spiritual life - it’s called food.” @RabbiSacks on #happiness and the body
- “If you want a summary of all the #Jewish holidays it can be done in 3 sentences: they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat” @RabbiSacks
- “Someone elses’ material needs, are my spiritual duty” @RabbiSacks on the responsibility to help others who are lacking
- @DalaiLama is asked: Where does body fit into happiness? HHDL: Without a body, there’s no longer a brain. Then it’s difficult to think.
- “You have to let go of hate if you want to be free” - @RabbiSacks
- “A #Muslim friend said ‘jihad’ is combating the negative forces within yourself. So then, the whole Buddhist philosophy is Jihad” @DalaiLama
- “After Buddhism there is no religion that speaks more of compassion than #Islamdoes.” - Seyyed Hossein Nasr
- “I’m out of my medium. I’m used to being in a recording studio where people aren’t applauding after comments” - Krista Tippett
LIVE Video: One-on-One with Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Man Beside the Dalai Lama
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
date: Monday, October 18th, 2010
time: 4:15 p.m. EDT
duration: 60 minutes
On Friday, she interviewed the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sacks. On Sunday, Krista led an absolutely invigorating discussion with Dalai Lama (listen to audio) and other great religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions. And, this afternoon, an intimate conversation with the Dalai Lama’s right-hand man, so to speak.
Watching the Dalai Lama with his English translator Thupten Jinpa is more like observing an intimate conversation than an interpretation of words. This former monk, now married with children, is also a scholar in his own right. With him, Krista will explore some of the intricacies of Tibetan understandings of the mind and meditation, as well as his front row seat on the Dalai Lama’s teachings and charisma.
We’re continuing to bring you as many behind-the-scenes perspectives as we can, and this live video stream is one more step in that effort. When you can, join us here or on our live events page for real-time conversation with other viewers. You can leave comments and bounce ideas off of others with our Facebook chat module. Check it out! And, we’ll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out!
LIVE Video: A Sold Out Event with the Dalai Lama. A Front Row Seat for You!
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
*UPDATE: Listen to our recording of this magnificent discussion (mp3, 113:52).
“Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society”
date: Sunday, October 17th, 2010
time: 1:30 p.m. EDT
» What do Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam teach us about the concept of happiness?
» What do these ancient traditions hold in common about this often elusive state of being, and what are their greatest points of difference?
» How do they define happiness?
» Is happiness the purpose of life, or is it a reward only available after life?
These questions are just the start of a dynamic conversation Krista will be having with the Dalai Lama and other leading religious leaders. We want you to be a part of it. Join us this afternoon and watch our exclusive live video stream from the campus of Emory University with His Holiness and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
And here’s a rundown of other events that are part of the summit that don’t include Krista, but we’ll be streaming in case you wish to attend:
“The Nature and Practice of Compassion”
date: Sunday, October 17th, 2010
time: 9:45 a.m. EDT
In this teaching for the Buddhist communities of Atlanta and the southeastern U.S., His Holiness will explain the nature of compassion and the practices for cultivating it as understood in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition — something to which His Holiness has dedicated his entire life. By explaining the essential role of compassion in the flourishing of human life, this teaching will provide a backdrop for all the subsequent events of the visit.
“Richard Gere and Alice Walker in Conversation with the Dalai Lama about Spirituality and Creativity”
date: Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
time: 1:30 p.m. EDT
How do the arts help us to express, or indeed to uncover, our spiritual yearnings and questions or certainties? What do the artist and the spiritual master have to teach each other from their respective disciplines? What is the role of tradition (or, conversely, iconoclasm) in maintaining or renewing art and spiritual life? Is the human being innately spiritual, innately artistic?
And, for the next several days, be sure to watch more of our one-on-one conversations with wise voices and religious leaders from The Interfaith Summit on Happiness in Atlanta, Georgia. Krista will be conducting on-the-ground interviews, and we’ll be live-streaming video of each one. We had an incredible conversation with Rabbi Sacks yesterday (archived video here) and more are on the way, including one with the Dalai Lama’s chief translator, Geshe Thupten Jinpa. We’ll be sending out real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out and let us know how we’re doing!
Please join us for this real-time dialogue. You can leave comments here. If you’re interested in bouncing ideas off of others during this interview, check out our Being LIVE page that contains a real-time Facebook chat module. It’s quite enjoyable hearing what other viewers are thinking and responding to. Check it out!
(photo: David McNew/Getty Images)
Our humanity is not an attribute that we have received once and forever with our conception. It is a potentiality that we have to discover within us and progressively develop or destroy through our confrontation with the different experiences of suffering that will meet us through our life.
Transforming Journalism by Moving and Mobilizing Readers
by Krista Tippett, host
I wasn’t always a fan of Nicholas Kristof’s columns in The New York Times. I’d found them at times simplistic — seeming to reduce the dramas of entire nations to individual stories of despair and/or hope. But I’ve discovered that there is an art and science to this approach. It was fascinating — and quite inspiring — to sit down and get inside his head on all of this.
Nicholas Kristof has lived on four, and reported on six, continents, including spending formative years based in China and Japan, before he took his place on the Op-Ed pages of the Times in the cathartic year of 2001. And as he tells us in the audio above, he soon realized that opining, however brilliantly, left him preaching to the choir. People who already shared his perspective would cheer him on; those who didn’t would not take in what he had to say. The true power of his editorial platform, he realized, was its capacity to bring lesser-publicized events and ideas into the light.
He is credited, most famously perhaps, for bringing the unfolding genocide in Darfur to the world’s attention. But even that “success,” which brought him a second Pulitzer Prize, left Nicholas Kristof wondering and wanting. The world’s reaction to Darfur, in his mind, did not match the tragedy at hand or the moral responsibility it should have engendered. He wanted to understand the fact — as I’ve pondered with many guests on Being across the years — that horrific images and facts are as likely to paralyze and overwhelm as to mobilize us.
And so he started reading research on brain science and the biological basis for compassion, to explore what makes the difference between moral paralysis and compassionate mobilization. We are hard-wired as humans, it seems, to respond powerfully to a single individual’s story and face. But add a second face, and that response diminishes. Add facts, and multiply that story by hundreds or millions, and empathy withers altogether.
Nicholas Kristof reframed his journalistic approach accordingly. It is fascinating to hear him talk about this, and about his own enduring worries about its manipulative connotations. He works to balance the riveting story with the big picture. An empathetic response to a single human story, he’s also learned by way of science and his own experience, can become a portal to a larger awareness. Facts and context can then begin to play a meaningful supporting role.
In the early 2000s, I felt that Nicholas Kristof was simplistic about religion too. Granted, most Western journalists were on a new kind of learning curve with regard to religion. Over the years, I have been deeply impressed by his unusual willingness to learn in public — to admit that he did not understand something, to publish his surprise and self-reversals. He’s gained a very complex and contradictory view of religion as a force in the world — capable of nurturing the worst of violence and the best of care.
He also offers a penetrating view of the self-defeating liberal-conservative/secular-religious divide on global issues as in our domestic political life. He is one of the voices waking up the world to the global scourge of sex trafficking. He believes that this will ultimately galvanize the moral consciousness of this century as slavery galvanized the 19th century. But he is watching with dismay as, for now, the two most effective activists on this issue — liberal feminists and conservative Christians — cannot agree on a shared vocabulary for describing the problem, much less join their energies.
We spend a lot of words these days on the way journalism is changing — usually with an eye to the technological and financial pressures that are changing it. Nicholas Kristof embodies deep cultural shifts that are also transforming journalism as we have known it. His journalism is a new paradigm, I think, one I’m now grateful for. I’ll call it journalism as a humanitarian art. And I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.