Visit to Buddhist center strengthens writer’s Christianity
The laws of cause and effect are underpinnings of Buddhist teachings, so said Arjia Rinpoche who heads The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Southern Indiana.
Set within a 103-acre nature preserve, the TMBCC houses a teaching center, a Buddhist temple, spiritual art sculptures and lodgings. All faiths are welcome. If intent is indeed transformed into physical energy, then it is a place where peace is palpable.
Recently, I was there as part of The National Society of Newspaper Columnists, which was invited to a cultural afternoon of Tibetan song, food and Buddhist serenity. There we met Arjia Rinpoche.
In Tibetan tradition, he is recognized as the incarnation of the Tenth Panchem Lama who is considered the second ranking figure in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. “Rinpoche” is a title given to a reincarnated being of a previous holy person.
Appointed by the Dalai Lama, Arjia Rinpoche became the center’s leader in 2006, after the passing of Thubten Jigme Norbu (Takster Rinpoche), the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama who founded TMBCC in 1979.
It is said you begin with the face you are born with, and you end up with the one you deserve. Arjia Rinpoche’s face is unlined, long practiced in kindly calm. The small-statured monk is a twinkly Puck.
He explained how the selection of a Dalai Lama is based on a search for the reincarnation of the previous leader, who is a manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion. Tsamba balls with the names of candidates are swirled in water and drawn.
“It’s like a Lama lottery,” he chuckled.
His gentle humor and tranquility are not the products of ivory tower solitude. In fact, his absence of bitterness is remarkable. Arjia Rinpoche endured twenty years of indoctrination during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
In 1958, he was only 8 years old in Tibet when threats and humiliations forced him to adopt Chinese Communist ways, but he secretly kept his Buddhist identity through the help of his father.
His “re-education” included long years of hard field labor. Under relaxed Chinese control in 1979, he was reinstated as the abbot of the 600-acre Kumbum Monastery, the oldest and largest in Tibet.
But in 1998, China again threatened spiritual strangulation and Arjia Rinpoche escaped to Guatemala, eventually seeking asylum in the United States with the help of the Dalai Lama. His experiences are detailed in ‘‘Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama’s Account of 40 Years Under Chinese Rule’’ ($24.99 April 2010, Rodale, Inc.). At TMBCC, all book proceeds fund a cancer care hospital in Mongolia and building a library at a Tibetan refugee camp in India.
“Buddhism is a philosophy. Buddha is enlightenment. Doing good things leads to enlightenment,” said Arjia Rinpoche.
The monk further explained that Buddha is not a god, but rather an enlightened being. Enlightenment is attained mainly through wisdom and compassion. Human love is limited, so one strives for unconditional love.
The laws of cause and effect, action and consequence come into play. Buddhism is a practice of daily mindfulness through meditation, which allows the release of negative thoughts and acts as a spiritual strengthener.
Later we strolled amid birdsongs through lush greenery toward the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple. On the way, the white, 35-foot high Jangchub Chorten is abstractly shaped like a sitting Buddha.
An open-air tunnel has 10, revolving bronze cylinders with symbols, which passersby can spin, the idea being to send prayers out into the universe. The Kalachakra is a large, exquisitely handcrafted sand mandala that was blessed by the Dalai Lama during one of his six visits, the most recent one in May.
The temple interior is infused with serenity. I love being in spiritual spaces. Whether they are churches, temples or sacred spots in nature, I can sense the infusion of prayerful peace created in layers over time.
My visit was a reminder about the direction of my own daily thoughts since they do create cause and effect. My brief Buddhist respite improved my Christianity.
It brought to mind Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”