Cultural Differences

Cultural Differences

Date Posted:
October 2009

A Western woman translating for a Tibetan geshe at an FPMT center in Europe wrote to Rinpoche to express concerns about cultural differences between the teacher and herself, both as a Westerner and as a layperson. She commented that the geshe seemed always to be thinking chauvinistically and in terms of hierarchy, and that he was interested in money.

My dear Sonia,
Thank you very much for your dedication and service to FPMT and to benefiting sentient beings. Remember every day that the purpose of your life is to benefit others, and that the highest and best benefit is revealing Dharma to sentient beings. Even for the Buddha, this is the highest way of guiding and liberating sentient beings. Therefore, your translating the Dharma is the most important, most beneficial way for liberating sentient beings and also yourself.

Dharma practice is not the practice of attachment; it is not the practice of self-cherishing thoughts. The practice of Dharma is to devote to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and to practice bodhicitta. This means practicing to be the lowest, as it mentions in the second verse of the practice of the Eight Verses of Mind Training. This means to think, “I am at the service of others. I am here to serve others; this is the purpose of my life.” What service? To free others from suffering and bring them to happiness, especially ultimate happiness.

What is the reason for allowing oneself to be used by others? It is for their happiness. That is the real bodhicitta. That is what letting go of the “I” is: giving the victory, the happiness, to others and taking the difficulties, the sufferings, onto oneself. Enlightenment can be achieved with this practice. If we are unable to do this practice, although we all have Buddha nature and therefore can achieve enlightenment, it doesn't happen.

You mentioned in the letter that the geshes who come to the centers like money. Well, it depends on how we look at it. It is extremely rare to have a resident teacher who is an enlightened being. Even to have one who is a bodhisattva is extremely rare. Even one who is an arhat…just to meet a virtuous friend who is a fully ordained monk is rare. Just to learn the Dharma that shows the unmistaken path to happiness is also rare. There are so many teachers whose methods are meaningless, just a waste of life, and not only a waste, but whose methods will only lead to suffering. The world is filled with so many people like this, even though they are called spiritual teachers.

Even if someone is an enlightened being, it doesn't mean we are able to see the person as an enlightened being. When Buddha was in India, the Hindu followers who were competing with Buddha didn't see Buddha as a fully enlightened being filled with infinite compassion toward other sentient beings. They just saw him as an ordinary being. For 22 years, Bhikshu Lekpai Karma saw Buddha only as a liar.

I understand that you are expressing your personal feelings about the teachers. Well, you know, in the early days, Western people used to have very high opinions of Tibetan teachers, because of having read books about Tibetan Buddhists like Milarepa and other great holy beings, with their talents and powers. For them it was almost as if Tibetan teachers were practically enlightened, free of delusions and karma. Now Westerners are closer to teachers and have more understanding about the culture of Buddhism. However, still, there are many good qualities. Even if teachers are not arhats, even if they have delusions and karma, still they can be very good.

Thank you very much for expressing your feelings. I wanted to chat with you. Thank you for your service. People are very happy with your translation.

So, now we have to enlighten everyone in your country, including the cats, dogs, rats, and cockroaches.

I am happy to receive your kind letter, and also that you expressed your feelings. Therefore, I am talking to you from heart to heart.

With much love and prayer...