Geshe Gelek Chodak is the new resident lama at Kadampa Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. Here are edited excerpts from an interview in the center newsletter Prayer Flag, conducted by Don Brown and Katherine Gamewell Williams. Translated by Sherab Lama.
I was born and lived in Sikkim until I was seven years old when I decided to join Sera Je Monastery. My family are farmers in Sikkim and includes [my] mother, father and [their] five children. They live in the eastern part of Sikkim in a place called Gnathang, 15,000 feet [4,572 meters] above sea level and 400 kilometers [249 miles] from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
What do you find the most satisfying part of being a monk?
The most satisfying part of being a monk is keeping my vows. I have kept all my vows.
What is the most difficult aspect of being a monk?
The difficulties of being a monk are quite insignificant. From a social point of view, there can be inconveniences, for example when I am invited as a guest to restaurants where there is alcohol being consumed or there is some sort of entertainment in which I cannot participate because of my vows. Especially here in the West, this sort of situation can easily occur; but, I have the confidence to control myself and keep my vows. So, basically, there are no difficulties in being a monk.
After you completed your education at Sera Je and Gyume Tantric University, did you expect to have the sort of teaching assignment that brought you here?
No. Lama Zopa Rinpoche discussed with Yangsi Rinpoche, one of my classmates, the need for a resident teacher at Kadampa Center. Yangsi Rinpoche knows me very well and had visited the center in the past. He recommended me to Lama Zopa. Lama Zopa did some investigating and then sent an email to me at Sera Je offering this opportunity to me. So, I accepted.
What would you like to accomplish by being a teacher at Kadampa Center?
I pray to be able to contribute to the betterment of the center in accordance with the wishes of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Presently, I have two objectives. First of all, I would like to see the center facilities be larger, expanded, and relocated in more quiet surroundings with smaller retreat cabins nearby. Secondly, I would like to see all practitioners improve the quality of their practice, and, for whatever subject they are studying at any time, to have excellence in the quality of the teachings they receive.
First, I wish to meet with center members, discuss goals, get their opinions, and build a team for accomplishing those goals.
How should the Dharma spread in non-Buddhist communities such as Raleigh, North Carolina?
I think the most important action is to let as many people as can share by word of mouth how to be kind, compassionate to others, to love your neighbor as yourself, how to be kind to enemies, how you can learn from them, and so forth. The essence is how to be kind and compassionate. This is what Buddhist teachings are about. And if the word spreads like that, it could help a lot of people, and make people judge for themselves the benefit. Then Buddhism would spread, and people themselves would come.
But I myself feel that it is very negative to try to turn people from one faith to any other faith. If people take that kind of method of converting others, that is very wrong. But simply to share the method of compassion so as to help others – to spread that by whatever means one can from individual to individual – this would help Buddhism to be useful and flourish. And any particular means is as good as any other, and it can be done one person to another or by an organization. The point is to share with others the meaning of compassion and the benefits of being compassionate.
When one explains to another generally about love and compassion, kindness, and so on, it’s not always good to mention the name of the Buddha; one does not need to do that. But only when people are interested and ask how they can handle this, how they can study this, then one can describe Buddhist practice, refuge, and so on. In this way people are gradually motivated by their own experience.
I have observed that, in the West, people take positions quite swiftly which, in my view, is not so good to do. They have to observe. They have to experience this. And only when they feel they are committed should they then take steps toward becoming a Buddhist. They must think seriously, not take a position in haste or in emotion. There is a vast difference between becoming a Buddhist by the influence of the arguments of others, and becoming a Buddhist by the influence of one’s own decision. So that is why I would want anyone to think seriously before making such a decision.
I wish to strongly urge all Kadampa Center members to consider that we are like a huge family. At the center, as in a huge family, an atmosphere of love, compassion and understanding toward each other is very important. If there are any gaps in this kind of family connection among center members, I wish you to re-introduce yourselves to each other, restore any communication which has been lost, and become closer. In that way, we can become a strong, large family where we share harmony, compassion, kindness and patience. This will be the basis, the seed of the center’s future development.
Unlike other institutions where people go for intellectual learning, our center is a place where the atmosphere must reflect what we practice – compassion, tolerance, being kind to others, love and understanding – all that. Without a word, people entering the center for the first time should be able to feel that atmosphere. Newcomers should feel this is a center where people are like a big, happy family in which they receive warmth, feel very welcome, and know they can be part of it. That reflection should be there if we are good practitioners.
As I said, the center is not an institution where we learn intellectually, or for the sake of academic reasons, but a place where we create community – create and feel it. For that reason, if there have been any misunderstandings, or any unpleasant happenings that have occurred among members, it is now time for all of you to share taking initiatives in eliminating them and to gain momentum toward having a harmonious place.
I have observed that among people gathered in one room there is a habit of keeping distance among neighbors, among social circles, because of different walks of life or professions. It could be very helpful, if once you are in the center, you eliminate that habit. There should be no differentiation among you which makes for any separation. You gather in the center for a common purpose, but there still can be a sense of keeping away from each other. I feel that once you are in the center, you should forget about that habit and know each other more closely. This could be very, very beneficial.
This kind of improvement of quality of the center cannot be accomplished by means of money or financial support. It is dependent on each and every individual’s action. So this is why I would like to request all of you to keep these things in mind.Tags: geshe gelek chodak