Geshe Thubten Chonyi was born in Solu Khumbu, Nepal in 1962. Lama Yeshe and Ven. Max Matthews visited the area to recruit children for the newly-developed monastic school at Kopan, so Geshe-la went to Kopan when he was 12 years old. After studying at Kopan for six years, he went to Sera Je Monastery in 1980 at the suggestion of Lama Yeshe and Lama Lhundrup, Kopan’s abbot. He studied at Sera for the next 17 years until he received his Geshe Lharampa degree in 1997, after which he spent a year studying tantric teachings in the intensive curriculum of Gyume Tantric University. Geshe-la returned to Kopan in late 1998, and early last year Lama Zopa Rinpoche asked him to be the resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre in Singapore. Geshe-la was interviewed by Low Chwee Beng.
What would be your main duties here?
I am going to each here for maybe two, three years, not sure. My main aim is to give some teachings.
You are going for a retreat in a few days’ time. What is the purpose of going for retreats generally?
Firstly, going for retreats will help a person to gain enlightenment more quickly. Secondly, before you can give initiations to others like Tara initiation, you must have received such initiations yourself.
In your opinion, is it advisable for every Buddhist to go for retreats?
Yes, if possible. It is a good thing. If you have enough time.
In Singapore, you will be teaching highly urbanized, materialistic people who do not have much time to study or practice the Dharma. How different do you think your approach must be for your teachings to better benefit them?
I will try to teach using simple, practical examples. I may have two classes: one for beginners and another for people who’ve been studying the teachings already.
Sometimes Buddhism is said to be passive and not very pragmatic. For example, when we are with others, we are advised to be “the lowest of all” and “offer victory to others.” In the context of the modern life, where one has to be competitive, how can you explain these teachings to the people in such a way as to be relevant to them?
It depends on one’s motivation. If one’s motivation is always to succeed and beat others in business, then one creates suffering for oneself. But if one’s motivation is not simply to make profit, but more based on necessity, then one won’t create much suffering. If you have the competitive thought – “I want to be richer than him” – with this kind of motivation, then if you don’t get profit, you will get lots of suffering. However, if you don’t have this kind of competitive thought, even if you do big business, then even though may earn a lot of money, you will not face many problems.
One of the main activities here is animal liberation. Very often animals are released, re-caught and sold, and some animals are often born and bred in captivity and cannot survive when “liberated.” Bearing this in mind, how beneficial are such activities from the point of view of the animal and the liberator?
Actually, it is beneficial from your own side if you have the full thought to liberate the animal. Of course, if you can do so in such a way that other people cannot catch the animal, then it will be best. If not, still it is beneficial. It even helps the one who catches the animal because he will not kill the animal.
Last year, I saw at another place a person releasing very small birds and as soon as they were released, crows came and ate them. What is the karma of the person who releases birds like this?
If a person’s motivation is to liberate the birds, he will not create negative karma because he did not have the intention to kill the birds. But if you know that if you release those birds in that place and they are going to die, then you should release them somewhere else which is safe. The person who releases the animals should find out the best method of liberating them. Find out whether and how the animals are going to survive or to be safe before releasing them.
How do we put the bodhichitta motivation (that we recite in our morning prayers) into actual practice given that we have to earn a living in our busy daily lives?
If it is possible, one must train in the practices of Seven Point Mind Training and Exchanging Oneself for Others. You can practice in this way – in the morning when you recite your prayers, you generate the bodhichitta motivation. With this motivation, then whatever work you do in the day, your mind is conjoined with this thought of benefiting all sentient beings. Your mind will then become developed.
In Buddhism, the results of good actions done on auspicious days are multiplied. Similarly, the good effects of virtuous deeds can be multiplied by reciting certain mantras. How do the teachings explain this?
Actually, this was said by the Buddha himself that when you do virtuous deeds on auspicious days, your merits will multiply. By reciting certain mantras, your merits will also multiply. The Buddha also said that you must analyze it in terms of the three kinds of phenomena. For example, manifest phenomena, where you don’t have to use your logic, you can see directly. Another type of phenomenon is the hidden phenomenon. To understand these kinds of phenomena, you have to apply reasoning to establish and help them. The third kind of phenomenon is the extremely hidden phenomenon, which you cannot see directly and which even by logical reasoning you cannot prove it. It is difficult to prove logically that merits of virtuous actions done on auspicious days multiply. For these kinds of phenomena, you need to have faith (to accept that they happen.)
From where does the power of the mantra arise – is it the sound, the meaning?
Even if the mantra is said wrongly, it still has an effect. For example, if you see a beggar and you cannot understand what he is saying, you would still know that he is begging. So, for example, if you are reciting the Buddha Shakyamuni mantra, even though you might pronounce it wrongly, Buddha Shakyamuni would still know that you are taking refuge in him and asking for his help and you will receive the blessings. Even if your mind is wandering when you say the mantra, the mantra is still effective because of the power of the mantra. But if your mind is concentrated on the mantra, then it will be most beneficial.
How can a student here benefit you best?
By attending classes.Tags: geshe thubten chonyi