Letters to the Editor
“Ask a Lama” Revisited
Dear Yangsi Rinpoche,
I am prompted to write to you after reading your article “Where are all the Western Geshes?” in the “Ask A Lama” section of the Dec 2006/Jan 2007 issue of Mandala.
The problem we have been facing is that we are not getting academically qualified lamas to teach in universities all over the world. There are many trained geshes at Sera [monastic university], but their training is not linked to any university system in India or in the world so that they are deprived of the opportunity of giving teachings in the Western universities, as well as the many students who want to learn from such highly-trained geshes.
I am sure there will be many Western geshes to come, but after training they can only spread the Dharma in centers and not in the general education systems of the world, from primary to tertiary education. I am calling upon your honorable good self to address this issue.
Archie Chan, Hong Kong
Yangsi Rinpoche responds:
There are examples of geshes integrating with the university system in various countries. Trungpa Rinpoche went to a university in London and received an education there. Because of that, he was able to communicate with Western students – there was no language barrier. Geshe Sopa was a Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin for many years. Lama Yeshe is a different example. He wanted to know the way that Westerners think, and even though he didn’t go to a university, this motivation to learn Western culture enabled him to really understand his students. In India, many geshes go to teach at the University of Sarnath which is run by the Indian government. Other geshes may go to teach at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala. Some go to teach at primary and secondary schools.
The perfect picture is for geshes to have the wish to help and the wish to understand their students from the culture in which they are teaching, as well as to be able to communicate directly with them. Beyond this, if they train in the university education system, this can be a condition to serve those purposes, though it is not necessary for a geshe to do this. These are the three things that are most important: first, that the geshe has a strong motivation to help their students and understand them from the basis of the students’ culture; second, that the geshes learn to communicate directly with their students; and third, that they have some knowledge of the education system if possible. This would make the perfect picture. Certainly it would be great if they could teach their knowledge fully at universities, but the venue where they teach is less important than their motivation.
Also, these days there is a lot of talk about learning the Dharma through service as well as through intellectual study – integrating the Dharma more fully into one’s life with study and meditation and then using that knowledge to benefit others through service. Some universities still rely on a purely intellectual model for education and there isn’t so much an emphasis on integration and service. Here, at Maitripa, we emphasize this integration. This is a good model in which to have geshes teach in the West and beyond.