Wednesday, May 19, 2010

His Holiness gets to the Heart of the Matter

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!

These are the words of the Mantra given by the Buddha in the Heart Sutra. Translated it means: "Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Totally Beyond, Enlightened. So be it!". This is what His Holiness came to Indiana University to explain to an enthusiastic crowd of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and other interested students of the Noble Laureate. For those who have never had the opportunity to hear His Holiness (and this was my first time) he really does project an incredible aura of peace and calm.

On Saturday he was at Conseco Field giving a public talk entitled "Facing Today’s Challenges with Wisdom and Compassion". His public talks are designed for general audiences and focus on ideals common to all religions such as peace, compassion, and forgiveness, but his 2 day/ 3 session address at IU was designed for the sangha, the community of Buddhists. It was our opportunity to receive the wisdom of the Buddha through this great spiritual teacher.

The day started with chanting from the monks of Drepung Loseling, where I attend teachings in Atlanta. One of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Phende, was leading them. It was inspiring to say the least. The crowd was restless with anticipation, with a low din of conversations around the auditorium, but as soon as the monks stood signifying His Holiness's entry, all activity ceased until he finished his prostrations and climbed onto the throne and let out his signature laugh which can sooth anyone's soul. He began by addressing the interfaith members of the audience. Trappist monks, Catholic Bishops, Several Protestant ministers and a Muslim Imam were on the stage. Also on stage with the monks was his English interpreter, Geshe Thubten Jinpa. I mention him because he deserves endless respect for his ability to retain everything His Holiness was saying and relay it in full to the audience. At one point, His Holiness was on a role explaining the historical context of the sutra and didn't stop for translation for 20 minutes. The crowd let our a giggle when Geshe Jinpa was giving the nod and started with a long, " Sooooo... ummm".

The Heart Sutra is a very difficult scripture to explain. It conveys the core of the philosophy of emptiness around which Buddhism centers. I had been preparing for the teaching for weeks, studying different commentaries and reading His Holiness's book "The Essence of the Heart Sutra". (Thank goodness I did.) Yet, despite the complexity of the subject matter, everyone in attendance was able to come away with an overwhelming dose of his wisdom. My mind was racing all they way home, attempting to digest everything that was conveyed during the teachings. I also left realizing that I had been in the presence of an incredible human being; his teachings had already left a lasting impression on me but now, having been blessed to be in his presence, I knew it had been a time I would never forget.

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