For Tibet and for the World

From View, August 2008

What a blessing, what an honour—and what a joy—it is to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama back to Lerab Ling. I feel deeply moved that he has so kindly accepted to perform the official inauguration and consecration of our temple, the Institute of Wisdom and Compassion.

Today the whole world salutes the Dalai Lama as a leader of extraordinary moral stature and authority. As a spokesman for compassion, peace and human values, he occupies a special place in the hearts of millions, and, of course, he is the head of Tibetan Buddhism, a great scholar and teacher, and the much loved leader of the Tibetan people. His Holiness has been the guiding light and constant inspiration for all of our work in Rigpa over the last thirty years. Everything we have done, and especially this temple at Lerab Ling, has been as an effort to follow his guidance and to serve his vision. And it has all been possible thanks to his blessing and encouragement. In 2000, when the Dalai Lama visited Lerab Ling, blessed the site for the temple and gave teachings to over twelve thousand people, he told us:

“I am very happy that here, at Lerab Ling, a centre has been born which is destined to make Buddhist culture, as developed in Tibet, known in an authentic manner. For what counts is that it is an authentic representation of Tibetan Buddhist culture, and so can provide an example, and bring about intercultural exchanges in France and in other places. I am convinced that this centre at Lerab Ling is already making a contribution and will continue to do so, more and more, towards a greater knowledge of the rich culture of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition...”

Even today, there are many people who are unaware that, until 1959, Tibet was a free country with its own distinct culture, language, history, art and spiritual tradition. What made it unique was that it was home to one of the last surviving wisdom cultures on earth. It was a land where one thousand two hundred years of history were devoted almost exclusively to one pursuit: the training of the heart and mind through spiritual practice. Century by century, as Europe passed through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, in Tibet, isolated from the rest of the world, the whole thrust of society, day and night, was directed towards cultivating the teaching and practice of Buddhism. So, while the West gradually mastered the outer world through science and technology, in the laboratories that were the monasteries and hermitages of the Himalayas, Tibet perfected the ‘inner sciences’ of the mind, every bit as precise and rigorous as the methodology of science. As a result, Tibet came to possess a unique cultural heritage, which is part of the cultural heritage of the world. As citizens of the world, it belongs to every one of us, and we would all be immeasurably impoverished were it to be lost, not least because what it has to offer the world is so urgently and vitally needed today.

One of the reasons we have built this temple at Lerab Ling is to create, as His Holiness indicated, a truly authentic example of the spiritual culture of Tibet, and a testimony to its uniqueness and its richness. Tremendous care was therefore taken so that this building would be constructed according to the very finest standards and canons of Tibetan sacred architecture. Exhaustive research was carried out among all the great Tibetan monasteries in India, Nepal and Sikkim, the advice of many knowledgeable masters was sought, and Tibetan and Bhutanese master artists and craftsmen were chosen to ensure that the painting, decoration, inscriptions, sculpture and carving were all of the highest quality. Some people have told us they think this temple may be the largest and most authentic of its kind in Europe or even the West. Our hope is that visitors will come away with a very complete and accurate impression, along with a new appreciation, of many aspects of Tibetan culture. We feel this temple will last as an enduring legacy long into the future, for our children’s generation and far beyond. I think of it as an offering to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who embodies so perfectly the wisdom and compassion of this tradition, and to the people of Tibet, who have undergone so much to make it available to us.

At the same time, we have also made this temple to be a home for the teachings of Buddha. The Buddhist wisdom of Tibet is a living experience that has been passed down in an unbroken lineage to the present day. So even more important than the outer temple will be the inner temple: the men and women who are practising, studying and experiencing the teachings of Buddha here. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a tradition of withdrawing from the world to pursue intensive spiritual practice in retreat for a period of three years and six weeks or, according to some interpretations, three years and three months. At the moment, there are four hundred people at Lerab Ling taking part in a three-year retreat, long-term students who have been with me in some cases for twenty or thirty years. With three thousand other individuals around the world following at a more gradual pace, we believe that a retreat on this scale is quite historic. Here in the temple, a continuous, authentic and accessible training programme in Tibetan Buddhism is taking place that will maintain the lineage and transmission of the two key elements of the Buddhist teaching: study and practice. And so, after this three-year retreat, the temple will continue always to be a place dedicated to practice and retreat, while gradually I would like to develop here a College for Buddhist Studies, equipped with a world-class library, to study the classical Indian and Tibetan Buddhist texts.

Another wish that is close to my heart, and in keeping with the vision of His Holiness and all my masters, is that eminent teachers will continue to be invited here from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, from other traditions of Buddhism, and from other religions too, so that Lerab Ling evolves into a spiritual centre that is truly open-spirited and ‘boundary-free’—in Tibetan, Rimé.

The aim of the Institute of Wisdom and Compassion is to offer the Buddhist teachings in the world as widely as possible. So at Lerab Ling, we will continue to refine our graduated education programme—a thoroughly approachable presentation of the complete path of Buddha—and teachers and carers will be trained here for the Rigpa centres around the world. Looking further afield, the Institute will also explore how the wisdom and compassion of Buddha can bring help to those who are suffering, whether in life, or as they approach death. Already we are doing excellent work in end-of-life care, and Lerab Ling will link up with the Spiritual Care Centre at our retreat facility, Dzogchen Beara, in southern Ireland. Hand in hand with this, we are keen to distil the essence of the teachings for mainstream secular education at all ages, and develop our Practical Wisdom courses for managers and business leaders. In engaging with the wider world in this way, Lerab Ling will partner the Tenzin Gyatso Institute in America, which is specifically dedicated to furthering the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

I would like Lerab Ling to reach out to other faiths, and also to play an increasing part in the life of the region, building on our good relations with the local community, Montpellier University and the caring professions, and on the connections that have already been made through our series of International Forums on Buddhism and Medicine. I see the Institute of Wisdom and Compassion progressively developing into a new kind of Buddhist centre, a crucible and meeting place where creative gatherings and encounters between various disciplines and traditions can happen, to benefit society.

Finally, let me invite you to imagine the long-term effect of just the simple presence of the temple on the landscape, and on all who come here. Let’s think about what it contains, and this magnificent statue of the Buddha, which is a replica of the famous statue in the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya in India, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. The Bodhgaya image is venerated by Buddhist practitioners of all traditions worldwide, and is considered the most sacred image of all, the quintessential statue of Buddha, which is why we sought to copy it as the central image in the temple. The Buddha at Lerab Ling, made in Burma through the ancient method of bronze casting, is a masterpiece, and quite unique; in fact, Tibetan masters who have seen it have remarked that they know of no image anywhere to compare with this Buddha. Following the precise traditional instructions, the entire statue has been filled with sacred relics gathered from all the great masters, including three relics of the Buddha given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as scriptures and mantras, and consecrated progressively at each level with special practices—all of it dedicated to creating peace and harmony in the surrounding environment and the world at large. In addition, the Buddha has been, and will be, blessed by many great masters and by all the practice accomplished within the temple. It is believed that to pray or meditate in front of such a statue, that is so replete and brimming with the blessings of the buddhas, generates tremendous positive power and merit.

This is why anyone who comes into the presence of this Buddha is struck immediately by its stillness and serenity. It exudes a tangible feeling of peace, so overpowering that any agitation or anxiety in the mind suddenly seems to shrink in awe, and just melt away beneath the Buddha’s compassionate, majestic gaze. The mind is disarmed, and falls silent. While all restless thinking subsides into a deep and unquestioning sense of well-being.

Alongside this statue, the temple also contains one thousand gilded Buddha images, copies of a masterpiece made by Nepal’s most accomplished statue maker, modelled on an original from the ancient Nalanda monastery, and specially selected for the temple on account of the unparalleled beauty of its proportions. Many other holy images, relics and exquisite thangka paintings, blessed by the saints of the past, are enshrined within the temple, each with its own story to tell. They include some of the most sacred images of Tibet. All in all, the blessings concentrated within this place are quite extraordinary, and simply to see the temple, I feel, will have a powerful and lasting impact on anyone.

Something I have always found inspiring is that through our acres at Lerab Ling runs a medieval pilgrims’ way to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Santiago became a place of pilgrimage because of the presence of the relics of St. James, one of Christ’s disciples. With so many holy relics of Buddha and other great masters enshrined in the temple at Lerab Ling, I am tempted to think that it, too, may one day become a place of pilgrimage, sending its blessings throughout the whole region, through France, through Europe, and to the far side of the world.

At this juncture, I wish to point out that the temple at Lerab Ling only exists because of the generosity, dedication and devotion of my students. My deepest gratitude and admiration goes to them all, because this was a group effort, truly a labour of love. In whatever way we choose to see it—as a representation of Tibetan culture, a home for Tibetan Buddhism, a centre from which to offer the Buddha’s teachings far and wide, or a place of pilgrimage for generations to come—we have built this temple because it is, we believe, one of the greatest contributions we can make towards bringing wisdom, compassion and peace into the world.

In many places today, people are recognizing that spiritual development is not a luxury, but a sheer necessity for our survival. Witness the almost desperate hunger and need everywhere for spiritual vision, and for the tools to negotiate the challenges of life, find happiness, and understand and transform the mind. This is why the very existence of spiritual centres like Lerab Ling has now assumed truly vital importance, because it is on the accessibility of spiritual teachings and the building of a spiritual culture that the very future of humanity depends.

This temple is for Tibet, and it is for the world. I pray that it may be of service to His Holiness and to the culture and people of Tibet. I hope that it will fulfil the deepest aspirations of His Holiness and all the great masters. And it is my constant prayer that Lerab Ling will live up to the meaning of its name: ‘a sanctuary of enlightened action’, and that, because of what happens here, many, many people will come to understand, experience and realize the truth of the teachings of Buddha, and bring immediate benefit and lasting happiness to both themselves and others.