Words of Wisdom 4
April 2021


Rinpoche on Modernity

Photo credit: Pawo Choyning Dorji 
We’ve so enjoyed being able to connect with our sangha and friends through some recent online events, and we’re pleased to bring you highlights of those meetings. Recently, Rinpoche has been speaking about how to teach, practice, and communicate the dharma in this era of technology and new media. He continues to express how relevant the dharma is to seekers today, using language and imagery that resonate with all kinds of people, especially the younger generations.

We’ve also been thinking about how we—the Buddhist stakeholders, teachers, khenpos, rinpoches, masters—need to learn to talk to people now. At the moment, for a lot of young people the image of Buddhism is of something very boring and controlling, especially for the Chinese. I think it has something to do with good behavior, becoming a good human. Of course, this is particularly challenging because I can’t say, “Hey, Buddhism has got nothing to do with becoming a good human or a well-behaved person.” Of course, I can’t say that. But the problem is that this well-mannered, good-behaving kind of thing is actually hijacking Buddhism. It’s the greatest obstacle. When all Buddhists care about is morality and ethics, Buddhism is dead.

At the recent Green Tara puja in Taiwan, Rinpoche said, “We tend to make people think [that to practice] you need to sit, chant, meditate, not eat this and that, be a monk, all these restrictions—and this is totally wrong. We always say there are 84000 methods, but then when we implement it, we always implement just one.” Khyentse Foundation aspires to think in this way as well. How can we support all kinds of people, programs, and methods, with the goal of reaching people where they are, whether they are aspiring scholars or practitioners, monastic or lay people, Asian or Western?  The term modernity is actually quite broad, so we must remain open and flexible as we look for new ways to connect with people, using innovative and interesting techniques.

Modernity, of course, is just another way of saying that all compounded things are impermanent. This needs to be practiced. It’s funny that some of us lamas talk about how all compounded things are impermanent and yet everything we do is like we have no clue about this. We seem to want to go back to the old way of doing things. Of course, we don’t want to modify the core teachings, then the whole point would be lost, but the way it is taught, how it is taught, to whom it is taught—this is something that KF can do. We need to explore this area, how to incorporate modernity.

A New Approach  

This may happen in many, many different ways—not necessarily just as teaching, meditation, or yoga, but it could come in all kinds of forms, even like fashion. I’m also exploring ideas about modern retreat. When we think about retreat, many of us think of mountains and caves, something solitary. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be in a New York penthouse, or in a Ginza street. I’m thinking about who will teach people and guide them. Not necessarily someone who looks like me, like a religions person. We aren’t talking about choosing a guru or a spiritual master, but kalayanamitra, a spiritual friend or companion. It could be a businessman, a businesswoman, an architect, a doctor, a lawyer, all talking about nonduality, mindfulness, all that. This is something I think we can brainstorm about in the coming year.


New Grant Opportunity – Trisong Grant

KF is also pleased to announce our new grant opportunity, the Trisong Grant. This new program will seek out those who are exploring nontraditional methods of sharing Buddhist wisdom while remaining rooted in Buddhist experience and practice. Find out more about the Trisong Grant program.


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