Dharamshala — “Although we are in exile, we have been able to keep our culture alive, taking part in that is something to be proud of. I urge you to keep it up. Compare this to all those countries that devote their resources to the development of weapons. We pray for the welfare of all beings, but what we also need to do is to take practical steps to help them. We need to serve our fellow human beings,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama said during the 21st anniversary celebration of Norbulingka.
To mark the twenty-first anniversary of the inauguration of the Institute a completed set of 25 thangkas depicting the lives of the fourteen Dalai Lamas and their predecessors was presented to His Holiness the Dalai Lama upon his visit to Norbulingka on March 9th.
The project, almost 15 years in the making, was initiated by Norbulingka’s first Thangka Painting Master, Tenba Chöphel. The set consists of thangkas illustrating the lives of the Dalai Lamas, one for each of the first thirteen; three dedicated to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and nine more depicting previous members of the lineage, such as the Drom-ton Gyalwai Jungney and the religious Kings of Tibet.
The set of paintings is original and unique.
When His Holiness arrived he was escorted clockwise around the temple to view the paintings, each one lit from above. They were hung beginning in the present with the three paintings illustrating his life and progressed back through the previous Dalai Lamas and other figures who preceded them. His Holiness seemed pleased, several times picking out scenes that amused him and laughing.
Guests and staff alike were welcomed to this celebration of Norbulingka’s 21st anniversary. Founders of the Institute, Kasur Kalsang Yeshi and Kim Yeshi, as well as senior members of staff paid their respects to His Holiness while an extensive prayer for his long life was recited.
In the opening speech, Director Kalsang Yeshi paid tribute to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, declaring him to be the source of inspiration for the Tibetan people. Through his deeds, he said, Tibetan culture has come to be known the world over. He thanked him for coming once again to Norbulingka. Professing Tibetan language, religion and culture to be the heart of Tibet, he said that what they had been doing at Norbulingka was a small contribution towards preventing its decline.
Regarding the set of paintings of the Dalai Lamas he stated that in terms of quality of craftsmanship and materials used they were as excellent as could be. He expressed thanks to everyone who had contributed to bringing the project to fruition. He dedicated the 25 paintings with the wish that His Holiness live long and continue to help and guide living beings.
His Holiness began his address by acknowledging the good work that Norbulingka Institute has done to preserve Tibetan culture over the last 21 years. He noted the valuable contribution made by Kalsang and Kim Yeshi to this effort.
“Since we came into exile,” he said, “Tibetans have evolved into a unique refugee community. Not only have we preserved our culture, but we have found ways for it to contribute to the welfare of the world at large. Norbulingka Institute has had a role in that. Many who were part of it in the beginning, the Thangka Painting, Sculpture and wood-carving masters for example, are no more. They are but memories to us now. This reminds us that everything is impermanent and yet Tibetan culture has survived for hundreds of years.
“Buddhism was brought to Tibet from India in the 8th century by Shantarakshita, the erudite master of philosophy and logic from Nalanda. He advised the Tibetan Emperor to rely on his student Kamalashila should difficulties occur in maintaining the tradition. When we read the writings of these scholars today we can appreciate their eminent caliber.
“There have been ups and downs in our history, times what people were more concerned about their own tradition or region than Tibet as a whole. But the Buddhist traditions Shantarakshita introduced we have preserved and are one of the main things that have kept us together. Shantarakshita belonged to the Nalanda tradition and was a follower of Nagarjuna. I composed a Praise to the Seventeen Masters of Nalanda—that includes verses praising both Nagarjuna and Shantarakshita—in appreciation of their excellent understanding and scholarship. They explored the causes of suffering and how they can be overcome by training and disciplining the mind—employing logic and reason to deal with our emotions.
“People here at Norbulingka have been contributing to preserving our culture. As I already said, people serve the cause, they pass away, but the younger generation takes up the work. I’d like to thank you for what you’ve done and request you to keep it up.”
His Holiness observed that being in exile had allowed Tibetans to interact with other people in the world. In travelling abroad he noticed that while in some places material development was advanced, it was not always matched by inner development. There was a lack of peace of mind. This is where Tibetans have something to share. Buddhism can be understood as a science of mind, an understanding of the workings of the mind, including an understanding of how to deal with our emotions.
An important aspect of the Nalanda tradition preserved in Tibet is its use of reason and logic. It is this that has provided the basis for a dialogue with scientists. His Holiness explained that preserving culture also involves seeing how it can develop so there are now laboratories and science studies in the monasteries. Many of the monastic institutions that used to be concerned only with ritual now provided study programs. In nunneries too, encouragement to study has recently resulted in the award of Geshema degrees to qualified nuns.
He affirmed that despite difficulties Tibetans have not lost hope. He asserted that far from trying to convert others to Buddhism his concern is to see how Buddhist knowledge can be of help to others in the world. He explained how the 300 volumes of the Kangyur and Tengyur, the Buddhist literature translated largely from Sanskrit, can be categorized into science, philosophy and religion. While the religious material only concerns Buddhists, what the science and philosophy have to say can be of use and interest to anyone prepared to examine it. His Holiness reiterated that the Tibetan language is the most accurate medium for expressing this understanding.
“Although we are in exile, we have been able to keep our culture alive, taking part in that is something to be proud of. I urge you to keep it up. Compare this to all those countries that devote their resources to the development of weapons. We pray for the welfare of all beings, but what we also need to do is to take practical steps to help them. We need to serve our fellow human beings. That’s all, thank you, Tashi Delek.”
The occasion concluded with a recitation of the Prayer for the Flourishing of the Dharma. His Holiness left the temple to return to his residence, while the remaining guests were treated to lunch.