Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Master from the New Generation - Geshe Thubten Sherab

Originally posted on Mandala Magazine in 2007

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I was born in 1967 in a very small village of about two hundred people in the province of Manang, which is in the western part of Nepal. Because my parents had five sons, they wanted at least one or two of them to join the monastery; it is an honor and a way of accumulating merit for the family. My parents had a disagreement about who should join the monastery, me or my younger brother, and finally they decided on my younger brother. They brought him to Kopan Monastery, but Lama Yeshe rejected him, saying that he was too young, although Lama had accepted others of the same age. I guess he didn't have the karma in this life to be a monk. Then my parents brought me to Lama Yeshe and Lama accepted. So I had the karma.

At that time I wasn't against becoming a monk, but at the same time it wasn't my own decision. It was more or less like going to school. When I was around eighteen, as any normal teenager I struggled a lot, not knowing whether it was best for me to continue or to disrobe. But then, just before I went to Sera, I made the strong decision that being a monk continuously was how I was going to spend my life. Maybe that was when I became fully-ordained in my own mind. It was at that time that I was walking with one of my teachers, the late Geshe Jampa, from Kathmandu to Kopan. He mentioned that the Manang people are all extremely devoted, but they seem to lack an understanding of the Dharma. He told me that it would be good if I could help them understand more, so this had the biggest impact on me and made me want to go to Sera and study in depth.

Also, I had the opportunity to meet extremely great Geshes like Geshe Jampa Gyatso and Geshe Doga who came to Kopan to teach, as well as the late Geshe Jampa, and of course Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Lama Lhundrup and Geshe Lama Konchog. All of these teachers really inspired me to study. I had great respect for them; they were like role models for me in the way, say, Michael Jackson was for teenagers at that time.

For beginners in the Dharma, the most important thing is to try and integrate one's study and practice. You can see some who are only into study, only intellectual ... They have knowledge like a computer, knowing everything but nothing really touches the heart.

I studied in Sera Je Monastery for the Geshe degree from 1987 to 2000. Now I am so happy that I made that decision and I sincerely appreciate and thank my teachers for their guidance. I feel gratitude to my parents especially for not supporting me to disrobe at that difficult time.

What has influenced me greatly, during that time and since, has been spending time around my teachers and observing how they practice, how they engage in their daily lives. One example most of Mandala's readers will understand is being around Lama Zopa Rinpoche. It is so inspiring to see how Rinpoche practices and spends his time. It is a similar inspiration for me with my teachers at Sera.

After I completed my Geshe studies, I went to Gyume Tantric College for a year and then I was sent to the United States to help at FPMT's International Office, as well as teach at the study group and the center there in Taos, New Mexico, and also at Santa Fe. I was there for two and a half years and then returned to Nepal. I did enjoy myself in the U.S. and to some extent I wasn't sure if I should return to Nepal. In the end I made the decision to return; otherwise, I thought, "If I don't go now, I will be stuck here in the U.S. forever."

My role at Kopan Monastery is as Headmaster. This carries more responsibility than the previous Headmasters as the role has greatly expanded. Overall, I am responsible for the education, supervision, and standards of three areas at Kopan: the school, the debate training, and the Tantric training.

The role of a Geshe in Tibetan society is to teach the Dharma and share their knowledge in the monasteries, schools, and amongst the lay people, but unfortunately I think that this is not happening as much as it should from the Geshes' side, and also from the lay people's side. The Tibetan lay people are not like Westerners in that they are not interested in learning the Dharma in depth. They are just happy doing Kora, chanting prayers, and making offerings, etc. Hopefully, the younger Tibetan generation will want to learn the Dharma in more depth.

From the Geshes' side, maybe we need to be more giving in terms of our time to the Tibetan lay people, especially where there is not much income, amongst the poor, in places like Mongolia, Nepal, and parts of India. I also think we can't take for granted that people should respect us because we are a Geshe. In order to gain respect from people internationally, we need to work hard through our practice and our qualities, instead of merely having the label of "Geshe."

Absolutely, we need to think more broadly about ways to benefit more people, whether they are Buddhist or not. My view is that it doesn't matter whether people follow in the traditional way of practicing or even if they are Buddhist: There are so many good aspects of the Dharma that we can share with them. We sincerely need to respect all of the other religious traditions, not just with our mouths, but right from our hearts. We have His Holiness the Dalai Lama as an example of how to treat all other religions with respect.

Then there is also the case where some people do no study, thinking that all they need to do is practice. But how can you practice if you haven't studied? Study is really crucial.

We also need to understand Western culture and psychology so that we, as Geshes, can be more effective and bring more benefit. However, as Geshes, we should not take too many liberties in changing the traditional Dharma way of doing things, just because it doesn't suit the Westerners' way or because they don't like it. We should always think of the long-term benefit and not just short-term results.

For beginners in the Dharma, the most important thing is to try and integrate one's study and practice. You can see some who are only into study, only intellectual, and in this case they become very dry in their hearts. They have knowledge like a computer, knowing everything but nothing really touches the heart. This kind of individual becomes very arrogant and tends to look down on other people with less learning.

Then there is also the case where some people do no study, thinking that all they need to do is practice. But how can you practice if you haven't studied? Study is really crucial. Also, without study, a wrong teacher can easily misguide, take advantage of, and exploit students. I want to emphasize that this is my own personal view and I don't mean to imply criticism of anyone.

Finally, my request of students is to integrate study and practice together, which has always been the advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Interview and transcription by Frank Brocks, Kopan Monastery on February 10,2007.

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Word List:
  • to reject: to refuse to accept or consider something
  • late: no longer alive
  • lack: not having something or not having enough of something
  • impact: the powerful effect that something has on somebody/something
  • to engage: to succeed in attracting and keeping somebody's attention and interest
  • extent: used to show how far something is true or how great an effect it has
  • broadly: generally, without considering details
  • to integrate: to combine two or more things so that they work together; to combine with something else in this way
  • crucial: extremely important, because it will affect other things

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