Tricycle‘s newest intern, Alexander Caring-Lobel, despite having not yet worked a full day in the office, just spent the last few days in Atlanta covering the 2010 International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama’s current visit to the US.  Alex is a graduate of Emory University, completed the  Emory Tibetan Studies/Institute of Buddhist Dialectics Program in India, and is currently studying classical Tibetan at Columbia.

via an email I just received,

Yesterday, the International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism came to a close, wrapping up four days of Tibetan Buddhist events at Emory University.  The Tibetan Buddhist extravaganza in Atlanta comprised of two overlapping programs: “The Visit” of HHDL and the International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism.

HHDL began the visit with a teaching to the Buddhist community on the nature and practice of compassion, as requested by Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta.   The first event was plagued by serious acoustic problems that led many people to leave before the teaching had finished, but the large, dedicated majority stuck around to glean whatever wisdom they could from the audible fragments.  His Holiness commended the scientific and technological achievements of humanity, but noted that such progress has coincided with great destruction.  “If responsibility for the welfare of people is kept in mind,” he stated confidently, “[technological achievements] will not be destructive, but rather, will be used constructively.”  He thus introduced the necessity of responsibility, a theme that would echo throughout the rest of the visit.  He said that although one is ultimately responsible for one’s own happiness, the future and happiness of the individual is dependent upon the larger community, which therefore has a responsibility to foster the conditions suitable for happiness.  In this holistic view of happiness, the essential role of compassion becomes clear.

HHDL also participated in conversation with religious leaders from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the Interfaith Summit on Happiness, with scientists in the Conference on Compassion Meditation, and in a session in which he answered questions from Emory students and faculty.  He also participated in a conversation with Richard Gere and Alice Walker about what was supposed to be about art and spirituality, but veered off into a nevertheless fruitful conversation after HHDL comically admitted “personally, I’m not that interested” in regards to beauty in art.  The blindingly-bright-monster-star-celebrity of His Holiness and Richard Gere combined to fill the venue to absolute capacity in a way that His Holiness’s conversations with theologians and scientists had not.  Richard Gere’s immense power was further confirmed by receiving a shout out during the opening session of the International Conference from the Most Venerable Khamba Lama for inspiring the younger generation to learn about and practice Buddhism.

The International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism produced rich conversations in an array of areas, from Tibetan Buddhism’s dialogue with science, to its status in western academia, to new ways of organizing social engagement.  The conference drew such distinguished guests as H.E. the Ganden Tripa (Rizong Rinpoche), professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Gelek Rinpoche, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Hon. Lodi Gyari Rinpoche, Jeffrey Hopkins, Robert Thurman, recent Tricycle interviewee Matthieu Ricard, and the list goes on and on…

HHDL inaugurated the conference, reiterating the need to keep responsibility in mind and suggesting that students of Buddhism return to the key, foundational texts of Buddhism rather than over-focus on those used as textbooks by only particular sects and institutions (he used Lama Tsong Khapa in the Gelug tradition as an example).  Samdhong Rinpoche later closed the conference with a humbling reflection on the once bleak future of Tibetan Buddhism.  He recounted that when he first arrived in India, it was rare to find monks in proper robes, and it appeared as though Tibetan culture would all but disappear.  Now, at the conclusion of the conference, he rejoiced in the proliferation of Tibetan Buddhism.

Check back for summaries and commentaries (they’ll be more pertinent, I promise!) on key points covered during both “Visit” and International Conference events.

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