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Community Articles, Southern States
His Holiness the Dalai Lama Visits Memphis
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Khenpo Gawang

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Khenpo Gawang

Tuesday, September 22, His Holiness the Dalai Lama opened a three-week tour of North America in Memphis, Tennessee. His Holiness was the recipient of the 2009 International Freedom Award given by the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the former Memphis motel where civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

Pema Karpo Meditation Center, founded by Khenpo Gawang, prepared and offered a traditional Tibetan Chemar Ceremony upon his arrival at the hotel. There are five Tibetans in Memphis: a couple studying at the University of Memphis and their young son, Khenpo’s attendant Dorje Rabjee, and Khenpo Gawang. Khenpo greeted His Holiness with a deep bow and a long white khata (offering scarf) while the other Tibetans, in traditional clothing, held high the Chemar Box, filled with a barley flour/butter mixture and wheat berries, and a bowl of barley beer.

His Holiness greeted Khenpo Gawang and then offered a pinch of Chemar and a finger flick of beer for the well being of all. Khenpo introduced him to Thich Hai Vien, the abbot of the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple adjacent to Pema Karpo and to several members of the center. Lining one side of the hotel walkway was almost all of the 73 members of Pema Karpo dressed in their best and holding katas. His Holiness slowly walked past them touching and blessing. It was a heartfelt and unforgettable few precious minutes.

Pema Karpo Meditation Center

Pema Karpo Meditation Center

After the greeting Khenpo was asked to write a letter in Tibetan to His Holiness describing his activities in Memphis. In the letter, Khenpo said he was studying hard and teaching regularly in English. He explained that dharma was new to this area, the students had a sincere desire to learn and practice, and that Pema Karpo (www.pemakarpo.org) was the only western buddhist center with a resident Tibetan teacher for hundreds of miles around. Khenpo described the ongoing work of translating Ju Mipham’s texts and commentaries into English and that the central practice of the center was the Sadhana of Shakyamuni written by Mipham. Knowing His Holiness’ interest in aiding Tibet he included the humanitarian projects in Kham, Tibet. (www.munselfoundation.org).

The next morning at 7:45 AM, Khenpo arrived at the National Civil Rights Museum to be part of the official meet and greet. When His Holiness came at the place where Khenpo Gawang was standing, it was clear he had received the letter and was pleased with him. Then His Holiness toured the National Civil Rights museum and tied a khata on the wreath that hangs on the railing outside the room where Dr. King stepped out onto the balcony for fresh air and was shot.

His Holiness was presented the Freedom Award at a luncheon attended by about 700 people. He said the tour of the National Civil Rights Museum and standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel was “sad, but gives a conviction to fight for human rights.” He spoke of religious harmony and developing inner peace. His Holiness urged the women listening to him to become leaders in developing compassion, “I call myself a feminist. Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights?” He emphasized women’s biology and role in raising children gives them a natural reserve of compassion which men sometimes lack. This received strong applause from the women and our brothers at the luncheon.

Pema Karpo Sangha Waiting For the Dalai Lama

Pema Karpo Sangha Waiting For the Dalai Lama

That afternoon His Holiness gave a sold-out two-hour public talk on developing peace and harmony: “We need to work together. We need to protect the planet. With fear, harmony is impossible. We need trust. Trust is the basis of compassion. Distrust brings fear. Fear brings violence. Fear brings loneliness and depression. We all come from the same place. We are all brothers and sisters.” The humor, directness and naturalness that His Holiness embodies were apparent to everyone at the talk.

Very early Thursday morning, a call came for the Tibetans to come immediately to his hotel room for a short visit. His Holiness told the local Tibetans that they were the representatives of Tibet in Memphis and it was their job to do good things.

Then turning his attention to Khenpo Gawang, His Holiness asked him about his birth place in Tibet (Nangchen area of Kham) and where he had studied and trained in India (Namdroling Monastery and Shedra). Then he asked what texts he was teaching in Memphis and the Khenpo replied, the Khenjug or Gateway to Knowledge by Ju Mipham.

“Tibetan Buddhism is a very special Buddhism because it teaches the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Within Tibetan Buddhism one can find all of the teachings of the Buddha,” said His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness continued by telling Khenpo that he approved of his activities and then recommended that he teach Longchenpa’s text, Drupta Dzod or The Precious Treasury of Philosophical Systems to western students. This text discusses the philosophical tenets of the entire spectrum of Buddhist teachings–Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Dzogchen.

Saying, “I did this and it is very very good,” His Holiness recommended he specifically teach part of another text by Longchenpa called Semnyi Ngalso or Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind. Within it is a type of lojong (mind training) that is done over 100 days. A practitioner is given a daily contemplation to be meditated upon and so slowly covers the entire path of teachings. The Khenpo plans to begin translating this section so he can teach it.

“Later,” he told Khenpo, “you should teach Choying Dzod [The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena by Longchenpa] but start with the Drupta Dzod.”

After about 15 minutes of conversation, His Holiness ended the visit by saying, “Oh, we have to take a photo.”

Khenpo Gawang joyfully summed up the whole visit when he said, “It was just like having a gold boulder roll through your front door. With almost no effort we had these blessing for Memphis and Pema Karpo.”

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