YARMOUTH — With a smile as bright as his robes, a visiting Buddhist monk humbly accepted gifts from Yarmouth High School students Monday afternoon. In return, he spoke to them about the gift of compassion and love.
It was the second time Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobzang Tsetan has visited the high school. Last year, he came to speak about meditation.
Sophomores Ben McNaboe and Carley Westerfield and junior Harry Pascarella were a few of the students waiting in the school’s entranceway with flowers, books, artwork and candles for the monk. Rinpoche laughed, bowed and thanked each student individually as they greeted him.
“I am here because I am interested,” Westerfield said. She was not a part of any student group.
Other students were members of the Siddhartha Club, Safe Passage and the Global Action group.
Senior Morghan Najour, one of the leaders of the Siddhartha Club, said the group was formed to raise awareness and money for the Siddhartha School in Ladakh, India, founded by Rinpoche in 1995.
“We try to raise money to support the school that will maintain the Ladakh culture and traditions, and provide education for the students,” Najour said.
The school educates students in kindergarten through 10th grade who were previously illiterate. The students learn four languages, history, math and Tibetan Buddhist teachings.
“It is interesting to hear him speak about his culture,” Najour said. “He has had amazing life experiences, and I hope those that hear him speak can take away something important.”
When Rinpoche was just a child, he decided to live a monastic life. He and his father walked from their hometown of Stok, Ladakh, India, to Shigaste, Tibet – an 800-mile trek they completed mostly barefoot.
After studying at the Tashilungpo Monastery, he went home to teach high school, then traveled to America to teach at the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in New Jersey, and at Smith College, Bates College and Wesleyan University. In 1996, the Dalai Lama named him the head abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in South India, but Rinpoche wanted to focus on his school. In 2005, the Dalai Lama asked him again, and this time he he accepted the head abbot position. Rinpoche is acting for the Panchen Lama since he and his family were taken by the Chinese government when he was a child.
Rinpoche, a small bubbly man of 73, still laughs like a child. He told the audience he was an ordinary, simple man and was there to share his experiences.
He started the discussion with a prayer, and urged the audience to treat their friends, family and enemies the same way a mother treats her children. He spoke of unconditional love, compassion and acceptance. He said a mother gives every part of herself to her children forever – her body, her rest, her support, her advice, her money. He said to treat people in that manner is to embrace compassion and is an example of unconditional love.
“Compassion is on the road to enlightenment, it is the most important role,” he said “It is our responsibility to take care of others, because in other lives they have cared for us.”
He encouraged students to find peace and happiness within themselves. He encouraged them to realize problems such as depression, anger or sadness may alter people’s actions, but not to judge them for those problems. He said if the source of anger, jealousy, or sadness can be found within, people will treat others with more respect, compassion and understanding. He said to find true happiness, people must change themselves.
“We must find the super love and peace within ourselves, not out there,” he said. “There is time to change yourself, no time to change others.”
Rinpoche said it was important that everyone find mental peace and self-acceptance. He said with compassion, peace and understanding will fall in place.
“Don’t think you can’t do anything, he said. “You can do anything, you can change the world.”
He encouraged students to be respectful of their parents and teachers and said it was their job to be honest and intelligent.
“Keep compassion with you and compassion will be your best friend,” he said. “Compassion will help you to be strong, like a mother, like a parent.”
In order to help the monk’s nonprofit school, the Siddhartha School Project, was formed and is based in Freeport.
Sara Crisp, secretary of the Siddhartha School Project board of directors, brought Rinpoche to the high school for Monday’s discussion. She said she and her husband traveled to Ladakh 25 years ago, and have participated in Rinpoche’s teachings in Freeport and Portland.
Crisp said donations can be made to purchase school supplies, to help support the school or to contribute to a scholarship fund for students. She said for about a dollar a day, students can be sponsored. There is also a video and book available that explains Rinpoche’s teachings and offers information about the school.
To read about Rinpoche or to make a donation to the Siddhartha School, visit siddharthaschool.org.