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Home > Approaching Buddhism > Modern Adaptation of Buddhism > Suggestions Regarding Overseas Dharma Centers

Suggestions Regarding Overseas Dharma Centers

Alexander Berzin
Dharamsala, India, August 18, 1987

On August 18, 1987, at a private audience with His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, I reported to His Holiness on my recently completed fifteen-month lecture tour to twenty-four countries. I presented several suggestions concerning the operating policies of Buddhist Dharma centers in foreign countries. His Holiness indicated that it might be helpful to send these recommendations directly to the various parties concerned in these countries. Therefore, I should like to present the following observations and suggestions:

(1) The future of Tibetan Buddhism lies not in the hands of foreigners, but in the hands of the young generation of Tibetans. Since so little of the tradition has been translated and so few foreigners have the leisure time to devote themselves a hundred percent to traditional Dharma training in Tibetan Language, it will not be the foreigners who will be capable of carrying on and transmitting the lineages and initiations, or giving the fullest teachings and trainings in the foreseeable future. It will be the young Tibetans. Therefore, if every foreign Dharma center has a resident Geshe or Lama and translator, or aims to have them, and if these are of the highest qualifications, a serious brain drain will result. As most foreigners are too busy to be able to spare more than two sessions a week at the Dharma centers, the time of the Geshes and Lamas is mostly wasted, and the monks at many of the Indian monasteries are left with inadequate teaching facilities. As a result, high quality Tibetan Buddhism will be lost by the next generation.

I therefore recommend that Dharma centers form geographic clusters and that approximately four to six of them share a Geshe or Lama and translator. Geshes and so on need not be sent unless the centers are already well established, otherwise again their time will be wasted. These teachers could rotate residency in the centers, for instance one month at a time in each, so that they would visit any one center two or three times a year. When teachers are available constantly, they are often taken for granted and attendance can be low, since students lives are so busy with other commitments. If teachers come for only one month at a time, then since this will be a special period, students perhaps will be able to make the extra time to attend more regularly and intensively. During periods in between visits, students will have time to digest the teachings and put them into practice under the guidance of older students.

Also the greatest caution needs to be taken in choosing the Geshes, Lamas and translators, so that the highest quality ones are not taken out of teaching positions in India, Nepal, Sikkim, or Bhutan. If I might use an example, it is not necessary to have a world-famous professor of nuclear physics for learning arithmetic. If interest demands, however, there can be one center for a large geographic region where more intensive programs are held, but these need to be limited in number.

(2) There is still a problem of sectarianism in many centers of many of the Tibetan traditions, which is extremely divisive and dangerous for the future of Buddhism. As His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has always stressed, the most powerful antidote for closed-minded sectarianism is education. Although it is important for each center to maintain the purity of its own lineage and not mix all traditions into a confusing stew, it is essential that students be educated about other lineages and traditions of Buddhism, both Tibetan and non-Tibetan, so that they can see for themselves that nothing is contradictory in the Buddha's teachings.

I therefore recommend that Dharma centers be open to inviting guest teachers and lecturers from both Tibetan and non-Tibetan lineages other than their own. In this way, the students will be given a fuller Buddhist education, which can only be of benefit for promoting understanding, harmony and progress.

(3) In some centers, tantric deity and protector pujas are chanted in English, or other European languages, in large groups open to the public. These contain expressions such as "blood-drinker" and so on, which cause a great deal of strange ideas and bad impressions for newcomers and visiting parents. Therefore, I recommend that although the refuge, Bodhicitta, seven-limb and dedication prayers be chanted in one's own language, the tantric texts be chanted in Tibetan. For instance, Lama chopa could be done in Tibetan and its Lam-rim section be recited in English. This is especially recommended for public gatherings. Then those who wish to learn and know the meaning of the Tibetan will be motivated to study, and those who are just casual will not get strange ideas. Full translations of tantric ritual texts, then, need to be restricted to only private use.