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A Buddhist holy man says hello in Hebrew

By Shiri Lev-Ari, Ha'aretz, Feb 2, 2005

Tel Aviv, Israel -- On the stage of the Tzavta hall in Tel Aviv, instead of amplifiers for electric guitars or other props for one of the fringe plays staged there, this time there were items of a different sort scattered about: a light-colored sofa with pillows, wreaths, colorful Tibetan drawings and a Tibetan flag with a picture of the Dalai Lama.

The audience rose to its feet when Jhado Rinpoche, wearing the purple and orange cloak of a Tibetan monk, his right arm exposed, entered the hall this past Sunday. With a boyish smile on his face, he stood on the stage, bowed in the traditional manner and said hello in Hebrew.

Jhado Tulku Rinpoche, a leading teacher of Tibetan Buddhism now visiting in Israel, generated much excitement in the Buddhist community here. For seven years, up until recently, he headed the Namgyal monastery, the Dalai Lama's private monastery located in Dharamsala in northern India's Punjab, where many Tibetan exiles now reside.

Rinpoche came to Israel to teach Buddhism, but he is well aware of where he has landed and is not cut off from what is going on in the region. He will run workshops on inner peace and meditation at Neveh Shalom and at Kibbutz Tuval, visit Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and tour Tel Aviv, but he will not for a moment forget the political conflict here. He also believes that the Buddhist approach has some suggestions to offer in dealing with the political confrontations.

At an event in his honor in Tel Aviv this week, he spoke about the principle of nonviolence advocated by the Dalai Lama in the face of the Chinese occupation of Tibet that began in 1959. "Our way does not try to achieve victory for a few and defeat for others, rather it tries, by relating directly to Buddha's teachings, to work using nonviolent methods and fair behavior," he said. "That is what makes the Tibetan people unique."

The Chinese destroyed everything

From the age of three, Jhado Tulku Rinpoche has lived in the monastery and studied the wisdom of Buddhism. He was born in Namtso-khar in northern Tibet in 1954. His name consists of three titles: Rinpoche is a Tibetan term for a senior teacher, tulku is a familiar term for reincarnation, and Jhado is the name of a famous monk whose soul, according to Tibetan belief, travels from one person to the next. When he was two-and-a-half years old, Rinpoche was recognized as the sixth reincarnation of Jhado and immediately afterward entered the monastery with his mother.

His mother, ill since his birth, died shortly after they came to the monastery. One of the monks there, Chenzola, took him under his wing and raised him. Chenzola is now 85, and Rinpoche sees him as his father, teacher and beloved friend.

When Rinpoche was four-and-a-half, the Chinese invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled to India and at the monastery it was decided to smuggle out the young Rinpoche as well, who was considered holy. He joined a group of monks who fled on foot across Nepal to India. For nine years, he lived in northern India and studied.

In 1972, he entered the Sera Je monastery in southern India, where he studied for some 20 years and reached the highest level of Buddhist studies. Afterward, he received oral transmissions and oral instructions from the Dalai Lama and his two main tutors. In 1997, the Dalai Lama appointed Rinpoche abbot of the Namgyal monastery in Dharamsala, where the exiled political and spiritual leader of Tibet prays and conducts religious rites.

In 1986, Rinpoche traveled to Tibet in the hope of visiting his father, only to learn that he had passed away some months earlier. Rinpoche has a large family there - sisters, nephews and cousins, most of them living as nomads, and contact with them is maintained via occasional visitors to Tibet. The Chinese government censors letters and phone conversations.

"When I returned to Tibet in 1986 I saw that nothing remained of my monastery," he relates, "It was completely destroyed by the Chinese. The area where I grew up was transformed into a region of nomads, people live in terrible poverty. There is no education system, and the children do not go to school. Whatever the Chinese could take, they took. Whatever they could destroy, they destroyed. What did they give in return? Nothing. I promised myself that if the situation changes for the better and I have the opportunity of returning to Tibet, my mission will not be to rebuild my monastery, but to build schools for the children, give them an education. That is my responsibility."

Young Tibetans, he says, dream of fleeing to India where they can get Tibetan education, because only in India is that possible.

A connection between peoples

This week, in honor of Rinpoche's visit, Tzavta screened the documentary, "What Remains of Us," featuring a Tibetan woman now living in Canada, Kalsang Dolma. She traveled to Tibet to show the residents there a five-minute videotape of the Dalai Lama relaying a message of peace and encouragement. The documentary shows poor and oppressed Tibetans and the ruins of temples and monasteries.

Hundreds of people filled the halls at Tzavta this week for the Rinpoche's visit. Even the organizers, the Friends of the Dharma and the Yativ organization (a Hebrew acronym for Friends of Tibet in Israel), were surprised by the turnout. Sometimes it seemed as if it was easier for Israelis to deal with the Chinese occupation of Tibet than with the Israeli occupation.

What do Israelis have to do with the oppression of Tibet? "That's a fascinating question," says Yasmin Halevy of the Friends of the Dharma organization. "I constantly ask myself that question as a political person, even though the organization itself is not political." When she was in Dharamsala last summer, lots of Israelis came to study Buddhism, she said, and some of them "made the connection between nonviolence and the prohibition against killing living things and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

Gila Panafil, Rinpoche's Israeli student, who has lived in Dharamsala for the last seven years, relates that the spiritual center there is visited "not only by Israelis, but also by Westerners in general who have become fed up with the institutional defilement of religion in the West and are still searching for universal, humanistic values." Panafil says there is a unique connection between the Jewish people and the Tibetan people. "Both have experienced in their histories similar things: persecution, mass killings, religious and cultural oppression, life in exile, the danger of assimilation and the threat of destruction."

Rinpoche also cites the similarities between the two peoples. "The Jewish people, like the Tibetan people, suffered so many persecutions, suffered through the Holocaust, suffered through exile and wandering," he says, and the English interpreter next to him mumbles: "The Palestinians did, too."

Using peaceful methods

Rinpoche follows the philosophy of the Dalai Lama when it comes to conflict: Avoid a violent conflict and maintain a desire for frank dialogue. "Only nonviolence can bring about a stable and sound resolution of the conflict, a long-term solution," he says. "If we achieve independence by fighting, even if we win, these results will be temporary only because violence will again break out."

In the documentary film, Kalsang Dolma mentions the criticism leveled at the Dalai Lama's approach, that it is not leading to any real improvement in the Tibetans' situation. "Perhaps we are losing our state because all we have done is pray," she says.

Does Rinpoche believe that the young generation will also continue to support nonviolence and avoid fighting?"

If you're asking me to attest to the fact that the young generation will always support struggle using peaceful means, I can't," he says. "But if they persist, there is a very high chance of change in the Chinese approach. There is also an opportunity to broaden and develop the thinking. It is not true that all the Tibetans have done is pray, because for 10 years prior to 1959, many Chinese arrived in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and there was communication between the Chinese and the Tibetans, there were relationships and there was dialogue. It did not work out and after 1959 they occupied the country."

Asked how Buddhism might contribute to efforts to cope with political conflicts, he responds: "If the Tibetans were not Buddhists, presumably they would have used violence against the Chinese, used terrorism and attacks, suicide attackers with bombs. If we had done that, perhaps at the same time it might have provided us with the glory of fighters and publicity around the world, but in effect, the two parties in conflict would have continued to suffer.

"It's very important that people understand that violence is not a long-term solution. People have to be interested in seeing with the vision of his holiness the Dalai Lama, which opposes violence because violence destroys both sides."

What does Rinpoche foresee for Tibet's future? "I really can't say, but I adopt the viewpoint of His Holiness regarding the situation because it has proved itself," he says. "After all, even in China there is today more interest in and support for Tibet. There,too, there is movement in the direction of Tibet, and given that, I adhere to the path of His Holiness."



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