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A contrasting perspective: An alternative account of the Tibetan monk's visit

by Peter Zysk, Gonzaga Bulletin, Oct 24, 2008

Spokane, WA (USA) -- Last week's Gonzaga Bulletin coverage of Geshe Thupten Phelgye's speech at Gonzaga ("Tibetan monk visits Spokane, speaks at law school") was, to say the least, disappointing.

The Bulletin ran a story that was a biography of Phelgye masquerading as coverage of the speech event. It was obvious to me that the writer of the story did not even attend the event and the magic of Phelgye's presence and power of his message did not make it into print.

Phelgye, a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, spoke about Buddhist teachings for transforming hatred into love on Oct. 15. Phelgye's eloquence, sincerity, and humor captivated a full house at the Moot Court Room of the Gonzaga Law School that evening.

Phelgye's message was that anger, greed, jealousy, hatred and other "negative emotions" are caused by ignorance. Ignorance blinds people from seeing what is right and what is wrong, Phelgye said. When this happens, "negative emotions" take over and people act in unjust ways.

An analogy helped Phelgye teach this lesson. He said that if someone were to hit you with a stick, then you should get mad at the stick. The stick was what directly caused you the pain and the person who hit you with the stick only indirectly caused you the pain.

He said that the same logic should be applied to a person who acts out of hate. Ignorance is blinding the person who is acting out of hate and is directly causing their hatred, so it is the ignorance that one should be mad at. But Phelgye believes that getting mad at the ignorance solves nothing, and what should be done is to help cure a person of their ignorance. A person who is acting out of hate would not be acting in that way if they were in their normal state, Phelgye said, and they deserve compassion from those whom their hate is directed at to cure them of their ignorance.

Phelgye said that practicing compassion and learning to analyze the causes of hatred are what people should do to defeat hate. He cited a Buddhist teaching that everything and everyone in the world is interconnected. Since everything is interconnected, everything must have a cause and condition, he said, and if it has a cause and condition then it must have an end. Phelgye said that we must look at what the end of a problem is to see what the solution could be.

Phelgye's lessons were taught through stories from his own life and his own struggles with hatred. As a young boy, the elders in his village told him that he was a member of an "unlucky generation" because when his generation was born, Tibet lost its independence. He remembers being hidden in a closet by his father out of fear caused by a rumor that the incoming Chinese army would take all of the young boys away so that they would not grow up to be Tibetan. His family tried to flee Tibet to go to India, but they were caught by Chinese authorities and were put into concentration camps. After three years of escape attempts, Phelgye's family finally made it to India.

Once in India, Phelgye was consumed with anger toward the Chinese. He wanted nothing more than to fight the Chinese, even if it meant his death. At age 13, Phelgye went to the Indian military headquarters and tried to sign up for the military, but was turned away because of his age. The monk giggled as he recalled Indian soldiers feeding him candy for a week before sending him home.

Phelgye said that his life was changed forever when the Dalai Lama came to his school in 1972. The Dalai Lama's teachings touched Phelgye and he decided to dedicate his life to following the Dalai Lama. Phelgye joined the monastery in 1973 and gave up his hatred for the Chinese and instead devoted his life to love for the Dalai Lama

At one point during the lecture, Phelgye's cell phone started ringing and the monk burst into laughter. He told the audience that even in sessions of the Tibetan Parliament that delegates' phones will sometime ring and everyone will laugh, breaking the serious tone of their meetings. For those in attendance, Phelgye's ringing phone was a reminder that, despite living half a world away, he is not that much different from us.

Phelgye's message was powerful and his story was moving, but one would not have gathered that from reading the Bulletin last week.

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