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Lama Geshe Thubten Jangchub: On the Rocky Path to Enlightenment

April 16, 2009

Trisha Sertori, Contributor
The Jakarta Post
April 15, 2009

The study of Buddhism is a rigorous journey of
science, philosophy and practice: An intellectual
pursuit rendered meaningless without a lifelong
dedication to understanding its ancient foundations.

For more than 30 years, Nepalese monk Geshe
Thubten Jangchub, or Jangchub for short, has
climbed the goat track of Buddhism, often
stumbling over rocks or sliding into the
crevasses of the religion's demanding landscape.
In that time he has twice met the Dalai Lama, a man he says he can believe in.

A light-hearted fellow dressed in the rich red
robes of his calling, Jangchub is quick to laugh,
his broad smile giving him more than a passing
resemblance to the Buddha he follows.

Jangchub was in Bali last week to give his
personal blessing during the Heart Shrine Relics
Tour, currently on show in Bali and Java.

The snowy mountains, brisk air and silence of
Kopan Monastery in Nepal make up some of
Jangchub's earliest memories. "When I entered the
monastery the teacher asked me how old I was. I
said I thought I was nine," says Jangchub,
counting off three joints of three fingers as he did as a child.

Education in the monastery was tough - days
started long before dawn with the standard school
curriculum from 6 a.m. followed by memorizing
Buddhist texts. For a Nepalese kid from Manang
village, studying those texts meant learning
Tibetan first, as the Buddhist texts are written in their original Tibetan.

"These days I can help monks with this because I
speak Nepalese and Tibetan," he says. "It can be
difficult for the monks to understand Tibetan,
which we use for the Buddhist philosophy debates."

These debates have honed Jangchub's thinking
skills; during discussions he threads Buddhist
philosophy with the talk of his boyhood. His
knowledge of the path is so rich he is able to
explain simply some of the essence of Buddhist
thought and how its practice can reduce conflict.

One example is the judgment of action rather than the judgment of people.

"There are many problems in the world. We have
wars and things like that. But we say a person is
not bad, but the actions are bad. For a Buddhist
to say someone was bad, we would need
supernatural powers to read their mind. I don't
know another person's mind," Jangchub says. "In
1,000 people there may be a new Buddha. We don't know."

After all, he says, it is possible the person
next to you is a Buddha in the making and to
judge their person is beyond the scope of humans.

It is this separation of people from their
actions that allows for the notion of compassion
- a deeply held Buddhist view of the world, based, Jangchub says, on love.

"The Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the
Chenrezi Buddha - the Compassionate Buddha.
Compassion is an active form of love. Compassion
is very important because in Buddhism compassion
means to not harm others. This is a truth in all religions," says Jangchub.

The exiled 14th Dalai Lama is so compassionate,
he adds, that he chose to remain on earth as a
bodhisattva rather than become a Buddha and be
forever removed from the cares of the world.

Getting to the root of those worldly woes and
attempting to reduce their impact is addressed in
Buddhist study and debate, says Jangchub,
explaining people can't get on without wars,
disagreements, jealousies and greed because of the "three poisons".

"The three poisons are anger, hindrance and
attachment. Because of the impact of these three
emotions we have wars, we are not happy," he says.

"These three emotions don't have legs, they don't
have mouths, but they control us and make all the trouble in the world."

He adds that recognizing these drivers in the
human makeup and working deliberately to reduce their hold can make us happier.

"We need to think about why we are angry; if it
is about revenge, when we take out the person and
only look at the action, our feelings of anger
subside. We are angry at an action and an action does not have a personality.

"When it comes to attachment we need to see
behind the attachment. We see something
beautiful, something lovely and that builds
attachment. In reality there is nothing there. It
is all impermanence," says Jangchub of the
ephemeral nature of life, which is guaranteed to
break down into its tiniest atoms over time.

This Buddhist viewpoint of impermanence extends
even to the soul, a philosophy at times at odds
with other religions on the fundamental questions
of why we exist. "Buddhists do not believe in the
soul. This is because the idea of a soul demands
permanence - an unchangeable state. Buddhists
believe rather in past, present and future life.
If we believed in the soul it would mean that
when someone passes away the soul would be unchangeable so could not evolve."

This intellectual element of Buddhism, Jangchub
stresses, is required of adherents of Buddhism.

"In Tibet, Buddhists believe in the three
elements of Buddhism: Buddha of Science, Buddha
of Philosophy and Buddha of Practice. People need
to know the religion - that is, the science. They
need to study the texts, the philosophy, and then
the practice of the chanting and meditation. The
problem lies in the fact that many people want to
jump straight to the chanting and meditation -
but the chanting is then hollow because they do
not know what they are chanting."

He has gentle advice for those who would take on
the shiny surface of Buddhism without also taking on its rigors.

"The study of Buddhism takes a long, long time.
But if people don't do that study it is meaningless."

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