Celebrating Lhakar Through Learning: Summer Buddhism Retreat 2012

Students pose for photo with Buddhist scholar and retreat lecturer, Geshe Thupten Jinpa

This past weekend, July 4th-July 8th, an estimated sixty high school and college students of Tibetan, Kalmyk-Mongolian, and Himalayan descent came from all over North America to attend a Buddhism Conference organized by the Office of Tibet, New York. This week for Lhakar, I decided to write about my experience at the retreat.

Last Wednesday I met up with friends at Grand Central station in order to take the MetroNorth to the Garrison Institute, a massively beautiful Buddhist center a little over an hour outside Manhattan. While waiting to purchase our tickets at the station we noticed that the person selling us our tickets was also Tibetan. She smiled as we told her that we were on our way to the retreat in Garrison and told us to have a safe trip. A girl standing next to us in line with a suitcase overheard us and asked me something in Tibetan. We had barely started our trip and yet we seemed to be meeting new friends before we even left the station. I invited her to sit with us on the train and talked as were on our way to a weekend of learning and new experiences. Although it happened so casually, I felt a great sense of solidarity in meeting these two Tibetans at Grand Central. They were both proud that we were attending the retreat and shared our excitement that we were about to learn new things about our unique religion.

As soon as we arrived at Garrison we were all impressed both by its beauty and outdoor space. After registering I looked at our schedule which included workshops on Karma and Rebirth, Buddhism and Science, Historical Introduction to the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Meditation class, The Six Paramitas, The Four Noble  Truths, The Eightfold Path, Compassion and Wisdom, Applying teachings to everyday life, and the Unique features of Tibetan Buddhism.  This was the third retreat I had the opportunity to attend in the past few years. I had been to two other Buddhism retreats presented by the Office of Tibet. Every year I see new changes in the structure of the retreat based off of the comments of the students. I can genuinely say that the organizers try to accommodate the students’ needs and expectations.

I found that many students attended the retreat for the same reasons I did. Many of them wanted their questions answered by these teachers, they wanted to see how Buddhism and Science could be connected, and they wanted to find their own sangha. In the video below you can see some of the participants explain why they wanted to attend.

Each year, I kept coming back because I noticed that by attending, I was able to create my own sangha, something I’ve never really had before. I have never had friends with whom I could discuss Buddhist philosophy or theory. In my youth I would read a lot of Buddhist texts but would always have many questions after sitting and reading on my own. I would often ask my father who has a monastic background from Nechung Monastery but I often felt uncomfortable asking him certain questions because he was my father. I find that it is helpful to find teachers who could provide a different opinion or way of looking at something.

This retreat was so beneficial to me because I was able to ask teachers like Geshe Thupten Jinpa, Gelek Rinpoche, Lama Pema, and Geshe Dadul Namgyal questions in the dining hall or during our breaks. We talked in such a comfortable manner that I immediately felt at ease and less intimidated asking questions or stating my opinions. While the teachers were speaking I noticed a common theme in all of their messages. Each teacher mentioned the importance of sustaining the Tibetan language, exploring ourselves as people through looking at our behavioral patterns and habits, and accessing our strengths and weaknesses as individuals.

They urged us to study things that are not only in our professional interest, but in our interest as human beings and said that life was more fun that way anyhow. There were so many great quotations from the teachers there that I found myself quickly filling up my notebook, looking for more space to write. I felt extremely lucky to have spent Lhakar with these teachers, realizing what a unique opportunity it was to think about how Buddhism influences our identity and culture. I am so grateful to the organizers, teachers, and participants from whom I was able to learn so much.