Tibetan refugee communities throughout the world stand at a crossroads.  Faced with the fundamental demands of daily life—employment, housing, medical care, sustenance—Tibetans have found that their native culture in exile is imperiled as well.  And of course conditions in Tibet itself are often far worse:  religious freedom, freedom of expression, and an authentic Tibetan education have all virtually disappeared from the country.

So even though the situation is especially challenging here in America, it is very important that we make a concerted effort to preserve and develop Tibetan culture, insuring its survival for the younger generation.  The problem is a many-sided one and demands a creative and flexible approach.  Many parents, steeped in Tibetan culture, lack the pedagogical skills necessary to present it in a way that will be both attractive and authentic.  And often, parents who do have the necessary skills must seek employment outside of the home, and hence are unavailable to provide the needed instruction.  Consequently, Tibetan children are sent to American public schools where they will spend inordinate amounts of time watching television and playing video games—precious time that could, from the Tibetan perspective, be spent profitably learning the fundamental traditions of their native culture.

Westerners, of course, have long been fascinated with the spiritual traditions of the East, and with the arrival of the first Tibetan lamas in America in the 1970’s, they gained access to a form of Buddhism that has in less than fifty years found widespread acceptance around the world.  The kinds of empirical knowledge and scientific accomplishment that we associate with the West, while it has much to recommend it, has left the spiritual dimension largely unexplored.  It is no surprise, then, that many Americans look to Tibet and their great teachers as their authoritative guides to happiness and inner peace, the vital components of the human spirit that the West has left largely unexplored.  As we enter the 21st century, coming face to face with the stark realities of the global village, Tibetans and their ancient traditions of non-violence and compassion stand to make, if preserved, a significant contribution to solving the problems that loom on the horizon—over-population, sustainability, and outmoded notions of imperialism, aggression, and war.  And while there are many Tibetanists from the West who have done honorable work in bringing Tibetan culture to American and European universities, it is vitally important that Tibetans themselves take responsibility for the survival and growth of their own traditions.  It is essential that Tibetans become the stewards of their own culture.

And of course in refugee communities, whether in large cities in America or the smaller, rural settlements in South India, this act of preservation has faced substantial difficulties.

Geshe Thupten Dorjee is deeply familiar with this situation among Tibetans currently living in America.  And he is ideally qualified to offer a curriculum that would begin to remedy this problem. Geshe la’s obvious command of Tibetan culture and philosophy make him imminently qualified to design and teach such a course, and these qualifications need no elaboration. But he has also had extensive experience within the American educational system.  Since 2006, for example, Geshe has worked with Professor Sidney Burris, Director of the Fulbright College Honors Program at the University of Arkansas, to design and teach a full range of courses that would authentically represent the Tibetan traditions, while remaining comprehensible to the American student.  Their work has been successful.  In 2008, Geshe won the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Arkansas Alumni Association.  In 2007, Professor Burris and Geshse Dorjee established The TEXT Project, an oral history program designed to allow Arkansas students to record the stories of elderly Tibetans living in India, and in 2010, Professor Burris and Geshe Dorjee were awarded the John A. White Award for Faculty-Student Collaboration.  With this kind of practical experience negotiating the American curriculum, Geshe la is imminently qualified to assist Tibetan children as they attempt to adapt to American culture while becoming well versed and fluent in the ways of their homeland.

Accordingly, Geshe has developed a week-long program for Tibetan children, designed both as an introduction to the subject and as a model for an eight-week, comprehensive curriculum that would expand on the fundamental topics of the week-long course.  Analogous to the Tibetan Children’s Villages Summer Camp (http://www.tcv.org.in/summer-camp.shtml), an educative program in South India for Tibetan children living abroad, Geshe la’s course would center on an examination of the Five Sciences of Tibetan Culture (philosophy, logic, grammar, medicine, and the arts) and would include explorations of the Four Noble Truths, the Six Paramitas, and the Sixteen Guidelines of King Songtsen Gampo, all of which are central to a grounding in Tibetan Buddhism.

The Preservation of Tibetan Culture in Exile

Components

  • Five Sciences (philosophy, logic, grammar, medicine, arts)
  • Four Noble Truths (truths of suffering, origin of suffering, cessation of suffering, and path to cessation)
  • Six Paramitas (generosity, ethical discipline, patience, enthusiastic effort, concentration, wisdom)
  • Twelve Links of Dependent Origination
  • Sixteen Guidelines of King Songtsen Gampo (1. respectfully worshiping the three jewels; 2. practicing sublime Dharma; 3. honoring one’s parents; 4. honoring learned scholars; 5. honoring and respecting elders and those ordained; 6. being loyal and benign by avoiding temperamental relationships with one’s friends; 7. being honorable as well as one is able towards people in one’s locality and neighborhood; 8. being honest and incorruptible; 9. following examples of the gentle and decent; 10. living a moderate life free from extreme means of livelihood; 11. repaying kindness to the generous; 12. avoiding deceptive conduct and fraud; 13. avoiding jealousy of others’ belongings and cultivating friendship with all; 14. avoiding the influence of evil and deceptive acquaintances; 15. not listening to or engaging in gossip and other divisive speech; 16. being patient and far-sighted and enduring hardships in carrying out one’s duties)
  • Mind and its functions in Tibetan Buddhism
  • Altruism, love and compassion
  • Meditation

Schedule (Monday through Thursday)

Classes will be designed with certain grade levels in mind, but they will be suitable for all levels.  All students are encouraged to attend classes outside of their grade level.

9 – 10:20 AM: Preservation of Tibetan Culture and Heritage; the Buddha and his Legacy (grades 5 and 6)

10:30 – 11:50 AM: Philosophy of Tibetan Art (grades 7 and 8 )

12:00 – 1:00 PM: Lunch (Tibetan cuisine?)

1 – 2:20 PM: Tibetan Religious History, First and Second Dissemination of Buddhism (grades 9 and 10)

2:30 – 3:50 PM: Advanced Buddhist Philosophy (Four Seals and Four Noble Truths, etc) (grades 11 and 12)

3:50 – 4:20 PM: Break

4:20 – 5:40 PM: Electives in Tibetan language, reading and writing OR arts and crafts (wood-carving, tanka painting, sand mandala, butter art, dress, dance, drama, music, et al)

6:00 – 7:00 PM: Dinner

7:00 – 8:45 PM: Children and Adults: Open Discussion, Questions and Answers

Thursday’s session will include presentations/exhibits given by the students reflecting their elective coursework.  Parents are encouraged to attend.

Cost/Funding

Tuition will be gratis.

Preservation of Tibetan Culture

Components

  • Five Sciences (philosophy, logic, grammar, medicine, arts)
  • Four Noble Truths (truths of suffering, origin of suffering, cessation of suffering, and path to cessation)
  • Six Paramitas (generosity, ethical discipline, patience, enthusiastic effort, concentration, wisdom)
  • Twelve Links of Dependent Origination
  • Sixteen Guidelines of King Songtsen Gampo (1. respectfully worshiping the three jewels; 2. practicing sublime Dharma; 3. honoring one’s parents; 4. honoring learned scholars; 5. honoring and respecting elders and those ordained; 6. being loyal and benign by avoiding temperamental relationships with one’s friends; 7. being honorable as well as one is able towards people in one’s locality and neighborhood; 8. being honest and incorruptible; 9. following examples of the gentle and decent; 10. living a moderate life free from extreme means of livelihood; 11. repaying kindness to the generous; 12. avoiding deceptive conduct and fraud; 13. avoiding jealousy of others’ belongings and cultivating friendship with all; 14. avoiding the influence of evil and deceptive acquaintances; 15. not listening to or engaging in gossip and other divisive speech; 16. being patient and far-sighted and enduring hardships in carrying out one’s duties)
  • Mind and its functions in Tibetan Buddhism
  • Altruism, love and compassion
  • Meditation

Schedule (Monday through Thursday)

Classes will be designed with certain grade levels in mind, but they will be suitable for all levels.  All students are encouraged to attend classes outside of their grade level.

9 – 10:20 AM: Preservation of Tibetan Culture and Heritage; the Buddha and his Legacy (grades 5 and 6)

10:30 – 11:50 AM: Philosophy of Tibetan Art (grades 7 and 8 )

12:00 – 1:00 PM: Lunch (Tibetan cuisine?)

1 – 2:20 PM: Tibetan Religious History, First and Second Dissemination of Buddhism (grades 9 and 10)

2:30 – 3:50 PM: Advanced Buddhist Philosophy (Four Seals and Four Noble Truths, etc) (grades 11 and 12)

3:50 – 4:20 PM: Break

4:20 – 5:40 PM: Electives in Tibetan language, reading and writing OR arts and crafts (wood-carving, tanka painting, sand mandala, butter art, dress, dance, drama, music, et al)

6:00 – 7:00 PM: Dinner

7:00 – 8:45 PM: Children and Adults: Open Discussion, Questions and Answers

Thursday’s session will include presentations/exhibits given by the students reflecting their elective coursework.  Parents are encouraged to attend.

Cost/Funding

Tuition will be gratis.