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Wisdom from Lama Tenzin

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This past week our school was lucky enough to be visited by Lama Tenzin, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, who also joined us last year in preparation for our annual Peace Week. He spent his time in the Dolan Center atrium, crafting a very detailed and beautiful mandala. He also talked to classes in all three divisions about his work and the importance of compassion. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to interview him and ask a few questions.

Ellie: What is the history behind the mandala?

Lama Tenzin: It has a long history. It was taught by Buddha 2,500 years ago, it was transmitted from teacher to student without broken lineage in India, and then when it came to Tibet in the seventh century. The teachings also came to Tibet in the monastery traditions and the monks and the nuns did a lot of mandalas. So when we came to India in 1959 with the Dalai Lama, we also rebuilt every tradition, and now the monks and nuns go everywhere in the West to show these and tell about the meanings behind these mandalas. 

Ellie: What does this specific mandala represent? Are there meanings behind all of the designs in mandalas?

Lama Tenzin: There are many many different mandalas, but this mandala is particularly a model of compassion; it’s like a map of compassion. If you look at each and every symbol or color or design, it talks about what compassion is, how it can be developed, what are the obstacles that come on the way when you develop compassion, particularly the benefit of compassion; how necessary it is for our lives to bring peace and happiness. So this mandala is a model of compassion.

Ellie: Do you think there are similarities between Quakerism and Tibetan Buddhism?

Lama Tenzin: Oh, a lot of similarities. I don’t know much about quakerism, except that on my first night here, I had dinner with Joy (Lai) and Alison (Doherty) and I asked Alison what Quakerism is all about, so I heard from her how humbleness, simplicity, and compassion are a part of it. There’s a lot of similarities. 

Ellie: Do you have any advice for our community on how we can incorporate peace and compassion into our lives?

Lama Tenzin: I think we need it, you know? We need it, particularly in your generation. People try to solve the problem with a gun, thats not the way. Solve the problem with compassion, caring, mutual understanding, mutual respect. The best way to solve a problem is with love, kindness, compassion, and respect. Your school teaches about how to become smart, but theres no textbook or teacher or class on how to be a good human being. So I think it’s very important to have a complete education. It’s not only to make your brain smart, but also make this self-centered heart into a warm compassionate heart. If we do this, then world peace will come. That’s why compassion is extra important; it doesn't matter which religion you are, which language you speak, it’s for everyone.

It was an honor to get the chance to meet with Lama Tenzin, and to learn about the history of mandalas, the significance of the one he created for our school, and how we can continue to incorporate peace into our lives, in an increasingly violent and hateful world.

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