Tibetan Buddhist monk talks compassion

In the last two weeks, the ruling junta in Burma, responding to pro-democracy protests led by Buddhists, has thrown hundreds of monks in jail and used military forces to keep many more under house arrest in monasteries.

Half a world away, a Buddhist monk told a crowd of USF students and community members Friday that compassion could lead to world peace.

“The Buddha said there is one dharma, one thing, that if fully understood will ensure that complete awakening is in the palm of your hand. What is that one thing? This one thing is compassion.”

Before an audience of more than 100 students and community members on the first floor of the Behavioral Sciences building, Buddhist monk Ugyen Tenzin preached about the power of compassion and nonviolent resistance.

“I’m hoping the audience comes away with a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, Buddhism in general and in particular Tibetan Buddhism,” said John Napora, adviser of the USF Anthropology club. “Also, the talk might give people the chance to consider the role of compassion in their lives, and how to actualize it on a daily basis.”

The lecture, “Expanding Compassion in Daily Life: A Tibetan Perspective,” was part of the Anthropology Lecture Series.

Tenzin, speaking through a translator, began his lecture with “greetings of auspicious goodness,” and then proceeded to discuss the subject of compassion in the context of Buddhist teachings.

“It is essential to cultivate this quality within oneself,” said Tenzin, “If we wish to create peace, well-being and prosperity in the world, it is equally necessary that we cultivate compassion.”

Compassion, from the Buddhist viewpoint, is knowing and recognizing that all sentient beings suffer, should be free from that suffering and deserve to achieve happiness,

Tenzin said.

He also said compassion begins with one’s parents. When a person appreciates his or her parent’s kindness, it gradually spreads out until he or she has taken in all sentient beings.

The basis for the cultivation of compassion comes when people take into account the suffering of everyone else in the world, and its magnitude overwhelms their own struggles.

“Please develop this quality of compassion within yourselves,” Tenzin told the audience. “If you do this while you’re young, then when you get older you will have developed a very rich and deep sense of compassion.”

The lecture was scheduled from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., but questions from the audience did not conclude until 6 p.m.

After talking about Buddhist practices and other beliefs with compassion, Tenzin said that no matter what one’s faith is, compassion is essential and important. It is not limited to Buddhism.

Many students asked questions about self-defense and how to show compassion toward those with evil and hateful intentions.

In response, the 52-year-old monk said the ultimate form of self-defense is a person’s


When there will be harm to others, and it is in one’s power to stop it through non-violence, then it is appropriate to take action, Tenzin said. When it comes to those who wish somebody personal harm, he said that that person must practice patience, because with that he or she can withstand whatever happens.

When there is immediate danger, Tenzin said “there is nothing better than taking refuge,” and sometimes all a person can do is flee.

If a person has unshakable faith, then no one can cause him or her real harm, and the concept of friends and enemies is all just an illusion, Tenzin said.

Tenzin received the Acharya degree (Master of Buddhist studies) from Nalanda Institute and Sampuranand Sanskrit University, jointly, in 1991.

After a decade of teaching, he returned to Bhutan, where he went into retreat at Tang Kunzang Drag Monastery.

He had been in retreat until Oct. 24, 2004, when the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, asked him to help the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in New York. He has taught there since May 2005.