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Friday, December 7, 2012

Khenchen's Lecture on The Triple Gem

In one of the last Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas, there are a few rare Khenchens, which is a title given to an accomplished monk with years of study beyond a PhD.  There is one particular Khenchen who I am utterly blessed to run into from time to time.  Whenever I see him, I light up because he seems so divine: an awaken mind in a human body.  He is one of those unusual people who stops me in my tracks because I instantly recognize that this is a person who is purely humble and kind; I don’t mean that he conveys these simple, yet rare qualities, but what I am trying to stress is that he seems to be these qualities.  There is something unexplainably loving and wise about him that is difficult to describe, but easy to grasp when meeting him.

So when the humble Khenchen came to my school to give a two-hour talk in Dzongkha to our students about Buddhism, I didn’t mind that I couldn’t understand the lecture.  I enjoyed listening to his kind voice and watching the students laugh at his entertaining analogies while they hung on to every word he said.  I appreciated being in a place where there was learning taking place for the simple benefit of bettering oneself, humanity and the future of all sentient beings.  As I write this, I realize that this may sound too mushy for some of my Westerner friends, but I challenge them to ask themselves, “When did I ever experience this in school or in the last several years?”  If your answer is never, I am eager to share the Khenchen’s lecture with you about how Buddhism can help relieve moments of suffering-sadness, anger, wanting, etc.

My good friend, Chimi, took notes for me and later, for several hours Chimi re-narrated the entire lecture to me (Thanks Chimi xoxo).  Although some of the lecture was lost is translation, this is the jest of what we experienced:

As the Khenchen took a seat in a big wooden chair on stage, he graciously asked Norbu the monk and my principal who were sitting on the floor beside him to please have a seat in the chairs next to him.  However, Norbu and my principal refused his kind offer because they wanted to physically sit lower than the Khenchen as a sign of respect.  After a few seconds of the Khenchen unsuccessfully trying to persuade them to sit in the empty chairs next to him, he turned to the students who eagerly awaited his wisdom and humbly said, “I am an ordinary person, don’t think because I am a Khenchen, I must be greater than you.  We are the same.  The only difference between you and I is that you were born in modern times of Internet, T.V… whereas I was born in older times.  I am sitting on the chair.  Norbu and the principal are sitting on the floor, but don’t have the notion that I am greater than them.  They are a higher learner than I am.”  Immediately, a wave of positive and loving energy filled the room from everyone who heard his words.  The students’ lips softly curled into closed smiles at the Khenchen’s humbleness, but ironically his genuine demeanor just seemed like more evidence that he was not the same as most people and the students stared at him with looks of deep reverence.

As the students intensely listened, he claimed that religion could remove one from suffering-sadness, hatred, jealousy, depression, etc.  To help the students understand how religion could do this, he wittily started off with his first analogy.  He said that a doctor, medicine and friends could help cure sickness like how the Buddha, sangha and dharma could remove suffering.  For instance, the doctor is like the Buddha (an enlighten one), the friends or relatives are the sangha (noble ones like monks, lamas, etc.), the medicine is the dharma (the Buddhist teachings about the nature of life) and the sickness is the suffering, which the combination of the three is known as the triple gem

He continued his claim with some humor by saying, “You are all students right now, but you don’t study.  You throw your English textbook; you don’t care about your teachers or friends.  Instead, what you should be doing is saying, ‘I love you English teacher!’  If you are not studying, you need to say, ‘I love you English textbook!’  Rather than being disrespectful to your friends, you should say, ‘Hi, I love you friends!’  The students laughed when he changed his voice to a higher pitch to say, “I love you...” and he had their attention as they wondered why they should be saying, “I love you” to their teachers, friends and textbooks.

Why? Because he said that the English teacher is like the Buddha, the textbooks symbolize the dharma and the friends represent the sangha: The Triple Gem!  Therefore, he implied that when one respects his or her teachers, textbooks and friends then one is showing respect to the triple gem.  He added that by always respecting ones teachers, textbooks and friends, then one is like a practitioner of the triple gem; it becomes part of ones living to the path of enlightenment.

Next, he gave an example of how the triple gem is often not a part of students’ everyday lives, but is only sought out in times of trouble.  First, he pointed out how one only prays out of fear when exam time comes and he exclaimed that the God couldn’t help prayers of fear.  On the other hand, he reminded the students that taking refuge in the triple gem everyday as well as respecting the triple gem throughout our life can help us.  So he advised the students that if they were not respecting the triple gem, then they needed to change their attitude, build a positive outlook about ones self and do good in life as this is also part of taking refuge in the triple gem.  In other words, taking refugee in the triple gem by being kind and respectful will help ones life/future instead of praying only when one needs help. 

He further highlighted how desire is one of the roots of sufferings taking us away from enlightenment, such as the desire for wealth and beauty.  He reminded the students that when one can’t fulfill a desire, one suffers and doesn’t get dharma.  However, he gave the students a solution to ending suffering from desire by reminding them how Buddha taught that everything relies on ones own mind and action.  The Khenchen spoke of how Buddha didn’t say, “Pray to me and I will make you enlighten,” but instead the Buddha said, “I can’t make you enlighten, but I can show you a method.  The method is always taking refuge in the triple gem.”  Thus, the triple gem ends suffering caused by desire.

In sum, he stressed that the triple gem ends suffering and leads one to the path of enlightenment; one can take refuge in the triple gem in his or her every day life by having a positive attitude and being respectful.  


  1. Hello, thank you for blogging about your experience. I will be in Bhutan for 10 weeks and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions, I couldn't find a way to contact you through your blog. Thanks!

    1. Meher, I'm so sorry that I did not see your comment here. I hope that you had a wonderful experience. What did you do for 10 weeks? 10 weeks is an amazing time to be in Bhutan.