Students question Buddhist teacher
Ventura County Star[Saturday, September 27, 2003 10:30]
Kangchen Tsering, 4, above, presents a scarf as a gift to Buddhist teacher Samdhong Rinpoche Friday at Oak Grove School in Ojai. Rinpoche, 64, speaks to students below. Rinpoche will speak again at Oak Grove School today.
Kangchen Tsering, 4, above, presents a scarf as a gift to Buddhist teacher Samdhong Rinpoche Friday at Oak Grove School in Ojai. Rinpoche, 64, speaks to students below. Rinpoche will speak again at Oak Grove School today.
Philosopher gets long-awaited wish to travel to Ojai

By Erinn Hutkin, ehutkin@insidevc.com

Engulfed in a maroon robe on a sun-splotched wooden stage at Oak Grove School, Samdhong Rinpoche used gentle motions of his hand to select students whose arms were raised with questions.

"How many places have you been around the world?" one wanted to know.

"Me?" he asked, listing North and South America, Africa and Asia. "I do not remember how many places I have been, but I have been quite a lot."

Rinpoche can now add Ojai to his list.

He spoke at the private school surrounded by wooded hills Friday, a Buddhist teacher, philosopher and the Dalai Lama's first elected prime minister.

As he talked with 140 students in preschool through grade 12, Rinpoche explained he had wanted to visit Ojai for two decades after hearing about the area through readings and conversations with the school's founder, the late educator and philosopher J. Krishnamurti. Rinpoche will also talk with the public today at the school from 4 to 6 p.m.

During his visit Friday, Rinpoche spoke of how Krishnamurti's teachings can be applied in education, and how students can use his thinking to better themselves and the world.

However, much of his visit was devoted to answering questions from his young audience, a list that led Rinpoche to explain his escape from Tibet as a 20-year-old Buddhist monk to his preferred method of doing laundry.

The school, which opened in 1975, is part of a network of seven schools in England and India. In addition to focusing on academics, the school centers on developing students' understanding of themselves and assists in open-minded investigation of human issues.

The school's views are consistent to those of Krishnamurti, who traveled the world holding discussions from the 1920s until his death in 1986. He was a part-time Ojai resident when he died at age 91.

Rinpoche encouraged students to use observation and inquiry, abilities he feels have been lost. He said lack of those abilities makes people conditioned, causing competition with others that leads to hate, conflict and violence.

"Observations and inquiry must be a major part of our educational programs," he said. "In ancient times, the purpose of education used to be to awaken the human intelligence so the individuals could flower into goodness. ...With the passage of time, today, the purpose of education appears to be to empower the individual to get a job."

As he answered questions, Rinpoche told of fleeing Tibet in 1959 to escape the Chinese military. He called his journey to India simply "a horrible experience." He explained he was elected democratically by Tibetan people -- 135,000 of whom now live in exile, most in India. He said he hopes to return if negotiations with China give Tibetans autonomy.

Rinpoche's visit was arranged by the Krishnamurti Foundation of America. Rinpoche came to the United States this month with the Dalai Lama-- the leader who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed revolt against Chinese rule of his country. The Dalai Lama urged Congress to help his Indian-based government-in-exile change China's policies in Tibet.

School leaders said they hoped that the visit led students to ask questions about Tibet, Buddhism and themselves, and that it broke misconceptions about people from other races and countries.

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