airplanes were grounded last Sept. 11, many visitors to
Durango were unable to leave as scheduled. One of them
was the Venerable ZaChoeje Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist
monk who was recognized in 1984 by the Dalai Lama as the
sixth reincarnation of one of the highest Buddhist Lamas
of Eastern Tibet.
He’s not exactly
your typical Durango tourist.
Rinpoche was in town
to address a number of groups, including the Durango Sangha,
a meditation group that meets twice a week at the Rocky
Mountain Retreat Center. After gathering with others to
pray at the FLC chapel on Sept. 11 and 12, he drove back
to his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he is the spiritual
advisor at the Emaho Foundation, a nonprofit Tibetan organization.
But he soon returned to Durango to discuss the topic of
fear and the problems it creates.
“If you are worried
about tomorrow, you will not sleep very good tonight,”
he told listeners.
Margi Buiso, an endoscopy
nurse at Mercy Medical Center who has studied with Rinpoche
for the last three years, said hearing him speak after
Sept. 11 was comforting.
“We were all stunned...and
came out of there feeling peace,” she said.
Fast forward to last
Monday night, a few days before the anniversary of Sept.
was in Durango reflecting on the topic of how to achieve
peace through forgiveness for a crowd of about 50 gathered
at the Smiley Building.
“Forgiving is like opening our heart and making
more space there,” he said. Forgiveness also leads
to inner peace, which is the key to world peace, he said.
“Inner peace is
about feeling less emotional turmoil,” he said.
“Outer peace is the reflection of inner peace. If
we are really concerned about outer peace, world peace,
we must have inner peace.”
Although he spoke of
serious issues, Rinpoche’s sense of humor was never
absent from the talk. When speaking of love, he gently
poked fun at Westerners for thinking “loving somebody
is giving your heart to them.”
“You give your
heart to one person and then what is there for other people?”
he asked with a smile.
He ended the meeting
by asking attendees to open their hearts “as big
and open as the universe” and send love and compassion
to all sentient beings.
After the talk, Chuck
Reams, a county employee, said he enjoyed Rinpoche’s
“wonderful combination” of authority, gentleness
says is such seamlessly flowing wisdom,” Reams said.
Reams also attends the
Durango Sangha. The sangha, which refers to a community
of like-minded people, began in the early 1990s when several
members of the community decided to “sit”
“After a while,
about ’93 or so, we decided to try to invite teachers
to come here, and that’s what’s happened ever
since,” said Bill Manning, an organic peach farmer
He said the group’s
foundation is the “Vipassana,” or insight,
tradition of Theravada Buddhism, but the group is for
“anyone who finds meditation a useful tool to strengthen
He said he has seen
Catholic priests at Buddhist retreats, and that many Western
meditation teachers come from strong Jewish backgrounds.
the exclusive spiritual practice that we often think of
when we think of religion,” Manning said, pointing
out that when someone asked the Dalai Lama what his religion
was, he answered, “Kindness.”
Rinpoche, who has met
the Dalai Lama, said when he was a 17-year-old living
in India, he received the letter that “transformed”
his life: a letter from the Dalai Lama that identified
him as the reincarnation of an important lama who had
died in a Chinese prison camp.
expecting to be a reincarnated lama. I was just growing
up as an ordinary boy,” he said.
Rinpoche said he was
nervous when he met the Dalai Lama for his initiation,
but the Dalai Lama made him comfortable by cracking jokes.
he was just a human being,” he said.
After his initiation,
Rinpoche studied at India’s Drepung Loseling Monastery
and graduated in 10 years, half the time it should have
taken him. He came to America in 1998.
Now that he’s
here, he’s busy, often guest teaching at Fort Lewis
College in Assistant Professor Sean Cridland’s religious
studies classes. Cridland said Rinpoche’s classes
are always popular with students.
“Those have always
been the best-received classes,” said Cridland,
who also teaches philosophy and political science. “We’re
especially lucky, with Rinpoche and his amazing talents
coming to our community.”
son, Ryan, a 15-year-old Durango High student who attended
the Monday event, agrees. “I don’t think there’s
anything he doesn’t know,” he said.