Friday, June 3, 2005

Rinpoche sets stage for brother's visit

Wellness Festival blessed by special guest

Rinpoche Tenzin Choegyal, left, enjoys the Sun Valley weather with his host Kiril Sokoloff, second from left, friends Tibetan Monk Tendzen Dhonden and Patrick de Vosjoli, right. Photo by David N. Seelig

Express Staff Writers

Like an advance team of public relations handlers, the Dalai Lama's brother, Rinpoche Tenzin Choegyal, came to town to lend his support for the Sun Valley Wellness Festival and for his brother's planned visit to the Wood River Valley on the fourth anniversary of Sep. 11. He was accompanied by his host Kiril Sokoloff, a Ketchum resident who has been the driving force and organizer behind His Holiness' visit this fall, as well as by Sokoloff's friend and spiritual advisor Tibetan Monk Tendzen Dohnden, and Patrick de Vosjoli, president of Security Industry Buyer's Guide in Florida, who also is helping with the Dalai Lama's visit.

The Rinpoche, who traveled over 30 hours from Delhi, India, appeared at the Wellness Festival on opening night, Friday, May 27.

Many people there might have expected a holy man or a prophet, but Tenzin Choegyal surprises. He is a slight figure in civilian clothes given to asides and jokes, and insists an being called T.C. Sokoloff said he is the man who makes the Dalai Lama laugh.

"In Tibet, out of all Buddhist countries, we recognize deceased accomplished persons through reincarnation. I became a hostage at a very young age," he laughed. "I'm just an ordinary person."

Tendzen Dhonden, attired in the saffron robes of a Tibetan monk, nodded gravelly. "We have a high respect for the Rinpoche."

"That's your problem," Tenzin Choegyal said cheerily. "At Wellness (Festival) my main thrust will be not just well being of body but well being of the spirit or inner soul, which all spiritual traditions address. I don't feel reincarnate, it's a misnomer. I'm just ordinary man."

Tendzen Dhonden said the reason the Rinpoche is such a good speaker is that he is a main bridge between the East and West. In fact, though he has lived in India most of his life, he has traveled widely, lived for a brief spell in Seattle, and has a son and daughter who are both Westerners.

"I tend to live a transparent life," he said, after Sokoloff and de Vosjoli teased him that he was about to blow his cover as the "Stealth Rinpoche." "I feel happier that way. I think the world will improve in a big way if people are sincere and true to oneself. The average person is in possession of a so-called conscious. He has to develop his own wisdom. We don't need special teaching. It's all in application. I don't consider myself a teacher or someone who can bless. We all bless ourselves. In the sense we can only be accountable for our own acts. There is no higher power who can bless us. This is my personal view, fostered by studying Buddhist philosophy."

He added that he thinks his brother is looking forward to his visit here. Though the plans are still being developed, "if I'm asked or instructed, I will come back," he said. The Dalai Lama will have approximately 20 people accompanying him, including security personnel and his own cook.

As part of his opening greetings at the Wellness Festival, Tenzin Choegyal was asked by a member of the audience "What is it like to have a brother who is a type of God-King?"

"What it's like? I have a brother who is a God-King?" he deadpanned. "It is a label inherited from the West. He's not autocratic. It is my great privilege and honor to have a brother who's the Dalai Lama."

"And him you," the audience member complemented.

"I don't know. You ask him," Tenzin Choegyal rebutted before adding, "Thank you."

Despite his self-deprecation, Tenzin Choegyal did offer some Tibetan philosophy.

"(We) start change through our own action," he said. "It'll take a long time. I'm a pessimist anyway. See, if you're a pessimist, then when things go right, there's a great amount of surprise."

Tenzin Choegyal spoke for only a short time before he opened the floor to questions. Answering questions about blessings, Tenzin Choegyal said he was blessed to be in Sun Valley.

"I wouldn't count on blessings too much," he said. "We have to bless ourselves. You can take a horse to a washing place but you can't make him drink."

Tenzin Choegyal said his own indoctrination into Tibetan teachings did not come easily and that he did not put a great deal of stock in it even though he was involved in a classic Tibetan education from a young age.

"There is more expectation in the West," Tenzin Choegyal said before his Wellness festival opener. "You have gone so secular. I think people threw the baby along with the bath water. I have a dim view on organized religion. It's a kind of projection that we give or cultivate."

Nonetheless, the Rinpoche did say as he pursued what he called a "poor imitation of the practice" of Buddhism, he has noticed he has become happier.

During his brief time as a young man in Seattle he said he dropped out of college after becoming homesick, although he thinks the reason was more a factor of culture shock.

Tenzin Choegyal addressed questions about what Buddhism says about feelings regarding global conflicts.

Balancing reactions to political events can lead to a state of frustration that can become anger later on, he said.

"I think it's very natural to feel frustrated. But (that) will not yield any positive result," he said, adding the value is to analyze the frustration and lend weight to one's intelligence. "I'm not saying I can do it. But, it's in the manual."

Tenzin Choegyal also added that in the United States people have the power to vote and he is surprised that people do not take more advantage of that right.

He also stressed that being a politician is one of the "great opportunities to serve people, but then there are so-called politicians who do their work for a different kind of motivation, not to serve people but to promote themselves, grab power for themselves. They become corrupted. So, there are corrupted politicians but politics never corrupt."

During his talk Tenzin Choegyal shared some of his history working in education with aid efforts for Tibetan Children, a paratrooper, working in the security office and cultural education departments of the Tibetan government, and as an elected official in the Tibetan Government in Exile. He was also forthcoming about his struggle with bi-polar disease.

"Tibetan and Western medicine helped me," Tenzin Choegyal said. "But, what really helped me is lithium. With the proper (medication), you can be healed."

Tenzin Choegyal and the Dalai Lama's mother gave birth to 16 children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. Tenzin Choegyal is the youngest sibling, a fact that is clear in his ability to bring lightness and humor to the table. If his introduction is any indication of what is to come when his brother visits, Tenzin Choegyal has set the stage for a profound experience in the Wood River Valley.

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