November 30, 2006
I've never been much of a joiner, but I recently decided to join the Khyentse Foundation, because they have such a compelling vision for making dharma teaching available in the West.
We have been concentrating so hard on the Tibetans, on the monks and nuns, mainly the renunciants. I think the goal is very narrow, we do not think beyond monks and nuns. We do not go beyond Tibetans. It breaks my heart when I go to France and see these people from the Czech Republic, dharma students who drive all the way from the Czech Republic to Dordogne. With very little money they have saved, they sleep in their car for months, eat one meal a day, and receive teachings. They don’t have any support.
In traditional Buddhist cultures, laypeople accumulated merit by supporting monks and nuns in their own communities. We have no precedent for that kind of model in the West, which makes life all but impossible for many people with a deep interest in practice and study. The tension between in-depth Buddhist study and day-to-day moneymaking can lead to untenable situations for otherwise dedicated students. Scholarships, stipends and fellowships are few and far between. Personally, I may not have that level of motivation myself (although, who knows, that could change someday), but the foundation provides an easy way for people with one foot in samsara, like me, to support those willing to make deeper commitments.
There are plenty of Tibetan Buddhist teachers who maintain charitable foundations to support their monasteries back home - which is a good thing, of course - but Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's foundation is trying to do more than just funnel money from Western students back east. It is trying to build a new model for Buddhist education, in part by creating a vehicle for Western students to support their own future, Western teachers.