The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center
for International and Area Studies at Yale
Newsletter Articles - Spring 2008
Rinpoche Visits Yale
Bhutanese Lama Khyentse Rinpoche, the third recognized reincarnation of the Buddhist saint, Jamyang Wangpo, makes rare public appearance.
Through the efforts of Phyllis Granoff, Lex Hixon Professor of World Religions and South Asian Studies Council Chair, Yale had the rare opportunity to meet a great figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the Bhutanese Lama Khyentse Rinpoche, the third recognized reincarnation of the Buddhist saint, Jamyang Wangpo. On January 25, he met a small group of faculty and students for lunch, and participated in an afternoon discussion about the study of Buddhism in Western Academia. That evening, Rinpoche lectured to a group of 500 students, teachers, and others on “Projecting the Dharma: Film and the Transmission of Buddhism to the West.”
“I have been lucky with films,” stated Rinpoche. “Buddhism is a study of life and self, and how we look at the world. Film [acts like] a utensil to that end.” Recalling the shocked reaction of many Westerners when they discover he’s a filmmaker and lama, Rinpoche humorously commented “I don’t see filmmaking as sacrilegious. There are worse things I do than making films!” He compared early Buddhism’s discouragement on statues of the Buddha to modern reactions against Buddhist films. He commented that “maybe even video games can be used to bring us closer to the truth.”
One of the most remarkable things about Rinpoche was his humble character and self-deprecating humor. When talking about his education, Rinpoche described himself as a “dropout” because he had not completed his studies at London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies. Regarding his films, Rinpoche described them as “a sort of accidental success.” Nonetheless, it was obvious that Rinpoche was very well-educated, both from University and under Buddhist masters, and that his award-winning films were not accidents.
Rinpoche had encouraging words for the study of Buddhism at Western Universities. He commented that, to him, Buddhism is “a tradition that gives a lot of emphasis on learning.” Thus, Rinpoche saw the objectivity of Western Universities as a “strength of Western [academia]. Even the Buddha said ‘my teachings need to be analyzed.’”
Yale Center for International and Area Studies