I had a very interesting time a couple weeks ago. Lama Lobsang Samten, a Buddhist Tibetan monk was visiting the mountains of Chiriqui. If I understood correctly, he has been visiting Costa Rica every year and when friends here learned that he was going to be nearby, they invited him to spend a few days in Panama.
Not only was it interesting to meet this wonderful man, it was interesting to watch the communication. He is Tibetan and grew up speaking a language very different from ours. Then, he ended up in Montreal where he speaks French on a daily basis, and he has also learned some English though he admitted it was pretty rusty. Now he was in Panama speaking to a group of people some of whom spoke only Spanish, and others who spoke only English.
One can get by with pointing and gesturing, but when it comes to more complex things there is no substitute for a common language. Lama Samten spoke English well enough to be understood, and a bilingual student translated into Spanish. Sometimes there were questions and he needed his traveling companion (who spoke French, English, and Spanish) to explain something to him in French. She would explain his answer in English, and then it was translated into Spanish so everyone could understand. I found it fascinating to watch this process of communication. I think it’s unfortunate that in the US, learning languages isn’t given more importance. When you can talk with each other it opens up whole worlds of communication and understanding.
The teachings were basically about happiness, and how Buddhist philosophy and meditation can help you live a happy life. Lama Samten is a wonderful example. He escaped Tibet as a teenager when the Chinese came in, surviving a very perilous two month walk through the Himalayas to reach India. In spite of this very difficult time and being displaced from his homeland, he radiates happiness and kindness. His very presence lights up a room.
I was introduced to the Kadampa tradition in Florida and the founding monk is also a Tibetan refugee. The organization has grown so large that he teaches to groups at festivals, and very few have an opportunity to speak to him in person. This group, however, was probably 20-25 people. There were times for questions and answers, and also a social time later where I spent quite a bit of time talking with Lama Samten. He loves to laugh, joke, share, and connect with others. His happy attitude is so contagious! He really is a special person.
Word is that he is going to come back next year and if at all possible, I am certainly going to be there.