Sera IMI House News – June 2016Venerable Legtsok reports from India
All conditioned phenomena constantly change, yet to our limited perception they seem, most of the time, to more or less stay the same. Sera IMI House is no different, and on one hand everything is the same as always, and on the other hand there are big changes and happenings to celebrate. Of course, living in rural southern India is a rather constant reminder that nothing you might take for granted is stable… for instance, as soon as you’re comfortable in your belief that the electricity will stay working for more or less twenty-four hours a day, India gives you the chance to enjoy three days without any. When you foolishly assume a trip to mail a letter will be nothing more than a quick jaunt into town you’re offered the chance to stand in the post office for an hour watching the one working staff member talk to the four (seemingly) non-working staff members as he lazily scans barcodes and assures you he will be with you in just a moment. No, there is no stasis, here, other than the constant change that continually tests our assumptions and predilections and makes this such a wonderful place to live and practice.
That said, we have something resembling continuity. The IMI House monks are all doing well, studying, trying to figure out how to squeeze retreat opportunities in the midst of both our academic obligations. The new academic year began just after Losar, and all of the monks have buckled down and gotten back into study mode, as text books pile up on our desks and new translation projects move into the background. For as much as we all try to multitask, surviving an academic environment like Sera Je, especially when it is entirely in a language other your native tongue, requires a dedication and concentration that those of us here have been fortunate to muster for as long as we have. Sera Je is not an environment most conducive for most westerners, and a few monks have come and gone in recent years, with the most junior house member now starting his fourth year of the study program. This coming and going, though, is our stasis, the nature of life in a program with the intensity of what Sera Je offers, so we rejoice in the benefits the monastery offers all who come, no matter how long they stay. However, as westerners have more time to mature in the traditional study at Sera Je, there are new beacons of success to inspire and guide those of us still here as well as those who are thinking to come.
Those beacons are where we see a disruption in the stasis, as it were, and one for the better. First to mention is that Ven. Jampa Khedrub has earned the title of Rigchung, just two years after Ven. Tenzin Gache earned it. During the sixth year of study there is a special exam, and the top sixteen scores are awarded the title of Rigchung, or “Small Knowledge,” which is a reflection of Rigchen, “Great Knowledge,” a title awarded to certain members of the Lharampa classes. Along with the title comes the chance to study a special topic—Jampa Khedrub gets to focus on bodhicitta—and to debate it in a series of debates against every other class, culminating with an elaborate debate-ceremony attended by the whole monastery. Congratulations Khedrub! But the exciting news doesn’t stop there, as this year Ven. Tenzin Namdak, the IMI House director, has officially been named as part of the upcoming geshe class! For all intents and purposes that means he has received his geshe title, he just needs to make it one more year to participate in some ceremonial debates and be officially awarded his degree. He has already enjoyed his geshe mingtag, or geshe naming ceremony, where hundreds of monks visited Ven. Namdak here at IMI House and offered their congratulations. (Geshe) Tenzin Namdak will be the first western Sera Je monk to actually be awarded a geshe degree, which is an incredible achievement! Other western Sera Je monks have come very close, and other western monks from other institutes of learning but affiliated with Sera Je have received the degree, but Ven. Namdak will be the first westerner to properly matriculate from Sera Je. His perseverance and dedication have been inspiring to all of the other IMI House monks, and I hope will inspire others as well! Not merely surviving but thriving in what will be more than twenty years of life at Sera Je when he is awarded his degree, (Geshe) Tenzin Namdak has always shown through his stellar example what it means to live a life of inseparable study and practice, and very well he should as the official name of IMI House, given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, is Shedrub Zungdrel Ling, A Refuge for the Union of Study and Practice. We whole-heartedly rejoice in all of Geshe Namdak’s achievements, we are inspired by his path, and we look forward to seeing where he goes from here!