IOTD - (Interview) - Pema Jones on teaching Buddhism in the U.S.
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 12 Sep 96 17:36:26 -0700
Subject: IOTD - (Interview) - Pema Jones on teaching Buddhism in the U.S.
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From: _CyberSangha: The Buddhist Alternative Journal_
[Pema Jones, a thirteen year old Tibetan lama is interviewed. Pema, who is
known as Rinpoche ("Precious One") was born in India to a Tibetan mother
and an American father and lived in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery until he
was seven. He now lives in Wyoming, and considered one of the youngest
Buddhist teachers in the U.S.]
Interviewer: It must be hard enough to be a thirteen year old boy
America, not to mention a Tibetan lama. How do your friends
and family treat your connection with the Dharma?
Pema Jones: It's kind of weird. I have two older brothers, and
they tease me about it. They call me "shrimpouche". The kids
at school don't know I'm a lama. I would never tell them.
I: Why not?
J: I get dissed enough as it is just being Asian. They call me
names like "nip" and "gook". It's not like when I was
growing up in India. Everyone here in Wyoming is white.
I consider it a good day when some goof in a pickup
truck doesn't try to run me over.
I: How do you deal with people trying to hurt you?
J: It's pretty safe around here, but we Asians need to stick
together. Some of my best friends in our gang are Chinese.
It's strange to have Chinese friends when my family has
been treated badly by the Chinese, but this is America--
I gotta live here with my own karma. Some skinhead doesn't
care whether I'm Tibetan or Chinese. He just wants to stomp
I: You're in a gang?
J: It's just for protection. It's like if a guy threatens one of
us, there's nothing we can do on our own, but by getting
a bunch of us together, we can defend ourselves. We don't
have guns, and we don't do drugs or rob people. Can we talk
about something else?
I: Sure. Do you like your students?
J: Yeah, they're all right. They're kind of funny. It's like, they
say they come for the teachings, but when they get into the
interview room, they talk about other stuff.
I: What other stuff?
J: They mainly talk about the opposite sex. Men talk about
problems with their wives, and women talk about their
husbands and boufriends. I don't get it. It's like, I have
little time as it is with school and Little League and my
chores, and they want me to be a shrink or something. And
I'm only thirteen! I mean, I've got girlfriends and all,
but what do I know about relationships?
I: So what do you tell them?
J: I talked to my dad about it, and he gave me a stack of business
cards from one of his friends, a psychologist. I just hand
my students one of the cards when they start talking about
relationships. I put my name on the back of the card, and
whenever my dad's friend gets a new client he takes me and
my brothers and sisters to Dairy Queen. It's cool.
Buddhism is no big deal; it's like being a doctor. There's
suffering, you diagnose it, give someone a prescription,
and hope they go to the drugstore. No one in America wants
to go to the store, though. They all want to be pharamists
and sit around discussing different types of medicine.
What's with that? Take some medicine and come back next
week. I mean, don't get me wrong--Buddhism is choice.
I: So you're fully qualified to teach?
J: Sure. I teach _Tonglen_, giving and receiving. It's what I
think works best at times when people are trying to kill
you or too many changes are happening at once, which seems
to be the case in this country. You're basically a giant
filter ike on an air conditioner. You suck in the bad air
and breathe out the pure air. I see myself like an air
conditioning repair dude. I teach people how to filter and
cool things down.
I: So if you can cool things down, why do you need to be in a
J: It's a samsara and nirvana thing. If some guy disses me I can
just tell myself that he really doesn't exist separate
from me, you know? It's like he's dissing himself. That
works fine. But what happens when he stops talking and
starts beating up on me? You need to be able to take care
of yourself so you don't get killed. We live in samsara,
and spacing out about nirvana doesn't help anyone.
I: Don't you see any contradiction in that? The Dalai Lama, for
example, constantly teaches nonviolence, despite having
been terribly oppressed all his life.
J (laughing): Oh yeah, right. The Dalai Lama is an awesome old
dude and killer teacher. But he's got, like a dozen
bodyguards around him when he' traveling. What do you
think would happen if some butthead pulls a gun on His
Holiness? Do you think those dozen bodyguards will
practice nonviolence or bust some karate moves on him?
No way, man. A bodyguard sees this dweeb with a gun and
he's gonna pop a cap in his ass.
© 1996 Peter Langston