Global Conversations

The Buddhist Association of UC Irvine invited Venerable Geshe Tubten Phelgye, a Tibetan monk, to speak at one of their community lectures on Thursday, March 1.


Members from the community entered the Humanities Instructional Building classroom among research students, professors and Buddhist Association members filling the classroom with over 50 attendents eager to learn the teachings for a happy and meaningful life.


Geshe-la, who chose to be a monk at age 17, founded the Universal Compassion Movement in 1998 in an effort to focus on reducing the suffering of animals at the hands of abusive industrial farming techniques, sport hunting or ritual sacrifices. In 2003 Geshe-la had a bill passed in the Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration calling for governmental encouragement for vegetarianism.


Typical Buddhist Association meetings consist of an opening meditation before weekly speakers share their beliefs about the various traditions of Buddhist teachings. Some of the meetings include Dharma talks which help Westernized students better understand the ancient concepts of Buddhism.


An outside event that the association takes part in is temple visits, which introduce the members to the temples where monks of various denominations of Buddhism practice. Troung remembered that on the club’s last temple hopping trip, they saw a Chinese temple, a Tibetan temple and a Vietnamese temple.


The non-denominational association encourages learning about Buddhism in all traditions, offering a wider scope to those who want to understand more about this particular way of life.


Because the organization wants people of all religious and cultural backgrounds to learn these valuable teachings, its members go to great lengths spreading the word when a lecture like this one is coming up. Their posters were not limited to Ring Road; they were also posted in the University Town Center, including at the yoga center there.


“We know the community is our core,” said Kevin Troung, Webmaster of UCI’s Buddhist Association, referring to the local adults in attendance that night.


Ekaterina Perminov, secretary, introduced the venerable Geshe-la with an appreciative description of his background. When Geshe-la first stepped up to the microphone, he placed his hands together in Buddhist prayer and prayed into the microphone softly.


He took his time to speak in the beginning, but once he began talking about the lessons he learned from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, he was in his element.


Geshe-la is used to lecturing to a class; he is currently serving on the faculty of Gonzaga University in Washington.


“What I really enjoy is interaction” Geshe-La said.

By a surprising turn of conversation, the lecture that started out with Geshe-la sharing the value he finds in Buddha’s teachings changed into a heated debate as to what a sentient being really is.


One of the challenges came from a monastic, a previous speaker at the Buddhist Association, who asked Geshe-la to talk about the Buddhist explanation of emptiness.


In response, Geshe-la admitted that the topic of emptiness in relation to Dharma was too complex to explain to the audience in such a short period of time.


Ahmed Bahar was the first of the students to ask Geshe-la a question to start off the discussion. Bahar asked Geshe-la to reconcile the story that involved Buddha dying from food poisoning from eating meat. With a smile, Geshe-la explained that different religions, in this case Hinduism, interpret Buddhism in false ways, re-telling the story with the correct facts.


Later a vegan who wanted to prove that rocks and plants feel the emotions that we do had Geshe-la adamantly defending the beliefs he claimed and followed as Buddha’s own teachings.


After Perminov thanked Geshe-la for sharing his teachings with the group, she and Vivien Phung, President of Internal Affairs, offered an orchid to the monk, which he graciously accepted with a child-like smile. Phung offered the Khata, a Tibetan blessing scarf, to Geshe-la and he blessed her with it, concluding the discussion.


“It is our very nature to be compassionate,” Geshe-la said, “It is only the ignorance that doesn’t let us see the truth.”