Time Ripe for Spirituality
January 09, 2002
Tibetan lama's book on life, death strikes chord
Denver -- Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek, teacher, author and world-renowned spiritual leader, is used to the skeptics. It comes with the territory whenever he is introduced at public appearances in this country as one of the last reincarnated lamas educated in his homeland of Tibet.
Still, he remains confident his teachings are helpful to all, whether they embrace Buddhism and the notion of reincarnation or not.
"Every human being has to go through both life and death, whether you are Eastern or Western," he says. "If you have a good life, you will have a good death. If you are a believer, you will have a good reincarnation, and if you are not a believer, you will have had a good life anyway."
Hence the title of his new book: "Good Life, Good Death: Tibetan Wisdom on Reincarnation" (Riverhead Books: $23.95). Gehlek will be in Denver promoting his book and his message Sunday.
"It is absolutely relevant to people today," he says, especially in the aftermath of Sept. 11, when so many are searching inside and outside themselves for spiritual answers.
Gehlek, who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in New York, says his message crosses all religious beliefs because it is about leading a good life - one free of the emotions such as anger, hatred and jealousy.
"The theme of the book is not about reincarnation," he says. Instead, he sees his book more as a gentle guidebook to finding a peaceful and happy life.
"Sept. 11 made a change in people," he says. "They are turning to spiritual questions. People want to have a spiritual belief without having to identify themselves in some (traditional religious) box."
Still, Gehlek remains one of the pre-eminent teachers of Buddhism in the world. He was educated by the same masters who taught the Dalai Lama. An American citizen, he is a research consultant at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and an instructor of Tibetan at the University of Michigan.
"When I first came to the United States, I hesitated to talk about reincarnation because I thought people wouldn't like it or be able to understand it," he writes in the opening chapter. "I was afraid they'd think it was some kind of fairy tale or plain religious brainwashing. But when I finally did talk about it, to my surprise, people nodded their heads in agreement, as though they accepted and liked the idea."
Some of the advice Gehlek offers in his book about keeping our negative emotions in check includes:
"Keep a watch on anger," he writes. Acknowledge and recognize the anger within. Don't deny it. Anger is a habit that can be broken. "Your anger will bother you much more in your future life and at the time of death than any physical problem. The mind goes with you, the body stays."
Patience is an antidote to anger. "Patience is not weak," he writes. "It is full of enthusiasm." He also says typical complaints such as burn-out or lack of energy are really symptoms of a lack of patience.
Understand the difference between pure love and obssesive attachment. Learn to recognize how your ego, or sense of yourself as overly important, can stand in your way. "The true enemy is within," he writes, "The maker of trouble, the source of all our suffering, the destroyer of our joy, the destroyer of our virtue is inside."