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The monk who went to Harvard

VISHNUPRIYA BHANDARAM
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People Tenzin Priyadarshi Rinpoche on Buddhism, happiness and living in moderation

Peace and happinessTenzin Priyadarshi RinpochePhoto: NAGARA GOPAL
Peace and happinessTenzin Priyadarshi RinpochePhoto: NAGARA GOPAL

When someone utters the word Monk, we usually imagine an ascetic meditating in Himalayas. Tenzin Priyadarshi is an alumnus of Harvard, shares a passion for photography and sports a goatee!

Tenzin Priyadarshi is in town to give lecture on ‘The art of Happiness’ followed by a day-long meditative retreat. Put up in a suite on the sixth floor of Daspalla Hotel in the city, he sits as if he truly is in the Himalayas. A general air of quietude welcomes you in. He takes time off from contemplation to answer questions on Buddhism, belief, ritual and the pursuit of happiness.

He is the founding director of The Dalai Lama Centre for Ethics and Transformative values at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But it has been a long and introspective journey for Priyadarshi so far. Born in Bihar, he lived and studied in Kolkata; by the time he turned 10, Priyadarshi recalls having visions of monks and Buddhist temples. So he instinctively ran away from home, found a monastery and decided to become a monk.

An irrational decision taken as a child, did he ever regret it? “Callings are never rational. I never went back on this decision because it wasn’t an attraction that would fade over time. This is what I am meant to be,” he says with an unflappable countenance. Monks maintain a calm composure, one that often belies their emotion, or perhaps they are meant to maintain neutrality. “The basic belief is that one must experience everything in moderation; Buddhism is all about the middle path,” he smiles. Priyadarshi struck a deal with his parents who are bureaucrats that he would undertake both secular education and monastic studies. Priyadarshi went on to study at Syracuse and then to Harvard where he completed a graduate degree in Comparative Philosophy of Religion. Next week, Priyadarshi is receiving an award for being a distinguished alumnus of the college. Priyadarshi has an idea about happiness. “It is about creating a mind space where you can inculcate a serene sense of happiness,” he says. The logical and analytical nature of Buddhism is what appealed to Priyadarshi’s sense of spirituality. “There is no blind faith here, Buddhism is about improving constantly, so in that sense, everybody is a Buddhist,” he says.

VISHNUPRIYA BHANDARAM

Happiness Talk

Tenzin Priyadarshi Rinpoche will deliver a talk on the Art of Happiness — understanding the four noble truths. The lecture is free for all to attend.

Venue: Indira Priyadarshini Hall, Public Gardens

Date: March 29, 6.30 p.m.

Meditative Retreat

Priyadarshi will be conducting a day-long retreat based on Shantideva’s guide to Bodhisattava’s way of life exploring the ways to cultivate and sustain a meaningful happy life through generating an enlightened altruistic mind. The retreat will be a combination of meditation, teaching and discussion

Venue: Taramati Baradari

Date: March 30, 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m

Contact: 9248082862

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