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Donald S. Lopez on Tibetan Buddhism: It’s not all about meditation



Donald S. Lopez

Renowned Tibetan Buddhism scholar Donald S. Lopez will address the tendency of Americans and Europeans to romanticize Tibet and how that hurts the cause of Tibetan independence when he speaks at Lehigh’s Sinclair Auditorium at 4:10 p.m. on Wednesday, October 17.

In addition to his lecture, Lopez, the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan, will introduce and lead a discussion on the controversial Luc Schaedler film, The Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet at 7:30 p.m., also in Sinclair Auditorium.

Both events are free and open to the public.

“One of the reasons Professor Lopez has become so well known and controversial is that he has looked seriously and critically at the Western attitudes toward Tibet, and his claim is that Tibet is not well understood in the West,” says Lloyd Steffen, chaplain and professor of religion studies at Lehigh. “Rather, it is surrounded by a magical allure due to its exotic blending of the spiritual and political,” he says.

Lopez is an enormously popular teacher at the University of Michigan, and his course attracts close to 300 students. “But he sees it as part of his job—and this is his word—to ‘disillusion’ students about Tibet,” Steffen says. “Buddhism, he says, has its own integrity as a religion with a distinctive history and culture, and some misunderstandings have arisen because of the way the religion has been romanticized in the Western world.” Lopez notes that Tibetan Buddhism is not all about meditation, and he rejects the idea of Tibetan Buddhism as a therapy.

During his talk, Lopez will offer a scholar’s view, which is both appreciative and yet critical, of the religious and political situation in Tibet. “In his teaching moments on the Lehigh campus, he will offer a view of Tibet and Buddhism that will hold up the way many of us have projected onto Tibet our fantasies about a magical land of wisdom where everyone meditates and social problems do not exist,” Steffen says. He adds that although Lopez’s views have been the source of some controversy, his scholarship is impeccable and his “de-mythologizing” opinions are grounded in a deep and intimate knowledge of all things Tibetan.

One of America’s leading religion scholars, Lopez is the author of six books and the editor of 17 others on Tibetan Buddhism, including Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West and The Madman’s Middle Way.

Lopez’s lecture is part of a lead-up to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Lehigh in 2008, where he will present an historic series of teachings sponsored by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, N.J., in collaboration with the university. The spiritual leader of Tibet, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, will teach for six days at Stabler Arena on Tsong-kha-pa’s Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment: The Lamrim Chenmo.

For more information on the historic visit, please visit the Dalai Lama at Lehigh Web site.

--Sarah Cooke


Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2007

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