When Khenpho Choga Rinpoche speaks about Buddhism, four words keep repeating like a chant: Love, compassion, wisdom and knowledge.
Anyone who has those four qualities, he said, is a Buddhist, because Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of living.And it's a liifestyle that Choga Rinpoche and two Tibetan monks who recently came with him to Salt Lake City would like to see spread across the globe.
Choga Rinpoche, Khenchen Pentse Rinpoche, and Kathog Dudrak Rinpoche have been traveling the world from Tibet and Nepal for almost a year, visiting different Buddhist centers like Salt Lake's Urgyen Samten Ling, 345 Pierpont, to teach meditation and other aspects of Buddhism.
Last year they taught more than 5,000 individuals in Buddhist centers around the world.
The message of love, compassion, knowledge and wisdom is a timely one for the Tibetan monks, as their homeland has been torn apart by often violent demonstrations aimed at gaining independence from China, securing the return of their spiritual leader, the exiled Dalai Lama, and massive protests against human-rights violations by the Chinese government on the Tibetan people.
But it's a message that needs to be heard outside Tibet as well, they say.
Each century has a "big sickness," said Choga Rinpoche, whose excellent English made him the trio's natural spokesman. This century's illness is lack of respect for other views, intolerance and unkind politics.
"We have enough food and clothes," he said. "But inside, it's not enough. We need love, compassion, knowledge and wisdom. I want to introduce that to everybody, then I will be very happy."
Although their surnames seem to be Rinpoche, they are not brothers, except perhaps of the soul. Rinpoche is not a name, but rather a title. It means precious jewel and is given to teachers. Those who have a right to the lofty title use it at the end of their names. It's never dropped. Thus they are referred to respectively as Choga Rinpoche, Pentse Rinpoche and Dudrak Rinpoche. Pentse Rinpoche should probably be listed first; he is a "dharma master," No. 32 in line from Buddha himself in generations of teachers. He taught both Choga Rinpoche and Dudrak Rinpoche, who each hold a coveted No. 33 in line to the "great teacher."
There are two ways to become a rinpoche. A tulku is an "incarnational rinpoche," a reincarnated teacher who is recognized in this life, too, as a rinpoche. Dudrak Rinpoche is a tulku. Others, like Choga, have been designated rinpoches because they are recognized for their learning, studies and meditation. Or their "great endeavors and deeds."
While rinpoches trace their lineage to Buddha's teaching and the basic tenets of Buddhism are the same, there are great differences among cultures and traditions of Buddhism, said Michael Ortega, a Salt Lake Buddhist who took his vows last year from Choga Rinpoche. Along the Wasatch Front, Vietnamese, Thai, Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese Buddhists all have separate facilities and practices.
The trio of visitors were more concerned with finding the many things that people have in common, rather than the practices that separate them. For instance, "Natural man is happy," said Choga Rinpoche. "Natural man doesn't suffer. Nobody wants to suffer."
Buddhism has no laws. Following the tenets of love, compassion, knowledge and wisdom make laws unnecessary, they say. But the 2,500-year-old religion, which began in India, is based on strong belief in karma - that the good and evil you do will result in rewards and punishments in this life and in future lives.
These Buddhist monks know meditation and other aspects of their faith from years of practice. Pentse Rinpoche, for example, stayed in open retreat from 1959 to 1981. During that time, he recited the 600 lines of the sacret text, Manjushri Nama Sangiti Tantra, several hundred thousand times and practiced "profound secret meditations." His resume says that "by diligently practicing the yoga of samadhi, he actualized the self-arising wisdom of Dzogpachenpo, the indivisible union of wisdom and compassion."
At age 7, Choga Rinpoche taught himself to read and write and at 11 he began learning recitations and received blessings. At 12 he asked for empowerments and instructions and later made a five-year retreat in a makeshift cave, where he, too, recited sacred lines thousands of times as he meditated.
Besides his meditations and studies, Dudrak Rinpoche (who was recognized as a tulku by no less than the Dalai Lama) built a monastic college and had statues made.
Choga Rinpoche is from Nepal, the other two from Tibet.
As part of their education, they each also studied such subjects as grammar, medicine, geomancy, writing, astrology, I Ching, poetry and history.