Highly regarded Buddhist teacher to speak

The Yoga Barn in West Tisbury is the venue for the ACE Yoga Teacher Training program. — Photo by Randi Baird

A YouTube introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche inspires the viewer to think, “He looks so young!” at which point the realization hits, “He IS young!” Born in 1981 into an illustrious Tibetan Buddhist family, Phakchok returns for a second speaking engagement at the Yoga Barn on Tuesday, May 20, and Wednesday, May 21.

Phakchok Rinpoche (the latter name is an honorific, much as Reverend is used in western religions) enjoys dual spiritual accomplishments. The first is real-time birth in a long Tibetan leadership lineage, and the second is that more mysterious process of selection, rarely understood in the west, whereby regents of a particular branch of Buddhism divine the reincarnated status of a lama from past lives. By this method, Phakchok as an infant was identified as a lama through seven incarnations.

Training in what Buddhists call dharma studies begins at the youngest age in a monastic setting, and with the benefit of highly qualified teachers. Phakchok’s precocity took him very far very quickly, at all times impressing all who met and meditated with him. His English is excellent, his teachings cogent and accessible. At an age when most young westerners are still trying to figure out what to study, where to live, and which profession to pursue when they finally grow up, Phakchok is the abbot of several monasteries in Nepal, assists at monasteries and practice centers in Tibet, heads dharma centers in North America, and Asia, and oversees vast humanitarian projects in South Asia.

No wonder, then, that among his tens of thousands of students and devotees, a sprinkling of them have homes on Martha’s Vineyard where for the second year in a row he has been invited to lecture (as well as to provide an amusing ceremony, also for the second time, but we’ll save this explication for last).

For anyone hoping to get a sense of Phakchok Rinpoche, YouTube is a great place to start in anticipation of his coming presentation. In one of the video clips, he addresses the keys to happiness Buddhist-style, depicting how, when one feels sadness, the space of one’s mind shrinks. Problems are focused on oneself, increasing the sense of discomfort. Phakchok then describes an exercise — not precisely mediation, he explains, but more relaxed, more expansive — 5 to 10 minutes of visualizing the sky, thinking, and feeling in all four directions, up and down, until the imagination merges into infinite space. “You start to feel the spaciousness,” he assures the viewer. “Reconnecting with innate peace is possible.”

There is also a book available to read by Phakchok, “The Eight-fold Supreme Path Of Mind-Training,” available through Barnes and Noble.

In posters of the coming week’s talks found around the Island, the young Rinpoche, clad in gold and red robes, sits against a bank of vivid-hued Buddhist statues and tapestries. The Yoga Barn is located on South Road in Chilmark. The May 20 and 21 events begin at 6 pm with an introduction to Buddhist yoga, followed by Phakchok’s lectures at 7:30. Tuesday’s talk is titled Creating Space In Daily Life, and Wednesday’s is Fearless Happiness: Keys to Training The Mind.

And now to the “special ceremony” to take place on the beach at Menemsha on Wednesday, May 21, at 3 pm, when Phakchok, in a reprise of last year’s festivity, will release a hundred live lobsters back into the ocean. Although not all Buddhists are vegetarians at all times, the practice of ahimsa, meaning to do no harm, is a vital part of daily practice. Returning lobsters to the sea resonates with the veneration of all living creatures.

A random sampling of reactions to this last event from Islanders “on the street” reveal a total lack of comprehension. “But what if lobstermen put down traps and catch them a second time?” asked a lady in Oak Bluffs. A facebook friend of this reporter’s said, “Who’s going to be donating these lobsters?”

The answer to the second question is: surely no one who catches lobsters for a living. Should a harvester of the seabed be of such a mind, he or she would obviously find another way to eke out a living on these shores. One can only suggest attending Kyabgon Phakchok’s lectures and watching the lobsters’ pokey ramble back into the sea to decide which parts of the teachings make the most sense to each individual.

The lectures are free, donations welcome; lobster rolls not an option.

Free public talks with Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche, Tuesday, May 20 and Wednesday, May 21, 7:30 pm, The Yoga Barn, Chilmark. Prior to teachings both evenings is Intro to Tibetan Buddhist Yoga at 6 pm. Wednesday, May 21, 3 pm, Lobster Release, Menemsha Beach. Donations accepted.