Over the past several years, my work at the University of Arkansas has changed substantially. I am the Director of the Fulbright College Honors Program, and I am still teaching within the English Department. But I also co-teach courses in Tibetan philosophy and culture with Geshe Thupten Dorjee, our monk-in-residence. For the past several years, he and I have been offering a night course in the history of non-violence that focuses on the careers of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama.
Together, he and I founded in 2008 the TEXT Program (an acronym for Tibetans in EXile Today), which travels each summer with fifteen students to India where we are compiling an oral history of the Tibetans who are currently living in exile. Our students, while living for three weeks in monasteries and Tibetan refugee colonies, gather the interviews, take the photographs, and record the videos that will then become part of our online archive of Tibetan history. My hope is that by involving our students in a long-term preservation project, by allowing them to contribute directly to the survival of one of the oldest and most vital cultures on the global stage, they will then begin to develop the sense of ethical responsibility that will enrich their lives and shape their careers long after they leave the University of Arkansas.
Geshe and I have also founded The Tibetan Cultural Institute of Arkansas, and although it is currently unaffiliated with the University, the Institute will provide a natural compliment to the classroom--everything from meditation to mo-mo's will be offered through the Institute, both to students enrolled at the University and to the general public.
A brief biography of Geshe Dorjee:
Geshe Thupten Dorjee was born Sonam Palden in Tibet just before the Chinese Communist invasion of 1959. He and his family escaped occupied Tibet and headed southward when he was three years old. The journey through the mountains to Bhutan was a long, arduous one for the family. On many cold Himalayan nights, they sought refuge in shelters created for animals. Much of Geshe's early life was spent in a refugee camp in Bhutan with other Tibetan exiles. Unfortunately, most members of his family died while there due to the poor living conditions and lack of medical care.
After 8 years of these difficult living conditions, Geshe and his surviving family journeyed south and settled in Southern India. At the age of 13, Geshe entered Drepung Loseling Monastery in Karnataka, South India.
Over the next 22 years, Geshe made a thorough study of the vast scriptures, principally the five foremost Buddhist philosophical subjects, i.e., Pramana (Valid Cognition), Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom), Madhyamaka (Middle Way Philosophy), Vinaya (Buddhist Ethics), and Abhidharma (Buddhist Metaphysics). Geshe was ordained a Buddhist monk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1986. In 1994, Geshe received the degree of Geshe Lharampa (meaning "Spiritual Guide"), the highest scholastic honor offered by a Buddhist monastic university. It is roughly equivalent to the Doctor of Philosophy, although its course of study and examination schedules are far more rigorous than the Western degree.
During his years at Drepung Loseling, Geshe taught scriptures and Tibetan grammar to the lower classes while pursuing his advanced course of study. For four years, he was supervisor of agricultural projects at the Monastery.