Teaching the arts of Tibet 

UAF helps preserve a threatened culture.


"Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion." — The Dalai Lama

In Tibetan Buddhism, the title "geshe" suggests mastery. In many eastern monasteries, which also serve as universities, it is the equivalent of a doctorate. The Dalai Lama is a geshe.

Dr. Sidney Burris earned his Ph.D. here in the United States. He is largely responsible for bringing the Dalai Lama to the University of Arkansas campus this week. As director of Honors Studies at the school's Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, he also helped establish another geshe on the Fayetteville campus.

Burris says that, as far as he knows, his friend, Geshe Thupten Dorjee, a Tibetan trained as a monk in India, "is the only geshe who holds a faculty position at an American university." Together, Burris and Geshe Dorjee founded the Tibetan Cultural Institute of Arkansas to provide information about Tibet "in an academic, educational way," Burris says, "so people can draw their own conclusions about what's been going on there since 1959."

They also created an oral history project called Tibetans in Exile Today (TEXT). Participating students study Tibetan culture, then travel to India to preserve, via video interviews, the stories of the oldest refugees in India who remember life in Tibet before 1959.

That was the year that the Dalai Lama, along with thousands of other Tibetans, fled to India to escape the Communist Party of China. Burris relates that when Geshe was a child, his mother, who was pregnant at the time, led him across the Himalayas on foot.

Geshe himself recalls that he entered a Geluk monastery in India when he was "12 or 13." Buddhism's Geluk tradition is known for its strong academic style, based on largely on debate, and its preservation of sacred art, music and dance.

The Drepung Loseling monastery in India where Geshe studied was an offshoot of a famous 500-year-old university in Lhasa, Tibet, that was famous throughout central Asia. It was destroyed, and many of its monks were killed, during the Communist invasion.

In the 1990s, Geshe came to the U.S. as part of a group of monks hoping to introduce Americans to Tibetan culture by performing sacred music and creating sand mandalas at public venues. As a result of what they called the Mystical Arts of Tibet tours, the monks were invited to establish a seat in North America.

Today, the Loseling Institute in Atlanta, Ga., is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In 1998 Drepung Loseling forged academic ties with Emory University with the objective of promoting transcultural understanding and scholarly interchange.

The Dalai Lama inaugurated this historic affiliation in 1998. Academic ties between Asia and the west were further strengthened when Geshe became part of the UA faculty.

Like any serious academic, Geshe emphasizes the need to understand the subject he teaches — Tibetan culture — to its roots. "Buddhism come to the Western world is one thing," he says. "But accuracy is the most important part."


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Mara Leveritt

  • Big Ideas for Arkansas 2014

    Readers and experts suggest ways to change Arkansas for the better.
    • Dec 18, 2014
  • More »

People who saved…

Most Shared

  • Photos from March for TC

    Last night, dozens of friends of TC Edwards, the Little Rock musician and man on the scene who was found murdered Dec. 7, marched in his memory, chanting "Justice for TC" and "TC is metal" as they walked from Pizza D' Action up Kavanaugh.
  • Psych of the South: The Mercenaries' 'Things Found Here'

    Recently, a trove of band business cards from the golden era of Arkansas garage bands was discovered and put on eBay. I was able to purchase some of them, including one by a little known 1960s garage band from Little Rock named The Mercenaries. Their record, on the cult favorite MY records label based in Little Rock, was released in early 1967. Their songs, including the atmospheric and heavy “Things Found Here” along with the psychedelic tinged “Take It All” are obscure even by garage rock standards. They were not featured on the 1999 Butler Center MY records compilation and their story has not been told before
  • Arkansas Baptist College receives $30 million federal loan; expected to ease cash crunch

    Arkansas Baptist College officials say they have received news of approval of a federal loan that is expected to stabilize the college's finances after a period of struggle.
  • The Koch Party: Inside the oligarchs' political machine

    Politico delves deeply into the political machine begin built with the Koch brothers' fortune — a data-driven colossus for voter identification and turnout that has eclipsed Republican Party machinery to the extent that people like Tom Cotton used it over party tools.
  • Yes, Virginia, there is more than one way to make eggnog

    The Historic Arkansas Museum's website is the place to go for winning eggnog recipes.

Latest in Cover Stories

  • Big Ideas for Arkansas 2014

    Readers and experts suggest ways to change Arkansas for the better.
    • Dec 18, 2014
  • Waltz

    Tomorrow when the authorities find Timothy Manning's body, the 16 year old will be face down at the edge of a cornfield at the end of Corning Road.
    • Dec 11, 2014
  • Carnival

    Our carnival grounds have fallen to a field of brown stalks, the rides felled, a sparkling harvest of metal reaped with remnants of recycled laughter.
    • Dec 11, 2014
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Big Ideas for Arkansas 2014

    Readers and experts suggest ways to change Arkansas for the better.
  • Unrestricted high explosives, available at a sporting goods store near you

    It's 'dangerous stuff,' according to a Little Rock bomb squad member.
  • Full confession

    The Observer lingered a bit last week over the story of the 11-year-old from Bryant who nicked $10,000 from her grandma's sock drawer, hitchhiked to Little Rock in the dead of night, then hired a taxicab to take her to Jacksonville, Fla., apparently on a mission to see a boy she'd met on vacation a few years prior.
  • Raping with impunity

    In Gene Lyons' Dec. 11 column "Rolling Stone Now Publishing Fiction," he asked a rhetorical question: "Had American culture really coarsened to where college boys could rape with impunity?" I'm writing this letter because I thought he might like to know that question has been empirically answered by social scientists.
  • Three days of Garth

    The veteran country star Garth Brooks played his favorites, and sang with wife Trisha Yearwood, in an unprecedented-for-Arkansas three-day run of concerts at Verizon Arena.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Full confession

    • Lord love a duck, Observer. I think you and I met in a different (but…

    • on December 17, 2014
  • Re: Full confession

    • My name is Christopher, I'm from Texas. i want to use this opportunity to thank…

    • on December 17, 2014
  • Re: Full confession

    • Nicr post

    • on December 17, 2014

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation