By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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His Eminience Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche will speak from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge, 1338 Jefferson St.
The opportunity to see Khenpo, a name that translates as “professor,” will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people, said Robert Lapham, who teaches at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Port Townsend, which is of the Dzogchen lineage.
Sanghas — or Buddhist practitioner groups — have been established in both Port Townsend and Port Angeles under Khenpo's leadership.
The two are among the fastest-growing in the United States, Lapham said, with a few hundred practitioners on the North Olympic Peninsula.
“Compared to sanghas across the country and in other countries, it's pretty phenomenal what these two small communities have done,” he said.
“Port Townsend has a unique, eclectic group of people who are drawn to Buddhism,” Lapham said.
Born in Tibet
Khenpo, who was born in Tibet, is in his mid-40s, Lapham said.
As a youth, he meditated for seven years in the Siltrom Mountain caves in the Holy Dzogchen area of Tibet under difficult conditions, with little food and clothing, Lapham said.
Khenpo, who received his doctorate-level degree at 22, was one of the first of a new generation of young scholars to emerge from Tibet following the formal revival of Buddhist education in the 1980s, Lapham said.
He is the author of more than 30 Buddhist texts, including an English-language text, The Buddha Path.
He has founded retreat centers in Nepal and India and many Buddhist practice centers in Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia.
He is the current spiritual leader of the Dzogchen Shri Singha International organization and many affiliated Buddhist groups.
Khenpo spends much of his time traveling but is headquartered in a retreat near Eugene, Ore.
Lapham said Khenpo's style of teaching is “very direct and very simple.”
The program being taught is “The Four Basic Truths of the Enlightened,” which Lapham describes as “the first basic teachings of the Buddha.”
In simple terms, it explains the causes of suffering and happiness.
Lapham said Thursday's program has no agenda, and the program is flexible.
“Khenpo is very spontaneous, and he will start with the teaching,” he said.
“A person might ask a specific question, and if Khenpo's spontaneous nature feels he might guide the group in the right direction, he'll shift and teach from a different position.
“One of his great talents is that he is able to adapt to each person's level of understanding and adapt the teaching.”
A lesson can be structured and based on what Buddha actually said or adapted to the audience.
One example Lapham gave is a story of a janitor “who could not put two and two together” and was told that every time he swept the broom, he should imagine that he was sweeping away the suffering of all human beings.
Through sweeping that broom, with that motivation, the janitor eventually became enlightened.
Lapham said Khenpo connects with everyone he meets in a meaningful way.
“He has an energy that everyone is drawn to,” he said.
On Khenpo's first trip to Port Townsend in 2003, he and Lapham were in a Safeway when a woman, noticing that he was a Tibetan monk, invited him to go sailing on her boat in a few hours.
Khenpo then took several students to Chetzemoka Park, where he met a man with a metal detector, and ended up climbing a tree with the man's children.
“By the time we got to the boat, we had 18 people in five cars,” Lapham said.
“So she ended up taking four or five trips out into the bay and then back.”
Those attending Thursday's teaching are requested to donate $25 but can contribute more, less or nothing at all.
“No one will be turned away,” Lapham said.
Donations are used for Dzogchen projects and to support Khenpo's travel expenses, Lapham said.
For more information, visit www.dzogchensociety.org, email DzogchenSociety@gmail.com or phone 360-385-1219.
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.