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In Search of Peace of Mind

Religion: In Northern California, a band of mostly Americans is tracking down the art and teachings of Tibet that were lost or hidden by the Chinese. And as the works are preserved and translated, a home for Buddhism will thrive in the United States.

August 29, 1996|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Likenesses of Tibetan masters hang throughout the mandala temple. The faces are weathered and the expressions consistently sour. It is a pleasant surprise, then, to see that Rinpoche, 60, is a jovial, happy host. He greets visitors from his favorite sofa seat in the library, with a cheerful round face and a warm, hearty handshake.

"I love America," he says with a sincere grin, praising this country's freedom of religion, the open-mindedness of its people, its state-of-the-art technology. They are all crucial to his work.

"It is half my responsibility," says Rinpoche, in broken English. "Without me, no Odiyan. Without America, no Odiyan."

The Nyingma Center clearly exists because of Rinpoche. The publishing arm is at the heart of his loftiest goal--to preserve and translate the Buddhist teachings that were lost, hidden, burned and scattered when the Chinese desecrated Tibet in 1959. Secondly, he wants to establish a home for Buddhism in the United States

A 2,500-year-old prophecy says that "Buddhism would take root when the iron bird flies in the land of the red man . . . and the Dharma would come west." Odiyan lies smack in the middle of a former Indian reservation. It is now the largest such facility in the Western Hemisphere, a claim formerly held by the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights.

Rinpoche was just 22 when he fled Tibet in 1958, with books under his arms and the Buddhist teachings in his head. Once outside Tibet, he set out to track down, gather and preserve the basic teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. It is still his priority.

"Over 25 years, Tarthang Rinpoche's library became a real storehouse for rare texts," says Bradburn. "We wrote letters to Russia, Japan, Scandinavia, England, Australia, Germany, Switzerland. . . . Each would have one or two good things."

With what are ancient methods by today's publishing standards, the members have retrieved and translated into Tibetan 75% of Buddha's teachings, and compiled them into 755 oversized hardcover volumes, now stored in a basement room at Odiyan. As fast as they can put them out, the teachings are being returned to the Tibetan people. Each January, Rinpoche and his helpers pack up the thousands of books they've printed, take them to India and distribute them at the annual World Peace ceremony.

Because of the primitive publishing methods--Tibetan books were written by hand on loosely bound rice paper with carved wood for covers--the books and teachings were never before compiled into a single collection. Now in the Odiyan collection there are 5,000 texts that make up the Buddhist Canon, and about 31,000 important teachings--including arts, sciences, literature and poetry. Universities in Japan, Australia, the United States and Europe have purchased the entire 5,000-book collection. That means that the Tibetan teachings are finally safe.

But the clock is still ticking.

"Without the help of people who are trained, [the teachings] could be lost," Bradburn says. "The source is the older Tibetan masters, and they need these books to transfer this tradition to the disciples."

And Rinpoche is relying on Americans to make it happen. "They have good minds . . . exceptional hearts," he says, but adds good-naturedly that their neuroses are something Americans need to work on. It all starts with understanding and controlling the mind, he says, the basis of Buddhism.

"We need freedom from the mind," he stresses. "The mind dictates to us and we don't know who we are. We need to do something to make ourselves a little happier, freer, to have a better life."

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