My wife and I were strolling down the beachfront esplanade of the delightful far northern NSW coastal town of Kingscliff when I noticed two Buddhist monks approaching on the other side of the road walking with a town local. Their saffron robes and shaven heads stood out like Flame Trees against the backdrop of sandhills and surf. I decided to ask them a question and waited on the opposite side of the pedestrian crossing.
As they crossed I could see that the town local with them was a newspaper reporter, his polo shirt emblazoned ‘Daily Mail’ and cradling an expensive looking camera.
‘Hello. Are you on holidays ?’, I smiled.
‘ahh holiday ?’ they replied.
‘The gentlemen are from Tibet and they are here to construct a sand mandala.’ said the reporter assuming translation duties. ‘They have a colleague with them who speaks very good English.’
‘Do you think I could ask him a question ?’ I inquired.
So we all wandered up to the Real Estate office a few doors up which had been temporarily converted to a drop-in room for the use of the monks. Inside were living quarters, a mandala construction area, some devotional icons of the Buddha and a number of tables with books, stickers, prayer flags, prayer bowls and leaflets on the Chinese oppression of Tibet. There were another one or two monks there, several locals assisting with the set-up also attired in saffron, and a few passers-by sitting respectfully before a gentle looking middle aged Tibetan. The reporter waved us good-bye
‘That’s Geshe Ngawang Gedun’ an Aussie Buddhist lady told me. ‘He has attained the same level of learning as the Dalai Lama and is permitted to debate with him on the teachings and practices of Buddhism’.
I was impressed.
‘Where does Geshe rank in the Buddhist world heirarchy ?’ I asked.
‘Well, there’s the Dalai Lama, then there’s the leaders of the four major schools of Buddhism. Geshe is the leader of one of the sub-schools in the Gelugpa tradition.’
Again, I was impressed.
‘Would I be permitted to ask Geshe a question ?’
I went over and said hello to Geshe. He took my hand in a friendly way. His previous conversationalists were now watching the other monks commence the sand mandala.
‘May I ask how many past lives have you experienced ?’
Others in the room smiled. Geshe chuckled.
‘Do you remember your past lives? Is it possible to remember them ?’
‘Oh yes. Children in particular often remember their past lives.’
‘Geshe. May I ask you an important question ?’
‘Who is Jesus ?’.
Geshe’s eyes flicked from my face to a point over my shoulder. He seemed a little troubled. This man is in the very top echelon of Buddhist world theologians. In terms of learning and study he is a peer of the Dalai Lama himself. What would Geshe Ngawang Gedun say in answer to the question Who is Jesus ?
‘I don’t know.’
Of all possible answers this one was the least expected.
‘You have heard of Jesus and know His Holy Book ?’ I said.
‘Oh yes. A friend of mine from Southern India is a Christian’
‘And Jesus is a great soul ?’
Geshe placed his hand over his heart and an expression of sincerity and respect crossed his face. ‘Oh yes’ he said.
‘And his teachings are of good quality ?’
‘May I ask you your opinion of one of the teachings of Jesus ?’
‘What did Jesus mean when he said this:’
‘I don’t know’ said Geshe again. Was Geshe was blocking me out ? Had he really never considered the identity or core message of the single most influential teacher in human history ?
‘May I say what I think Jesus meant by this teaching ?’
Geshe affirmed his consent with a nod.
‘I think Jesus was teaching us that humankind is seperated from God, from eternal knowledge, from eternal enlightenment and eternal life and that God is saddened by this so he sent His son, Jesus, to make a way back to God for humankind so that we may again attain enlightenment, knowledge and eternal life through His spirit.
‘What do you think it means ?’
‘I don’t know’.
Geshe was nothing but consistent.
‘Would you accept this gift of the Holy Book of Jesus? Perhaps if you wish you can email me later with your thoughts on what Jesus meant by this passage. Again a nod.
I left Geshe the Bible I had just read from and a card with my email address on it. I hope Geshe writes.
I must say that for a world-ranked theological leader, Geshe’s insights into the teachings of perhaps the greatest soul in history were indeed minimal.
I feel privileged that God allowed me to bring His word to such an influential teacher in the Buddhist world, one who had been personally commissioned by the Dalai Lama himself to establish the Australian Tibetan Buddhism Centre. It had been a divine appointment.
Wow. What if Geshe converted !?