The Venerable Thubten Ngodup, the medium of Tibet’s chief state oracle and spiritual adviser to the Dalai Lama, traveled to Arkansas for the first time Oct. 22-23 to offer counsel and teachings and to visit the Arkansas House Prayer.
“I have visited the United States about eight or nine times before, but this is my first time in Arkansas,” the Venerable Thubten Ngodup, also known as Kuten-la, said. “I’m here at the invitation of the [Executive Director of the Interfaith Center] Reverend Susan Smith. For all supporters who made this possible, I’d like to express my gratitude.”
On Oct. 23, Kuten-la visited Reves Recital Hall at Hendrix College where he spoke of chanting, contemplation, and inspiration, followed by a visit to Little Rock’s Ecumenical Buddhist Society where he counseled of the power of blessing and mantra.
He concluded his stay at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church on Oct. 24 where he taught of silence, stillness and interfaith harmony and payed the neighboring Arkansas House of Prayer a visit. The Venerable Thubten Ngodup was accompanied during each event by Lama Tenzin Choegyal and seven monks from the Nechung Monastery.
During each session, Kuten-la led traditional chants, explained aspects of Tibetan contemplative practice, like meditation, reincarnation, and the relief of suffering, and spoke of his experience of becoming the medium of Tibet’s chief state oracle. Audience members were welcomed to pray, regardless of their religious affiliations.
“In our world, we have diverse faith. All faith comes to us for the benefit of others. This is a practice, so when we say a prayer please actively involve yourself,” Kuten la said. “We engage in spiritual activity to produce good karma… The creation of such karma is manifested in the form of intellect and human wellbeing… In our tradition, to realize what we have, [we must realize]virtue is the most precious human worth. We must realize how important and rare it is to have this opportunity [for human life]. With a joyful heart we pray. How wonderful it is to be a human with such wonderful opportunities and freedoms.”
According to the Nechung Buddhist Center, in Tibetan Buddhism, the word “oracle” is used to refer to the spirit that inhabits a person who then acts as “the physical basis” or “kuten” between the natural and spiritual realms. The spirit of Nechung first entered a human being in 1544. On March 31, 1987, the spirit of Nechung entered the Venerable Thubten Ngodup who is now the present Nechung Kuten and the fourteenth in his lineage.
“Nechung is the oracle. Kuten is the medium,” Kuten-la said. “There is a distinction between the oracle and myself. I once saw a newspaper calling me the oracle. That’s wrong. We engage in spiritual discourses with the oracle.”
After the chants and teachings, the Venerable Thubten Ngodup invited questions from the audience and blessed audience members. On behalf of the Nechung monastery, Kuten-la and the Nechung monks gave audience members flags of the six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra “Om mani padme hum,” traditional ceremonial white scarves or “khata” that symbolize purity and compassion and healing incense for the clarity of mind prepared from herbs from the Himalayan region and the plains of southern India.
At the event’s end, audience members were encouraged to donate to Kuten-la’s cause. Currently, Kuten’la is building a monastery that will include a school and a health clinic in outer Mongolia in order to serve the local communities in the area.
“It’s traditional to make some kind of gesture for positive karma in the hope that we can then receive positive things in return, and then multiply them for the benefit of others,” William M. Gorvine, chair and associate professor of Hendrix’s Department of Religious Studies, said. “One way to do this, and laypeople do this, is simply to make an offering to the monastic community, to respected teachers, in the hopes that it will help to open things up in a positive way.”
Kuten-la ended his sessions with a final request for the audience.
“Your faith and race should not mean discrimination,” Kuten-la said. “Regardless of your race and religion, to have a noble heart is of the utmost value. Harmony in society issues from a noble heart. So I’d like to end with: please, have a noble heart.”
The Venerable Thubten Ngodup, medium of Tibet’s chief state oracle, Lama Tenzin Choegyal and seven monks from the Nechung Monastery chant for an audience at Hendrix College’s Reves Recital Hall. In Buddhist tradition, chanting is a spiritual practice used to prepare the mind for meditation; Tibetan monks, in particular, are recognized for their skill at throat-singing.
photo by Lauren Swaim