January 26, 2001

Tibetan Buddhist to Represent Cornell

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After serving Jewish, Roman Catholic, Pagan and more than 20 other religious groups, the Founder’s Room at Anabel Taylor Hall welcomed the Venerable Tenzin Gephel, Cornell’s first Tibetan Buddhist chaplain, who now leads meditations sessions there.

A monk at the Namgyal Monastery in downtown Ithaca, Gephel is the first chaplain at Cornell to represent Mahayana Buddhism, a school of thought that focuses on the idea that each individual possesses potential for enlightenment.

The son of Tibetan refugees who fled to India after the Chinese occupation in the late 1950s, Gephel began his training as a monk at the age of thirteen. Now wearing the crimson and saffron robes of his order, he guides about half a dozen people, in each of his triweekly meditation sessions.

His chaplaincy, financially supported by an anonymous donor and facilitated by Prof. Jane Marie Law, chair of the religious studies program, aims to reinforce the relationship between Cornell and Namgyal.

“The monastery is a unique institution, for religious study but also for the study of languages and philosophy — something of value to tap into to make Cornell a better place,” said Abraham Zablocki grad, who specializes in Tibetan religion.

In addition to the meditation sessions, Gephel began teaching a seminar — “37 Practices of Bodhisattva” — which focuses on healing anger.

“Here, everybody is very busy … It is much busier in the West than in the East. People are seeking solutions for stress or other difficulties. These [sage texts] teach a lot of methods on how to overcome them,” he explained.

Prior to his appointment as chaplain, Gephel and a fellow monk led a Buddhist memorial service for a Japanese student who died while at Cornell.

“That occasion reminded us of the increasing presence of Buddhism in the American and International religious landscape of our campus community,” said Rev. Janet M. Shortall, associate director of Cornell United Religious Work (CURW).

“At Cornell there is a mixture of people — from Taiwan, India, China — who come from traditional Buddhist backgrounds. But also a large number of students from other faiths exploring Buddhism on their own,” added the Rev. Robert L. Johnson, CURW administrative director.

Gephel’s seminar attracted Buddhist and non-Buddhist students and community members alike.

“Gephel is a sensitive and thoughtful person with good communication and listening skills,” said Prof. Daniel Gold, Asian studies. “He brings together a tradition of learning and the practice of meditation for an experiential understanding of Buddhism,” he added.

Of his recent experiences at Cornell, Gephel said he has “learned a lot from getting together with leaders from other religious faiths, … observing how they deal with people and contribut[ing] to the larger community of religious groups.”

Archived article by Sana Krasikov