“If you think the whole world should be Buddhist, you’re wrong.”
It may be surprising to hear that this teaching was given by Tibetan Buddhist lama Demo Rinpoche, the spiritual advisor at Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At Jewel Heart, accepting different viewpoints is important for spiritual liberation. During a recent free Sunday talk, Demo Rinpoche reminded the audience that it is healthy for people to believe in different versions of spiritual truth. Striving for social harmony, he explained, can facilitate the enlightenment of the individual.
As a newcomer to Buddhism, I am refreshed by Jewel Heart teachers’ inclusion of contemporary social and societal issues alongside ancient texts. Demo Rinpoche hopes for all people to cultivate awareness of the ethics of their own behavior in context with current world events. Jewel Heart helps me answer: How can I hold space for all the suffering in the world while also finding peace within myself?
Jewel Heart teachings emphasize that enlightenment is only possible after a process of accepting and letting go of the negative energy, emotions, and habits in our lives. The community takes a practical approach to attaining enlightenment — you don’t need to have a glittering altar or even a meditation cushion.
In a conversation with Demo Rinpoche, I understood how steps towards enlightenment can truly be accessible to anyone; he and I spoke about the self and how releasing our judgements about ourselves can free us. This discussion helped me with my own undergraduate thesis on the Buddhist view of selflessness and the process of creative writing. Being in conversation with Jewel Heart allowed me to tune in more deeply with my Buddhist, intellectual, and creative practices. This is unsurprising given the presence of Philip Glass, the late Allen Ginsberg, and many more talented artists currently sharing their passions at Jewel Heart.
Demo Rinpoche, Jewel Heart facilitators, and guest teachers like Prof. Robert Thurman and Ven. Thubten Chödron animate Buddhist philosophy so that it may serve us in our busy lives. Celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer, Jewel Heart is proud to offer free virtual programs and special online and in-person educational series, as well as an extensive free digital archive of teachings by its founder, Gelek Rimpoche. In a time where religious freedom is under threat, Jewel Heart hopes to honor the living tradition and culture through which Tibetan Buddhism flourishes.
Jewel Heart also has ongoing science-related lessons and traditional mystical approaches to enlightenment. As both a creative and logical thinker, the diversity of this content has nourished me. Recent program highlights include Demo Rinpoche’s ongoing Jataka Tales series, in which he teaches parables of the Buddha’s past lives. Upcoming programs include “Buddha Nature”—Jewel Heart’s 2023 Summer Retreat, a week-long intertextual dive into the meaning of the Buddha within each of us.
Jewel Heart’s programs include more retreats, study programs, guest speakers, digital dharma, pilgrimages, and ritual ceremonies, and are supported by an extensive audio/video and transcript archive.