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Khenzur Rinpoche Tenpa Gyaltshen, a 70-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk, never thought he would become resident priest at a small temple in Hiroshima.

His copper-roofed dwelling, Ryuzo-in, is located in Shoten-zan Kanki (Sacred Mountain Jubilation) Temple, built on a hilltop next to a residential quarter but far from the madding crowd, with visitors needing to climb 187 stone steps to get to it.

Tenpa Gyaltshen was 27 when he and thousands of other followers of the Dalai Lama fled their homeland to northern India in 1959, after China invaded and annexed Tibet in 1950.

“Night and day we walked through the Himalaya Mountains. I carried nothing but myself. Those who had a load failed to escape and were killed,” the monk said.

In India, Tenpa Gyaltshen attained the highest academic degree, Geshe Lharampa, after a spell of hard ascetic training at Drepung Gomang Monastic College in southern India, in the area’s almost unbearable summer heat.

He later became abbot of the college. During his tenure, he was invited twice to the Toyo Bunko library of Asian history and culture in Tokyo for research.

Tenpa Gyaltshen, who assumed the presidency of the Tokyo-based Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Association in October 2001, gives sermons and preaches in Tokyo, Saitama, Ishikawa and Kyoto prefectures, using the Hiroshima temple as his base.

The association, named after the bodhisattva Manjushri, aims at preserving Mahayana Buddhism practices on the basis of Mind Only and Middle Way philosophies, which are less esteemed in Japan than in Tibet.

“The smiles all over his face, which look as if they come from Buddhist sutras themselves, are not made up but resulted from hard training from his childhood,” said Fumio Higuchi, a coordinator of Tenpa Gyaltshen’s preaching itinerary.

Higuchi, 69, was born in Zentsuji, Kagawa Prefecture, the birthplace of Kobo Daishi, or Kukai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon sect. He knows almost all the sutras of the popular sect by heart.

“My first glance at Tenpa’s face made me think he succeeded in mating his religious disputes with practice,” Higuchi said.

Higuchi and 14 other followers took in Tenpa Gyaltshen’s lay sermon in a hall in the main temple building. During the sermon, a mosquito flew into the hall, whose doors were open. Tenpa Gyaltshen, in response to a question on what he wants to teach Japanese believers, smiling, said, “Never kill mosquitoes.

“If you say, ‘A mosquito came in. I will kill it. Slap! I’ve got it,’ you committed a sin. See the mosquito as the reincarnation of your mother. You can become a doer of good deeds if you have mercy on everything.”

The day’s theme at the lay sermon was the Vajrasattva (Diamond-being) meditation method of how to ask for confessional release.

There was an image of Vajrasattva, with a white body, sitting and holding his princess in his arms, in the hall. “Imagine your heinous sins and diseases having been sanctified by light coming from the heart of the Vajrasattva, like sunshine,” Tenpa Gyaltshen said.

His sermon was interpreted by Shojiro Nomura, 31, the association’s secretary, who is studying Buddhism as a postgraduate student at Waseda University in Tokyo.

The monk, committed to lifetime celibacy, goes to bed at 11 p.m. and wakes at 3 a.m. His daily routine is just meditation and sutra-reading.

“In past times, Japanese Buddhist monks were doing the same. Our teacher sets the example of a true man of the cloth,” Nomura said.

Higuchi, toward the end of the session, asked, “Teacher, have you committed sins?”

“Yes, I committed countless sins before my reincarnation,” Tenpa Gyaltshen answered his ardent follower.

“One longtime problem was answered,” Mikiko Sumitomo, 57, a painter and disciple of maestro Ikuo Hirayama, said after listening to the monk’s sermon.

“Respected Tenpa said he thinks religious belief is a problem for oneself. The important thing is to get over feelings of dislike against anyone, by thinking he is a bodhisattva, who vows to attain enlightenment (bodhi).”

In Mahayana tradition, one who accomplishes the bodhisattva practice is a Buddha.

Shigemi Himori, 58, a housewife from Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, who frequently attends the preachings at the Hiroshima temple, works to provide support to help young monks in exile outside Tibet continue their studies.

“Tenpa prays for the happiness of ordinary people and holds no grudges, although he lost his homeland. I want a true Buddhist monk like him to stay here,” she said.

Another ardent supporter, Chouzen Kobayashi, deputy residential priest of Jodo (Pure Land of Buddha) Temple, the headquarters of the Shingon sect’s Senyu group, in the city of Onomichi, said: “Buddhism should answer calls from all the world across sects and borders. Tibetan Buddhism retains the original teachings in India and is dealing with what is seldom seen in Japan. We need more exchanges with Tibetan Buddhism.”

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