NIC students and Coeur d’Alene community members greeted Venerable Thubten Chodron as their guest of honor by standing in silence as she entered the Lake Coeur d’ Alene room and prepared to give a speech on Oct. 11. The theme of her talk would be identity and how the identities we give ourselves affect the world.
Venerable Chodron was accompanied by two other Tibetan Buddhist nuns and one novice Tibetan Buddhist monk: Venerable Tarpa, Venerable Damcho and Venerable Losang. All four traveled from the Sravasti Abbey in Newport, WA.
Venerable Chodron, the abbess and founder of the Sravasti Abbey, spoke on how identities are hard to define, how they pit people against each other with prejudice, and how they narrow one’s view of the world.
“If we misunderstand identities, we get into a lot of conflict with others over our identity and their identity,” Venerable Chodron said.
She said that identities are based on different factors, both external and internal, and can be based on what voting blocs we are categorized into as well as what we think about ourselves.
The prejudices that come with our identities, according to Venerable Chodron, create an “us versus them” dynamic, and because of that, the whole point of having identities is missed.
“If you look inside all of our hearts, we’re exactly the same. We’re simply living beings who want to be happy and don’t want to suffer,” Venerable Chodron said.
She emphasized the term “living beings” throughout her speech, as opposed to “human beings” to keep from excluding animals and other creatures with a mind and the ability to be happy.
There was a sense of calm that circulated the room, even when the Venerable spoke on more serious subjects such as labels that objectify women, or when she politely joked about current events and her past experiences.
The theme of Venerable Chodron’s talk on identity corresponded with the larger theme of the NIC Diversity Council of racial and ethnic diversity.
Acccoring to NIC philosophy teacher, council member, and sponsor of Venerable Chodron’s visit, Laura Templeman, the Diversity Council selects a theme every two school years and plans events to promote the theme.
NIC’s current common read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson also corresponds with this theme.
Templeman, who has been teaching for 17 years, first invited the nuns from the Sravasti Abbey to NIC six years ago as a part of her curriculum.
“Part of our mission at the college is diversity and community events, so when I first asked the nuns to come to the classroom they had, a few times before, done public lectures,” Templeman said.
“I just incorporated something that was already kind of happening on a really small scale… Offering her [Venerable Chodron] ideas and her teachings to everybody seemed like a really cool thing to do community wide.”
There is a video of Venerable Chodron’s speech at NIC on the Sravasti Abbey Youtube channel. More resources are made available by the Coeur d’Alene Dharma Friends and the NIC Diversity Council.