Blue Whale meets Buddhist at the American Museum of Natural History

It has long been a dream of mine to meditate with a Tibetan monk beneath a giant model of Balaenoptera musculus. And this morning, that dream came true.

Kicking-off the museum’s week-long series Living in America: Brain and the Tibetan Creative Mind (yeah, I don’t really get the title), abbot Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery gave a lecture on Buddhist practice and lead a short meditation in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.

It was rather thrilling to walk through the museum before its regular opening although the Hall of Ocean Life looked rather naked lit only from its faux skylight and without any of the visual drama and interest created by its lighting design. Chairs were set up beneath the whale and several enthusiastic meditators brought their own cushions and sat on the floor.

A very nice note written by Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan’s personal assistant (monks get personal assistants? I guess so) was handed to me explaining some of the meditation vocabulary and general concepts. Then Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan was introduced and he sat down in a chair in front of a microphone and apologized for his accent. It was a little difficult to understand what he was saying at points but something (the preponderance of TOMS footwear and Northface jackets?) told me that most members of the audience have probably been introduced to the concept of Buddhism before.

The lecture went through the basic tenents of Buddhist practice, espousing universal love and compassion while denouncing attachment and suffering. The concepts of Karma and reincarnation were introduced with site-appropriate metaphors—rivers, oceans, etc. Then Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan lead a short guided meditation in which he asked us to focus on a individual who was neither a stranger nor an enemy nor a friend and to wish for their happiness. It was a very nice exercise.

He answered a few questions afterwards and then someone turned the lights on and I thought about the irony of a Buddhist monk lecturing on the sanctity of sentient life in the midst of stuffed seals and sharks and birds that had been killed for our enjoyment and edification.

If you’re interested in other Brain and the Tibetan Creative Mind events here’s the website:


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