Demo Rinpoche, who spent nearly 30 years of uninterrupted education under the Dalai Lama’s direct supervision, believes one characteristic makes everyone a Buddhist.
“For me, I don’t really see a big difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists,” says Demo, a resident spiritual adviser at Jewel Heart in Ann Arbor. “Even if people don’t identify themselves as Buddhists and are really good people, then in my eyes they are Buddhists.”
Demo describes a principle of Buddhism — that there is a clear teaching of what is right or wrong, good or evil, and that karma is the law of cause and effect. One should turn away from the wrong and redirect to the right, refrain from evil and do more good. Those who do good will gain good effect, and if one practices, one may attain Buddhahood.
The young, dynamic lama begun teaching in Michigan after the passing of Gelek Rimpoche, beloved Tibetan Buddhist teacher of Jewel Heart. Demo, 37, moved to Ann Arbor last summer and serves as the resident spiritual adviser at Jewel Heart.
He says learning and teaching go hand in hand and he finds great joy in both. “I feel like learning has never stopped for me and will never stop,” he says. “I feel like I’m always learning something new. In fact, when I teach, I learn more. In the west when I teach a newcomer or someone who is not Buddhist it helps me to learn a lot about general human nature and their understanding.”
Jewel Heart is dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan Buddhism and to bringing the practice of this rich tradition to everyone in the context of contemporary life. It also provides opportunities to study and learn at all levels of interest — from introductory meditation to advanced vajrayana practice.
“It is a Tibetan Buddhist learning center and our goal is to teach people to be better people and be compassionate and kind,” Demo says. “We also welcome people who are not Buddhists.”
Demo does a Sunday talk program on the first and third Sundays of every month at Jewel Heart. “Everyone is welcome here,” he says. “It’s free and lasts only an hour.”
Demo went to Drepung Loseling Monastery in Mundgod, India, and officially joined the monastery in 1987, where he spent three decades of education in meditation, debate, memorization, philosophy and composition under the Dalai Lama’s direct supervision. He was recognized by the Dalai Lama at the age of 5 as the reincarnation of Gelek Rimpoche’s father. Gelek Rimpoche, who founded Jewel Heart International in Ann Arbor, died last year.
“I’ve been a monk since I was 7 years old, and I studied Buddhism for 20 years in India,” Demo Rinpoche says. “It’s not like a traditional monastery. It’s more about education. We studied philosophy and about how to read and explain the textbook. Every year we had exams and then go to a different class. We had prayer time and mediation.”
Demo received the highest monastic degree of Geshe Lharampa from Gelugpa University in India in 2011. He continued his studies at Gyume Tantric College. At the request of Gelek Rimpoche, Demo Rinpoche came to the United States, where he received his master’s degree in inter-religious engagement from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 2018.
“I came to the United States to study,” he says. “I only studied Buddhism in India. I was curious and interested in studying about other religions.”
He saw some differences between the east and west pretty quickly.
“It’s pretty different,” he says. “But after a while I started to see both differences but also similarities. We all have similar problems, like emotional problems. And whether you are from the east or the west we have some kind of attitude in our behavior.
“The differences are the people in the west are so busy and I feel like they are always running. There isn’t that rush in the east. They are calm and thinking slowly. I think life is a little easier in the east. Here, I think people have to work really hard or it’s hard to survive.”
Jewel Heart is at 1129 Oak Valley Drive in Ann Arbor. For more information, visit jewelheart.org.
Demo will give his first public talk in the Metro Detroit area at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Birmingham Unitarian Church on Woodward Avenue in Bloomfield Hills.
“The talk will be about how to find satisfaction from my Buddhist understanding,” he says. “Buddhists believe that satisfaction is very important. It’s very important to be satisfied with what we have. It’s all about having peace in our hearts and in our lives. I will talk about the existence of nature and how we perceive it and how it effects our understanding and emotions. In Buddhism understanding, nothing exists outside independently.”
- If you go: Demo Rinpoche will give his first public talk in the Metro Detroit area at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Birmingham Unitarian Church, 38651 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills. A free guided meditation precedes the talk at 9:30 a.m. Coffee break 10:30-11 a.m.