Khen Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist monk from Ladakh, India. In 1995, Rinpoche founded the Siddhartha School in his native village of Ladakh, and the school has since educated some of the most academically accomplished graduates in the Jammu and Kashmir state. His Holiness the Dalai Lama twice asked Rinpoche to be the head abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in India; the first time, he declined, choosing to instead devote his full energy to working with the Siddhartha School, but he later accepted the honor in 2005. Now, Rinpoche divides his time between overseeing activities at the Siddhartha School and traveling and teaching in the United States.
During his visit, Rinpoche illustrated his view of the importance of education by drawing the analogy of teachers as caretakers of trees that grow, blossom, and eventually bear fruit of students. He emphasized that the beauty of this cycle is that the fruit does not float upward and disappear, but rather, falls back to the ground, to nourish the next generation of trees in their production of future fruit. Rinpoche furthermore emphasized the value of teachers in guiding the growth of the trees and resulting fruit, and since most teachers in the area cycle through schools every three years, Rinpoche wanted to establish a school in which teachers could stay rooted to allow them to pursue personal growth as educators and to develop long-term connections with their students. Thus, the concept for The Siddhartha School was born.
The Siddhartha School’s mission is to “give the children of Ladakh access to a rich, thoroughly modern education that is in harmony with their Himalayan heritage and their cultural traditions.” Rinpoche emphasized the importance of this work, for gaining support and excitement from parents can be difficult, because many are illiterate. However, they can plainly see their children’s pride when they return home to demonstrate their newly learned writing abilities with their finger or a piece of wood.
During his visit, Rinpoche and students across grades were given the opportunity to learn from one another. For instance, when Rinpoche visited Li-Ting Huang’s class of Fifth Grade art students, the class got to engage in a discussion about the reasons why one might value the permanence or impermanence of art. The class was making colorful Mandalas, and had previously watched a video of people creating sand mandalas and then sweeping them away. Rinpoche shared how he also makes sand mandalas in the monastery, and shared his experiences of the feeling of sweeping them away.
Reflecting on the day, Rinpoche’s accompanying travel companions Laura Kozaitis and Jennifer Spatz remarked on how much they all enjoyed their visit. Spatz remarked, “It was a lovely day and I so enjoyed learning more about the Bush School and the wonderful educational opportunities the school offers. I would say sign me up, but after spending a day at school, I am wiped out!”
Bush is beginning to explore the possibility of a student exchange with The Siddhartha School, and Middle School teachers Laurie Mathews and Ben Wheeler--who organized Rinpoche’s visit--will travel to The Siddhartha School this summer to continue looking into the feasibility of this student exchange program.