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As the scent of incense wafted through the air, all eyes were on the diminutive Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged on the tile floor of the Dolan Center Atrium.

“The worst thing you can do is to cheat yourself,” Lama Yignyen Tenzin advised during his ninth visit to Friends Academy to a small gathering of parents, as he began his meditation and instruction session.

“You must find a position that you like – sitting, cross legged,” he began. “But the goal is consistency. Quality is better than quantity,” he shared. “Find five minutes every day. If you try to ‘find time’ you will fail. You don’t eat seven breakfasts in one day…am I right?” he said with a smile.

With eyes barely open, Lama Tenzin encouraged parents to understand the benefits of meditation before beginning the practice. “We often spend our five senses judging other people. But we need to make ourselves more clean before we judge others,” he said. “If you really love yourself, then spend five minutes to take care of yourself. If there’s anything wrong with your face, you clean it. Am I right?” he asked again. “The mind is very important.”

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The goal of Buddhism, according to Lama Tenzin, is to think about how many emotions and positive thoughts exist. “If you can change how you speak, think, and act, then you can change your neighbor,” he stated, adding that hate is the most impactful way to bedevil peace.

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“You are filled with negative qualities and when you see other people with negative qualities, you may try to release those. It’s important during those times to calm yourself.”


Ordained a Buddhist monk when he was much younger, Lama Tenzin explained that meditation asks one to look inside. “When you have one finger pointing at someone else, you have four fingers pointing at you,” he emphasized.

The place and position for meditating can be just as important as what thoughts you meditate upon. Sitting up straight on either a cushion or seat will open up one’s energy. Choosing to mediate with eyes closed or open is also a key. “If your eyes are open, you might chase something in front of you. In that case, you need to acknowledge it and then let it go,” he shared, adding that Tibetans usually meditate with their eyes slightly open.

“Inhale and exhale,” he said. “Think about how old you are; how you’ve spent your life; how much water you have drunk… bread you have eaten.”



At the center of Lama Tenzin’s space stands a 4-foot by 4-foot blue table on which sits an intricate design of finely ground colored stones. It is a special Mandala of Compassion that Lama Tenzin spends all week constructing before having students sweep it away and returning it to a flowing body of water. The entire exercise underscores the impermanence of life and encourages those watching to reject materialism and embrace the act of letting go.

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“A Mandala is like English. It can be done for the artist. It can be done to remove your negative qualities. When you meditate, visualize a Mandala and try to visualize patience and the causes of anger,” Lama Tenzin described.

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The Mandala serves as a map to achieving compassion. The center contains both positive qualities – generosity, patience, wisdom, and appreciation – but also displays their negative alter egos – greed, impatience, ignorance, and jealousy. 


“At the center is the seed, which starts with the individual,” said Lama Tenzin, as he traced the Mandala and its exponential spread of compassion to its outer edges. “Compassion is complete when you have compassion for your enemies,” he added.

A short practice meditation closes this unique session with Lama Tenzin, just as a class of Play Group students enter the space. “In a school, we spend a lot of time educating the mind,” finishes Lama Tenzin. “To turn that education into bigger things, we must have a large heart.”


See more

View photos of Lama Tenzin at our Middle School-led Peace Vigil and more photos of our community on our Flickr page

Peace Vigil All School 02 2024-16
Photography by Alvin Caal and Andrea Miller/Friends Academy


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