For episode 191 of the Metta Hour, Sharon speaks with scholar, researcher, and author, Alexander Gardner.
Content Warning – This interview includes conversation about suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide – whether or not you are in crisis – you can find free support & resources via the: 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
Alex is the Director and Chief Editor of the Treasury of Lives, a biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia, and the Himalaya. Alex completed his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan in 2007. His research focuses on the collaborative activities of three great nineteenth-century Tibetan Buddhist masters. In 2019, he released the book “The Life of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great” from Shambhala. In this conversation, Alex and Sharon speak about:
• How Alex was drawn to Eastern studies • The two-month retreat Sharon and Alex sat many years ago • The importance of Lineage • What inspired a book about Jamgon Kongtrul • How the great masters in Buddhism were regular people • The history of Bodh Gaya, India • The inspiration for Treasury of Lives • How technology interfaces with spiritual teachings • Alex’s exploration of sexuality in Buddhist Teachings • A chance meeting with a clown nose
For more information about Alex’s work, you can visit treasuryoflives.org or get a copy of his book, The Life of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, available in hardcover and ebook formats.
Lineage is Key in Buddhism
Sharon welcomes Alex to the Metta Hour and they talk about how Alex became drawn to historical figures from Eastern philosophy. They discuss the concept of lineage and how it’s key to Buddhism. Alex brings up how lineage helps us remember that our teachers are only a link in a chain. It’s okay to question our teachers, they are just as human as we are.
“The biggest vulnerability is really that we become, sometimes, afraid to question and afraid to doubt even though it’s so vital to everything the Buddha himself talked about, you know. ‘Find out for yourself, put it into practice, check it out.’ And then you get afraid of making waves and you don’t want to bring up the things that are making you uneasy.” – Sharon Salzberg
Jack Kornfield talks about finding true teachers along our spiritual path in Heart Wisdom Ep. 153
Jamgon Kongtrul the Great (18:40)
Sharon digs into Alex’s book, The Life of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, which tells the story of an influential Tibetan teacher from the 19th century. Alex talks about how Kongtrul was instrumental in gathering up all available teachings and even publishing them. Sharon asks about Alex’s other project, The Treasury of Lives, which serves as a biographical encyclopedia of Tibetan traditions and people.
“Another thing that I love: Kongtrul, he’s sort of paragon of Tibetan ecumenicalism, right, he just loved everything. He had this insatiable curiosity for the teachings; great love and appreciation for all the teachings that Tibet had created by that point. And so he just went around and he gathered them. He received them and he practiced them.” – Alex Gardner
Lama Tsomo details the path she walked in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in Mindrolling Ep. 444
Gender Fluidity in the Service of Love (41:00)
Sharon and Alex talk about finding the silver lining during Covid, and how so many of the Buddhist teachings can help us face tremendous suffering with compassion. They wrap up their conversation by touching on a couple of articles Alex wrote for Tricycle Magazine; one is about the importance of women in Buddhism, and the other is about gender fluidity.
“In a host of condemnations and the fear and the anxiety of this gender fluidity, here’s an example of gender fluidity in the service of love, and I just loved that.” – Alex Gardner