For Some Chicago Buddhists, Dalai Lama Just Another Teacher

May 8, 2007

Author: Jeremy Gantz

Source: Medill Reports

To most Americans, the Dalai Lama is the smiling face of Buddhism.

But to Manith Pov, a monk at the Cambodian Buddhist Association in Uptown, the spiritual superstar is just another monk outside of Cambodia's particular brand of Buddhism.

“The Dalai Lama follows the Buddha teaching too, but he takes a little path from the Buddhist book,” Pov said Tuesday. “My [Theravadin] tradition is more strict.”

The 39-year-old monk, who practices a form of Buddhism most common in Southeast Asia, came to Chicago from Cambodia three years ago to serve the city’s Cambodian community, he said.

Pov complicates common American perceptions of the world of Buddhism, which is symbolized – some might say idealized – by the 14th Dalai Lama, who gave two sold-out teachings in Millennium Park Sunday.

That the world’s most recognizable monk is just another teacher to many Buddhists may come as a surprise to many Americans, among whom only about 1 percent are practicing Buddhists, according to Harvard University’s Pluralism Project.

No one sect dominates Buddhism, which encompasses Japan’s more well-known Zen meditation traditions and the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan brand.