Photo by Moleskine [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Geshe Tashi Tsering, Buddhist lama and Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery, India, has been awarded the British Empire Medal for Services to Buddhism in the UK.
Tsering was among the first Tibetan lamas to share Buddhism with European audiences. He began teaching in the West in 1991 and was based at London’s Jamyang Buddhist Centre from 1994 – 2018. During this time, he studied for an MA Social Anthropology at SOAS, specialising in mindfulness and social movements.
Speaking of the the award, Geshe Tashi Tsering said: “When I first saw the email sent by the committee from the Cabinet Minister, I didn’t pay much attention. It isn’t the kind of thing that I’m usually inspired by. This is not to be disrespectful to the Queen or to the country, but it is because my entire life I haven’t been motivated or trained to receive these kinds of medals, so I didn’t pay attention to the email for almost two weeks. But later, some of my friends learned I was on the list as one of the recipients, so they asked me to reply to it, saying it would be good for the image of Tibetan monks and Buddhism. So I said okay.
“After I sent the email to accept the medal, when the actual Queen’s birthday award list name was released, people started to send me congratulations. Not just people who know about this kind of award, but also Tibetans who don’t know that much about these kind of rewards or traditions, they also started to send congratulations and the like. Then some Tibetan newspapers and a radio news presenter started to ask questions, so I thought that maybe receiving and accepting this medal may have raised some kind of awareness of Buddhism, particularly of Tibetan Buddhism and how Tibetan Buddhist monks engage with the general community. So I was really pleased to have made the decision to accept the BEM.”
With an easy sense of humour and an understanding of the western mindset, Tsering has been praised for his ability to share complex teachings without losing their clarity.
He spoke warmly of his time at SOAS: “My experience in SOAS has been very, very positive. Because of my background and age, I thought that this kind of an institution might not accept my application, but SOAS accepted it, and so I was really pleased. During my three years at SOAS, although my study was part time, I was all the time looking forward to going to lectures, going to seminars and to the library, and also going to the student canteens.
“My time at SOAS helped me to really understand the western education institutions and how they teach, structure courses and so on. So from the moment I was accepted as a SOAS student until today, I have had a tremendously deep, deep appreciation that I was given such an opportunity. I hold SOAS in my heart as a great study institution.”
Geshe Tashi Tsering is currently serving as Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery in Karnataka State, India. He keeps in touch with western friends and followers via his website and will be launching an online Buddhist educational programme entitled Foundations of Buddhist Thought from January 2020.
The Queen’s Birthday Honours List “recognises the achievements of a wide range of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom”. Among those receiving awards this year were actress Oliva Coleman and Sonia Watson, CEO of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.