Craig Preston is the founder of the
Nagarjuna Language Institute in Ithaca and an adjunct faculty member at the Namgyal Monastery. The institute, founded in 1999, teaches the Buddha Dharma and trains translators in the classical Tibetan language. Preston has written three books on Buddhist philosophy and the teaching of classical Tibetan.
Contributing Writer Jackie Simone spoke with Preston about the Buddhist population in Ithaca and the Dalai
Lama’s impact on the community.
Jackie Simone: Is there a large Buddhist population in the town of Ithaca?
Craig Preston: Yeah, there is actually. Ithaca is a very friendly town for alternate lifestyles [and] alternate philosophies. … Ithaca was one of the initial Tibetan
resettlement communities. That’s how we started getting Tibetans here. And they’re all Buddhist. … There are probably a couple hundred people here who consider themselves Buddhist in different persuasions.
JS: As a faculty member of the Namgyal Monastery, how does it support that large [of a] Buddhist population in Ithaca?
CP: Oh, in a bunch of different ways. It supports the local Tibetan community in terms of cultural preservation, cultural continuity, you know, instruction for young Tibetan kids — the kind of cultural Buddhism of Tibetan refugee communities. In a larger sense, it provides classes on an ongoing basis for all interested parties. It brings a regular curriculum for the fall and winter. It has lots of weekend programs where noted scholars come in and give weekend retreats and weekend talks.
JS: How has the Dalai Lama’s visit impacted the community’s interest in Tibetan language, culture and Buddhism?
CP: There have been talks at Cornell and other speakers at the Namgyal Monastery downtown. And then later in the fall there is a program at the public library downtown on Buddhism and science. There is a general interest in things Tibetan and things Buddhist. … It will [also] inspire events later.
JS: How can people of other faiths
incorporate the central doctrines of Buddhism into their lives?
CP: Well, I think the central doctrine of Buddhism is “treat everyone decently,” and that’s not an exclusive possession of Buddhism. The centrality of love and compassion and community, which I think is at the heart of Buddhism, is available to other religions too. … If you treat everyone with dignity and respect and compassion and loving kindness, you may not even call yourself a Buddhist, you may not be a Buddhist, but you’re certainly acting in harmony with the deepest Buddhist principles.
JS: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers of The Ithacan?
CP: I think that the Dalai Lama is certainly someone worth listening to. I’m a child of the ’60s, and the principles of equality, social equality, civil rights, treating people with just common decency and love seem [to be] tremendously important. And if his presence rubs off on people so that they treat each other better … that’s just great.