KINGSTON, R.I. – March 15, 2023 – As a student and Buddhist monk in India, Thupten Tendhar’s introduction to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came when he read a small chapter in a book about the civil rights activist. When he joined the Drepung Loseling Monastery, Tendhar’s work in peace studies expanded, including training with rabbi Everett Gendler and his wife Dr. Mary Gendler from the Boston area who came to deliver an intensive workshop on Kingian nonviolence. The training gave a subtle hint to the work Tendhar himself would do someday.
Tendhar was recognized recently as the recipient of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Peacemaker Award, recognizing his work in the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies and work as an instructor of Kingian nonviolence at URI, training students and international practitioners. A former Tibetan Buddhist monk, Tendhar coordinates the University’s Healthy Minds-Inner Peace Research Project. Throughout his career, Tendhar has worked to share the traditional Tibetan values of love, compassion, wisdom, peace and happiness with others.
Tendhar also coordinates the University’s International Nonviolence Summer Institute, which will return to an in-person gathering this year, its first since 2019.
Path to URI
After spending more than 20 years as an ordained Buddhist monk, Tendhar first came to the U.S. to serve as a spokesperson for a group of Tibetan monk-artists, leading them on a cross-country tour to promote world peace, mutual understanding, and healing. The tour visited several college campuses and art centers. “The Dalai Lama inspired us to be a part of study and research at modern educational institutions,” Tendhar says. “He encouraged us to be 21st-century monks and nuns, to go to modern institutions to continue our studies including science.” It was an environment Tendhar found he liked; he ultimately decided to continue his work, translating Buddhism’s traditional values to the modern world.
Tendhar first came to URI as a student of the nonviolence institute, at the invitation of Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr. from URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. He was awed by the wisdom and warm-heartedness of psychology professor emeritus Paul Bueno de Mesquita and political science professor emeritus Art Stein, both past Peacemaker Award recipients (2015 and 2007).
Tendhar, who met Stein through peace work at the Center, recalls how struck he was by the friendly South County community, the trust people had in looking out for one another. “It was inspiring for me.” He decided to apply to return to URI, for that welcoming atmosphere, the learning opportunities, and the beautiful environment found here. “We have the oceans, next to all this greenery,” Tendhar says. “I said, ‘What a paradise for learning this is.’”
“I enjoy working with the students and faculty here,” Tendhar says. “This is a special place and I appreciate the opportunity to be here.”
Tendhar’s office on the second floor of the Multicultural Student Services Center is a peaceful oasis, out of which a range of programs and activities operate for the URI community and beyond. “We would like to see every student at URI get education and training around nonviolence and peace,” he says. “And the University is a central source for nonviolence training, not only for URI but for anyone who wishes to come here; we’ve welcomed guests from as far away as Africa.”
Tendhar was honored to receive the Peacemaker Award and says, “It’s a wonderful recognition to receive and to continue and encourage King’s peacebuilding. I feel humbled by the award.”
Alumna Manuela Vadis, a coordinator in the University’s Gender and Sexuality Center, received the Peacemaker Award as a student in 2016. Vadis says, “It’s important to recognize what people are doing on this campus to recognize MLK’s legacy. There’s a need for change and equity. Tendhar’s work on our campus around nonviolence is really phenomenal. The award highlights humans doing good work; there are a lot of people here doing that. It’s important for our community to see the strides taking place.”
The award is presented annually by the URI Chaplains Association, which solicits nominations from across campus for individuals or student groups that exemplify the aspirations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and implement those values at URI. The Chaplains Association is a body of religious professionals at URI, who, in addition to serving their own communities, work together to foster dialogue, understanding and respect among people of different faiths and traditions. Past recipients of the award include Sharon Pavignano in the URI Foundation & Alumni Engagement, Matthew Ramirez in the Graduate School of Oceanography, and several student groups. For information on submitting a nomination for next year, email URI Chaplains Association president Amy Olson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Summer Nonviolence Institute
Registration for this year’s Nonviolence Institute is open. The deadline is May 15.
Tendhar points out that there are many ways to learn violence in the world and fewer opportunities to learn nonviolence. He hopes to tip the equation by building a global network of URI-trained nonviolence practitioners. He’s trained approximately 1,000 since joining URI. This summer, he is looking forward to training 65 or more people from diverse backgrounds.
As troubling events have made news on other college campuses this winter, Tendhar reflected on the importance of nonviolence programs and programs like CIRIGHTS. “This shows how relevant and practical nonviolence training is,” he says. “We all bring different values to our community, but we can embrace and sit together. We can contribute together to humanity, across generations, sex, and other differences. The smallest state can contribute to the larger community of the world.”
To sign up for this summer’s Nonviolence Institute, visit here. To contact Tendhar, email email@example.com.