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An interview with His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa

“Without appreciation, our life is like plastic. Not only do we have to remove the non-biodegradable rubbish from our external environment, we have to clear that from our mind too!”

V: The various schools and traditions within Buddhism hold different views as to the possibilities of women’s spiritual attainments. Your Holiness, you are a staunch advocate for gender equality. Your have created a home to self-empowered nuns, where you encourage them to train in kung fu, but also let them study and seek enlightenment on a par with monks. What made you plant that seed of aspiration to establish a spiritual place to promote women’s awareness of their potential, particularly in the context of Buddhism’s dogmas?

HH: We want to promote many things; not only gender equality. As gender equality is something that we haven’t being doing very well, so this is the reason I’m now putting a little effort into it. This is in conjunction with different sorts of spiritual practices, especially Buddhist practice and Vajrayana practice. We see women as very special, very special. I’d say that women do have some kind of beautiful contribution to the society. But unfortunately, we have been suppressing them in our society and women are very much pushed down. As a result of doing so for such a long time, since many generations ago, women have not much energy left, not much guts to come out,because they have been told not to be coming out. Therefore, overall, not just women, but we, too, are losing lots of good deeds, lots of good things from the world. Maybe 50% or more of the population in this world are women. When we manage to suppress or push down half of the world’s population, you can simply imagine how much we are losing. We are losing lot of energy; we are losing lots of beautiful things in this world, on this planet. So therefore, globally speaking, as well as religiously speaking, we really need to lift up the female population and let them grow themselves instead of saying,“No! You cannot do this and you cannot do that!” Thisis the reason why I’m promoting gender equality.

As you can see I’m a spiritual master or spiritual teacher, of course I have to play the game or demonstrate my support for gender equality in spiritual format, not in other formats. So this is a game I’m “playing” through my own skills, which means spirituality. From a spiritual point of view,women are very much needed in society. For example, in a family we need the mother, the woman. If the woman is not there, or just one or two women are there, but many men are around, I think the whole house would be really rundown, dirty and out of order, because of a lack of women. It is the same with spirituality. Spiritual practice also needs the energy of women, the female energy. Of course male energy is very much needed too. But I don’t think it’s good to have only male energy without female energy; so this is the reason why I’m “playing” such a game.

V: Your Holiness,you received the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Honor in September 2010and three months later in December 2010, the Green Hero Award, presented by the President of India. Annually, you embark on ‘Eco Pad Yatra’ (foot journey) a trek in which hundreds of volunteers hike hundreds of miles collecting plastic waste along the way. Is this pad yatra a Buddhist approach to generate respect fornature, generate awareness of our environment? How can Buddhist teachers and practitioners, or just common beings, participate in taking this initiative forward?

drukpaoneHH: Personally, I believe that this is the authentic Buddhist practice. But I don’t like to emphasize it as a “Buddhist” practice. Why? This is because I would like everybody to feel comfortable to participate in it,and I would love everybody to follow this example regardless ofyour beliefs, religions, races, nationalities, etc. I would love everybody to do it because it’s everybody’s responsibility to keep the environment clean for the sake of all beings. This is the reason I just don’t feel right to highlight the Eco Pad Yatraas a Buddhist practice. But if you ask this specifically, I’d say this pad yatra is really an extremely important part of the practice of Buddhism. Why am I saying this? Simply because the Buddhist approach is nothing but to keep the environment clean. And when we speak about the environment, there are three or four versions of the environment. The inner version of environment is of course the mind, the concept and how you look at things, and this has to be positive and very optimistic. The other one is outer environment, which we can see out there: the outer environment needs to be clean, clean in the sense of keeping it healthy. Since plastic and non-biodegradable items are not healthy for the environment; and it is scientifically proven so, definitely not a religious nor a superficial belief, but scientifically confirmed. So all this junk like the non-biodegradable garbage is really killing our environment. In the name of Bodhicitta, in the name of Bodhisattva’s activities, in the name of compassion, in the name of love, what do we have to do? We have to act immediately! We should not wait for this problem to become overwhelmingly too big that it cannot be resolved easily. We all know that non-biodegradable garbageis appearing everywhere and killing nature. We have to do something right now!I am just setting an example so that at least 1,000 people will follow, and then the 1000 people will be setting an example, then a million people will follow. This trend should be contagious and has to be spreading everywhere. This is my main motivation. I’m not saying I’m going to be cleaning the whole world. I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s not possible, but there is the possibility to set an example so everybody will follow. Of course I’m not the only one, but there are a lot of us in this world who are full heartedly there for this cause. There is no reason why people like me, Buddhist masters and spiritual teachers,should not do it. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it, and why we shouldn’t do it? We should be doing it as a main part of the practice of Buddhism. There is no problem.

Yes, Pad Yatrais for cleaning the environment. It’s about cleaning the Himalayas, cleaning glaciers, the water. You can call it whatever you want as long as you clean the environment.

V: Religion vs spirituality – what is the difference and similarity? Is spirituality separate from religion?

HH: Spirituality is the heart of religion. If the religion has no spirituality, it has no heart. Just like a man without heart, he may not be possible to survive. Even if it is possible for him to live, he would not be a useful man. Similarly, spirituality is very important for religion. The classification of spirituality to my understanding is wisdom or the genuine understanding of the world: how it works, how it harms, how it helps, how we really need to cooperate with the world and how important nature is. How important will keeping the nature free of pollution be for the next generation, such as for our great grandchildren? All these things need to be understood. The understanding itself I think is spirituality. If you understand it, then this will bring love, a sense of compassion, a sense of ownership, a sense of responsibility that I have to look after it: this is my world, this is my earth. Regardless of legal ownership, the earth belongs to you, belongs to all of us. Even though we cannot register our ownership on the entire planet earth, like our house which is registered in our name. So even if land outside of your fence does not legally belong to you, you need to take care of its environment. You have to be reaching everywhere; at least love should be reaching everywhere. That is spirituality.

Having this sort of genuine spirituality would give you lots of colors, lots of shapes and actions. All these actions come with different religious labels, though sometimes not necessarily in the name of religions. In fact, most religions are meant to be an act of understanding. Of course, what you dress also tells something. For example, Buddhists wear maroon color. Muslim, white. All the religions have different colors and costumes, lots of colorful presentations. These should be reflections of spirituality.

Nowadays, unfortunately, many religious people do not have much spirituality. This is the point where they lose the sense of unity.They fight, they kill each other and they create lots of problems in the world. This is because of a lack of spirituality. This is the reason why I’m saying that religion without spirituality is like a man without a heart. Even without religious labels, I think there is a possibility to represent spirituality to the public,thanks to modernization. The tool to represent spirituality is religion.

Generally speaking, many things that we do on a habitual basis are actually our religions. For example, my religion is eating twice a day; my religion is sleeping four hours a day; my religion is listening to music or my religion is going downtown everyday. I would call all these “religion”. Day-to-day life is considered to be “religion”. This is what I think. Therefore, you don’t have to change the color of your dress, you don’t have to cut your hair, you don’t have to change your day-to-day life, abandon your wife, abandon your husband, abandon your family and abandon your money in order to do so.

In ancient times, it was necessary to show that you were religions, that you were spiritually developed and advanced, since others wouldn’t know how to see it, so you had to show it to them.By renunciation, I have to cut my hair; I have to abandon my family and do many strange things, so that others would understand that you are going on a spiritual path. For me as a teacher to inspire you, I have to do many different things. And also to inspire myself, I have to do many things, because religion is really the tool. But nowadays, maybe you can be inspired in different ways.

V: His Holiness, recently I got hold of your book, “Everyday Enlightenment, Walking the Path to Happiness in the Modern World”. It seems that we are living in a modern world full of crisis. Moral decay in society; degeneration. People are seemingly disconnected from spirituality. In the midst of this chaos, how do you go about finding everyday enlightenment?

drukpathreeHH: I always think that everyday enlightenment is very much available. Enlightenment is available to us all the time, every moment. It is the day-to-day life, it is spirituality. You said correctly that people are going far away from spirituality; this is unfortunate. But at the same time, you don’t need to look elsewhere for enlightenment, it is available in your day-to-day life.

Early morning you wake up, go to the bathroom, clean yourself, brush your teeth, and do your work, and you do this every day, repeatedly. However, if you look at all these activities a little bit differently, it is enlightenment. Every moment is enlightenment. Every moment is a learning process. Every moment is an experience. So each of the experiences is definitely an enlightenment.We call it “enlightenment” because it is a colorful way of saying it. In a nutshell, enlightenment is an understanding, a learning process of your day-to-day life. So in terms of getting everyday enlightenment or reaching that level of understanding, I think it’s not that difficult.

Regardless of what you are doing, you have to do it anyway, it doesn’t matter what you follow, how spiritual you are and how religious you are. Even if you are not spiritual or you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in Buddha, it doesn’t matter. You still believe in tea, you still believe in breakfast. So let’s have a good breakfast! Let’s have a healthy breakfast! You want to live healthily. That’s enlightenment! You want to have good friends that will help you. You want to live long, so you have to drink well; you have to drink appropriately; you have to eat appropriately; you have to do appropriate things. You don’t have to call it religion, but that is religion; and you don’t have to call it enlightenment, but that is your enlightenment, because you know what to drink and what not to drink. That is everyday enlightenment. This is one of the classifications of enlightenment, but of course, there are thousands of classifications.

V: Materialism vs Happiness. Millions of workers caught up in the rat race face stress, burn-out and depression, rather than the happiness that material success was supposed to deliver. Are we looking in the wrong places?

HH: Yes. We are searching for happiness. This is a really wrong approach. We shouldn’t be searching for happiness. If you search for happiness, it means you are looking for a goal called“happiness”. This is no good. You don’t have to search for happiness; happiness is within yourself. If you look at it nicely, understand it, comprehend it nicely, there shouldn’t be any problem. We are all worn out, burnt out. Why? Because there is too much searching, always searching and searching…it is almost impossible. Sometimes we get some happiness and it’s almost like a cookie for a baby to shut up or something like that. Very temporary. At the end, this is not authenticlasting happiness. Genuine happiness is definitely within yourself. Something you have to understand within yourself. For example, I have two legs; although my legs are not behaving well, I have two legs to walk. The fact is that I have two hands to hold the cup and the spoon. I have hands to use when I eat. At least I have hands to comb my hair. At least I have two hands to wear my jacket. All these things that I have on my body have to be making me happy. But because you don’t appreciate, there is no happiness. Even though you have the cause of happiness, and happiness itself, it is hidden, unfortunately very hidden; you don’t feel it. So instead, you have lots of pain, lots of problems. For example, I would have problems with my husband; I have would problems with my wife; I would have problems with my finances, or whatever. I would have tons of problems, and these problems are highlighted, while the happiness that I have, the genuine happiness, the cause of happiness and the happiness itself, is not highlighted for some reasons. It is very hidden; it’s almost not there. Why? Because you are not looking at it, you are not bringing it out. This is the reason I’m saying “Happiness is there, it is there in every minute of your life. It is a primordial gift, it is there!” But you don’t appreciate it. So then you suffer like nobody’s business. That’s the reason I said: if you look for happiness as a goal, that’s not right. So searching for happiness is wrong.

V: What makes you a true Buddhist? What kind of qualities do you need?

drukpatwoHH: I don’t know whether “true Buddhist” is the right terminology to use, I would rather say a “good Buddhist”. A good Buddhist, definitely needs two things. The first one is understanding: you need lots of understanding about phenomena and all these things. And understanding is not just something you have inside your head, with no action to be taken. This is not right. Action should be executed. The execution has to be there. These two are very much the characteristics of the good Buddhist. Understanding, number one; and the execution of understanding, number two. Understanding has the meaning of wisdom.

The fact that a person doesn’t know how happy he or she is, even though he or she should be happy, I feel compassionate towards him or her and I feel regretful that I am same like him or her. We need to reflect on ourselves as well. For example, I’d feel that “Oh, she is a very poor girl; like me, she doesn’t know anything about her happiness and she’s searching for happiness day and night like nobody’s business. So I’m compassionate towards her, because of my own suffering and my own experience. So now I’d go to see her, encourage her and shake her shoulder, saying, “Hey! Don’t be like this. I was also going through your problem. You have to be happy. Wherever you are, please be happy. Great happiness is there. Why you are searching for something else? You are searching for happiness, aren’t you?” I’d do this. This is the action of my love, that comes with understanding. This is what I meant by action or execution. But before that, I don’t do anything, I just sit there and contemplate, until I understand. So with a combination of these two, you would become a good Buddhist.

Vairochana

Vairochana

Hi! I am Pasang, your editor-in-chief and publisher of Vairochana. The Vairochana newsletter is created on a vision to galvanize a sense of community in the Boudha region of Kathmandu.