By Punya Srivatsava
A two-day conclave on active peace organised by the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa of the Karma Kagyu lineage, at the breathtaking Palpung Sherabling monastery in the Kangra valley, brought eminent speakers from across the country, says Punya Srivastava
‘One world, one sky
One love, one life
One earth, one soul
Active peace should be our goal…’
These words, powerfully delivered by singer Valentine Shipley, reverberated through the monastery hall, causing the gathering of a hundred or so people to swing to its rhythm, clap their hands, and join along in the chorus. We were at the opening ceremony of the Active Peace Conclave 2014 – A Confluence of Hearts and Minds, held on November 13-14, 2014. And the song beautifully summed up the whole enterprise.
And what a time was had!
In the beginning
A mail forwarded by the editor to accompany her to the Sherabling monastery got me hugely excited as I had been coming across this name very often since the past few months. As we both stepped down from the plane onto the quaint little Kangra airport runway, the majestic Dhauladhar range loomed into view. Juxtaposed against the clear and brilliant blue sky, the mountain peaks appeared like sentries on guard, their bare brown majesty, streaked with veins of snow.
The heartwarming hospitality with which we were cocooned at the monastery was evident in the airport itself, as monks waited to receive us with bouquets and the traditional white khata (scarf). One young monk, a medical student, clambered into our car, in which Sri M, the renowned spiritual guru and author of Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master, was also travelling. Solicitously, he would offer us fruits and dry fruits at periodic intervals as we drove past tea estates growing the popular Kangra tea, spectacular clumps of brown and maroon chrysanthemums, and houses with roofs of slate and asbestos (in order to easily remove the snow from them, Sri M informed us). The consistent view of the mighty Dhauladhar from the car window set the mood rolling for two days of ecstatic peace, joy and beauty. After two hours the car took a road uphill, passing by the famous Baijnath temple, and suddenly, amidst the spectacular greenery could be glimpsed prayer flags, old and new, fluttering in the crisp mountain air. We rounded a corner and lo, the Sherabling institute came into view. A small world of its own!
HE Rinpoche, as the 12th Chamgon Kenting Tai Situpa is affectionately addressed, had started building this monastic seat in the year 1975, on 30 acres of pine-tree laden land, working along with the local labourers. An architect, Rinpoche himself has designed the layout of all the buildings in traditional Tibetan Buddhist design, made with modern materials. The buildings are spectacular, their facades embellished with bold Tibetan colours of red and gold, and ornate filigree work.
Enthroned as the 12th Tai Situpa at the age of 18 months, Pema Donyo Nyingche Wangpo or Guru Rinpoche, was born in 1954 in Tibet. He is a renowned Buddhist master, apart from being a scholar, poet, calligrapher, artist, author, architect and geomancer.
The Ed and I were given an east-facing room that looked out to the back of the monastery with an absolutely breathtaking view of the Dhauladhar. Our favourite activity every morning on waking up was to catch the first glimpse of the rising red sun from behind the mist-laden mountains as the peaks glittered with molten gold. The first afternoon, I spotted a few shimmering objects in the clear afternoon sky. They were paragliders from the nearby paragliding destination of Bir! The cosy and comfortable room bore evidence of our hosts’ munificent hospitality. Two bowls of fruits, a giant box of dry fruits and nuts, tetrapacks of fruit juices, coffee, teabags and a condensed milk tin – we had never been taken care of so well in the austere world of spirituality! And the food! With each meal, the menu got more and more elaborate, until we lost count of the items on the table. However, more than the food, the humble and loving way with which the adolescent monks and nuns served us warmed our hearts. And adding to the charm of the whole experience was the eclectic gathering, which included fashionably dressed city men and women, spiritual gurus and seekers, artists and thinkers. On our flight we had already met and befriended Mansoor Khan and his wife, Tina. Khan is Aamir Khan’s cousin and a renowned film-maker who has helmed films like Qayamat se Qayamat Tak and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. However, he threw it all up to retire to a farmhouse in Coonoor to focus on his passion – creating awareness of the unsustainability of our present way of life.
On our first evening in Sherabling, we visited the ornately built and absolutely stunning Tibetan Medicine and Astrology Science College, after a leisurely stroll through a row of exquisite white Stupas bearing the relics of the 8th Tai Situpa.
The peace conclave opened on the evening of November 13, 2014, with a grand welcome ceremony of the invited panellists. Monks dressed in traditional fineries and sporting the crescent-shaped yellow hats played gyaling, the traditional Tibetan reed instrument, as panellists entered the monastery hall and seated themselves. What followed next was a similar but grander entry of HE Rinpoche. A little over fivc feet, Rinpoche has a serene countenance and a contagious bright smile; the bhakti he invokes in his followers is a sight to see. The whole atmosphere was charged with verve and excitement as Rinpoche welcomed each panellist by placing the customary ivory-coloured khata or silk scarf, with prayer inscriptions, around their necks. An ivory khata in Tibetan Buddhism is offered as an auspicious symbol of peace and good intentions during the welcoming and initiation of new relationships.
The panellists included 17 luminaries like the renowned Anandmurti Gurumaa, Swami Avdeshanand Giri Maharaj, Sri M, the mystic yogi from Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh. Others were Dr. A.K Merchant of the Bahai faith, Father Dominic Emmanuel, and Baba Sarbjyot Singh Bedi representing Sikhism. Others included BK Raghunandan from the Brahma Kumaris, educationists D S Negi and Dr Geetha Narayanan, Dr Swarna Bhardwaj of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical School, media czarina Aruna Vasudev, Bharata natyam danseuse Pratibha Prahlad, activist Mansoor Khan, Venerable Khenpo SonamTenpel, PLR therapists Dr Newton and Dr Lakshmi Kondaveti. Suma Varughese, Editor-in-chief of Life Positive, was also one of the panellists. A proud moment indeed!
The evening started with mantra chanting and a special message to the delegates by the former President of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam lauding the Active Peace vision and initiatives of HE Rinpoche. This was followed by the inaugural speech by Rinpoche in which he stressed upon the creation of one world, one humanity. “Peace is absence of war… it is nirvana… it is all that is wonderful. Pursue peace individually but sometimes for the greater good, we all need to apply ourselves and engage actively to give ‘alive and living peace’ to what we call our home,” he said, adding, “Global phenomena like weather or diseases do not follow international borders. We need to follow this to acknowledge one world. But we also need to preserve and uphold our own ways of lives.” Identifying all as the brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind, he reiterated that this identification holds more relevance than ever in today’s time. “We should care for others the same way we care for ourselves and our own people. We should be the worthy masters of this planet and look after other creatures,” he added.
Since both Swami Avdeshanand Giri Maharaj and Suma Varughese had to leave on the 14th (the latter in order to be in time for the Life Positive Expo in Mumbai which was to start on the 15th), they were given the opportunity to address the audience at the inaugural function itself. Swami Avdeshanandji opted to talk in Hindi. Appreciating the monastic seat’s efforts of mobilising active peace, Swami stressed upon the importance of encouraging such platforms of mutual dialogue. “Spirituality alone has the permanent solution for bringing in peace in this world. This is because spirituality doesn’t belong to a specific religion or community; it is a way of life,” he said. He also urged all to move away from the market culture that only talks of self-gain and move towards spirituality that inculcates a family-oriented perspective of vasudeva kutumbakam (the world is one family).
In her address, Suma Varughese affirmed that she was convinced that peace would prevail, because her work in Life Positive had brought her in touch with thousands of seekers diligently doing their inner work, as well as innumerable peacemakers creating a better world. Reiterating that peace would only come through individual thoughts, words and acts of peace, she touched a chord with the public when she stated that she viewed the local Mumbai train as her particular constituency, and strove to resolve the disputes that broke among the harried commuters. “That is my very small contribution to world peace,” she smiled. Next, it was time for the cultural session to kick off, starting with Valentine Shipley on guitar singing the ‘one humanity – active peace’ song penned by Rinpoche. His performance was followed by folk dances by young monks, aged between nine and 13. Their sparkling eyes and well-coordinated movements were a sight to behold, especially the little ones performing Bharatanatyam with ghunghroo-adorned feet!
Dr Merchant stated that the prevailing conflict-ridden circumstances were leading humanity to its destiny. “Baha’u’llah had said 150 years ago, that a day would come when the world will become one big family,” he explained. According to him, this dream could be reached through a coherent relationship between the spiritual and materialistic elements of our life.
The second session consisted of a panel discussion among Anandmurti Gurumaa, Sri M and Rinpoche on the meaning and reality of peace. Gurumaa garnered a huge round of applause when she stated that peace is not a commodity that could be found outside, nor is it an Utopian idea. “Human mind loves conflict; hence, peace does not come easily to it. Learn to tame the mind and one can experience peace. It’ll reflect in one’s behaviour and personality,” she said.
Sri M echoed Gurumaa’s thoughts. Citing the story of four blind men and their description of an elephant, Sri M explained how truth is individualistic and everyone has his or her own version of truth. “That does not mean that the other is wrong. Every person perceives truth through his or her limited vision but in reality, truth is immeasurably bigger than those perceptions. If one simply accepts this fact, all the conflicts of the world will come to an end,” he explained.
Likening peace to the treasure within, Rinpoche remarked, “One already has the treasure within but because of constant thinking and speculations about the treasures outside, we lose that which is within.”
BK Raghunandan, Coordinator of the religious service wing of the Brahma Kumaris, described the present era as the Purushottama Kalyana Yuga, which is at the cusp of kal yuga and sat yuga. “After the completion of a cycle of four yugas, comes this era which literally means ‘to make the entire humanity divine’,” he remarked. DS Negi, CEO of Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre, talked about environmental protection linking it with the essence of compassion for all and world peace. Dr Lakshmi GV stressed upon the importance of including animals and plants as our closest companions in our quest for world peace. Dr Geetha Narayanan decried the present education system that only strives to produce winners and has no place for black sheep, and does not provide holistic development to a child. Dr Swarna Bhardwaj talked about peace and compassion in healthcare, presenting an example of her own SSSIHMS, Bangalore, that provides world class healthcare to all free of charge. Mansoor Khan had a warning for those believing in exponential perpetual growth without realising the limitations of Planet Earth as a finite resource. Dr Newton Kondaveti, speaking from his own experiences, gave a solution to bring peace in our routine life – through meditation.
The next session belonged to music and dance – significant art forms that help bring in peace to this world. Valentine Shipley, Prabhjot Singh Prabhu and Lakshmi Bhatia jammed together on various songs talking about peace and Oneness. Valentine ended his performance with a soulful rendition of Kabir’s couplets. Next in line was Bharatnatyam exponent Pratibha Prahalad who mesmerised all with her impeccable performance, glittering in her finery. The conclave came to an end with around two hundred people – panellists, delegates, monks and nuns, school students and locals – holding out white torches and singing the Peace Prayer.
Maybe world peace is still a while away, but the delegates of the confluence went back the next day feeling more confident about the unfolding state of the world, and with amplified peace in their own hearts.
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