January 2015 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. Some of the eminent speakers at the Conclave (L to R): Fr. Dominic, Dr. Lakshmi GV, Suma Varughese, BK Raghunandan, Prathibha Prahlad, H.E Rinpoche, Sw. Avdeshananda, Anandmurti Gurumaa, Mr AK Merchant, Sri M, Mr Negi, Dr. Geetha Narayanan and Mansoor Khan Organised by His Excellency, the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa of the Karma Kagyu lineage, to commemorate the silver jubilee of the Active Peace movement he had initiated in 1989, the grand event was held under the aegis of Palpung Munishasan Dharma Chakra Sangh at the Palpung Sherabling monastery, the monastic seat of His Excellency. Amid the fragrance of pine trees, under a deep blue sky, eminent speakers from all over the country gathered to deliberate upon the ‘Relevance of Spirituality and Culture in the 21st Century’. 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. Opening ceremony 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 l
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