By Punya Srivastava July 2014 His Holiness, the Gyalwang Drukpa, whose lineage of Tibetan Buddhism has spiritual sovereignty over Ladakh, Kathmandu, and Bhutan, talks to Punya Srivastava about his early childhood, upliftment of women, and the importance of kindness His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa – the head of the Drukpa order of Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, is quite a revolutionary. He is known across the world for his path-breaking work for the emancipation of nuns, traditionally considered inferior to their male counterparts. Sincere and committed to the welfare of not just his flock, but the world and environment at large, HH is a busy man. He supervises the thousand-year-old order’s smooth administration of its territory spanning Ladakh, Kathmandu and Bhutan, and also overlooks the day-to-day operations of his Druk Gawa Khilwa nunnery. Practising the philosophy of ‘compassion into action’, HH has initiated various pro-environment activities in the Himalayan region. He is the founder of The Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh, an award-winning environmentally friendly institution that offers an amalgamation of traditional and modern education. He was awarded the Bharat Jyoti Award of the India International Friendship Society in 2010. His Holiness was born in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh near the holy lake of Tso Pemain in 1963, on the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava himself. Djigme Padma Aungchen, to use his real name, was recognised as a high lama through many secret signs privy to the Buddhists, at the age of four. He was then taken to the monastery in Darjeeling where, as the lore goes, he recognised some of the servants who had served him in his past life when he was the father of the 10th Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche. Residing in the Druk Amitabha monastery, Kathmandu, His Holiness is the 12th reincarnation of the Indian Buddhist saint Naropa, the founder of the Drukpa order. Excerpts from the interview: As a monk, what were your learning years like? I had a very difficult upbringing between the ages of five and 13. The traditional way of educating a child who is groomed for a spiritual role, is not an easy thing at all. But fortunately, it gave me the strength and security I needed to enable me to lead therest of my life quite contentedly. My childhood was in contrast to many modern children who are raised in a princely style,and who spend the rest of their lives yearning for comfort and happiness. I do not put much store by my scholarly achievements, but the hard time I went through is a great help to me now. I badly needed that treatment. No wonder my parents ignored my request to ask those teachers to treat me gently. At that time, I felt that I had nobody out there to cry to for support, not even my own parents. Now I realise that it helped develop self-strength, which is a source of tremendous confidence. How challenging is it for a young boy to become a monk? I was made to learn traditional rituals, as well as the memorisation of volumes of Buddhist spiritual teachings, among others, from the early age of six. I learned and practised under a number of great masters in the Himalayas. Between the age of 13 and 25, I also spent time in holy caves for solitary retreats in Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti, Sikkim, Darjeeling and Nepal; sometimes morethan a year continuously. It is very important to put meditation theories into practice. I backpacked and journeyed to most ofthese caves by myself. I would call these short and long cave retreats the golden time of my life. I remember making friends with mice who attacked me in the beginning, and became my friends as time passed. It was a time when I connectednaturally with my own consciousness; and with nature. What have been the impact of the various masters and gurus you learnt under? If I were to sum it all up in one line, I would say I am what I am because of the contributions of the various masters who have enlightened me, and influenced me over time. I always felt that any recognition given to me, is because of my gurus’ kindness. Moreover, I felt very much at home with Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, who was my first and most profound spiritual master and emotional support. What is the role of scriptures in a person’s life? The most important thing is to understand the scriptures. Studying without understanding means we don’t get anything. I would call it ‘indigestion’, and indigestion causes sickness. In this context, indigestion will result in a lot of confusion. Misunderstanding is a form of indigestion. Correct motivation is very important, the motivation of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all the beings, will lead to the yearning to understand the scriptures. Motivation to study, learn and practise for the sake of all beings, and understanding the meaning of the scriptures are, I think, the top priority. What changes do you see around you when you reflect on the past; the day you took the seat as HH till now? I was recognized when I was just a kid. The main change I can see is I have aged and become older (smiles). If you talk about reflection, I always feel that I have not done enough. If you talk about external changes, I feel that India has changed a lot. Modernization has sped up and everyone is less relaxed, more stressed. Even animals are becoming more selfish and less patient. I used to play a lot with monkeys and different sorts of animals when I was small. I remember a monkey leader who used to find fruit for his group. These days, even monkeys are becoming more selfish; if one monkey finds some food, he eats it quickly so that he doesn’t have to share it. What can we do to sustain happiness in our lives? Indians have a beautiful spiritual nature, and I am always hoping that we will be able to sustain it. However, modernisation and materialistic growth are taking us away from the nature around us, as well as our inner nature. There is a growing imbalance between materialism and spirituality. We all, not only me, have to work together to keep this balance, so that we can live happily. At the end of the day, we are running after material success and achievements for the sake of happiness; but it’s like drinking salt water which will never quench our thirst. Happiness based on material desires is not lasting happiness. Happiness depends on the state of our mind. Therefore, I am always praying that Indians and everyone in this world will pay more attention to spirituality. How can one lead a conscious life in this materialistic world? Mindfulness is extremely important. Materialism means ‘I want this and I want that’. You must ask yourself, “Hang on, do I really need this or that?” We have to always be mindful about what we ‘need’ which is different from what we ‘want’. This is a constant battle and we must win it. And we can win only if we are mindful. How can one manage negative emotions to live a peaceful life? Understanding is the key. We have to understand that negative afflictive emotions will bring us pain. We might feel very happy lashing out at someone when we are angry, but that moment of happiness is short-lived, and followed by days or months of regret. We won’t be able to live in peace. Understanding the consequences of negative emotions will help us to put a brake on our impulsive action. Again, we have to be mindful all the time. When negative emotions arise, analyse them and understand them. You will find out they are pointless. We have to be the master of these nonsensical emotions, and not let them run our lives. What are your views on science and spirituality? Is science a hindrance in one’s spiritual journey? Science is based on material proofs, and spirituality is based on understanding and realization. Both make two wings of a bird, and a bird with one wing cannot fly. They are not enemies, they are both needed, and they both must support each other. Science can support one’s spiritual journey, and one’s spiritual understanding can definitely support scientific revelation. For example, being kind is a spiritual quality, and kindness will lead us to respect nature and the lives of others; the scientific result is that we will find ways to protect our environment, and reduce the impact of climate changes. Perhaps we can say that spirituality is the understanding, and science is action based on that understanding. You are seen as the pioneer of nun empowerment, through your remarkable work in Druk Gawa Khilwa Nunnery. What inspired you to take up this cause? Actually, the pioneer of this is Buddha Shakyamuni himself. I am just practising his teaching. I believe that we should walk our talk. And by the way, I don’t like the word ‘empowerment’. It’s like I am more powerful so I give you power. I would like to call it ‘gender equality’ instead. As a kid, I remember seeing many nuns not being treated fairly. Not only nuns, most of the girls in the remote areas of Himalayas were suppressed. We men have been given all the priority in education, spiritual training, and in the use of all kinds of resources; women have been getting nothing, not even breadcrumbs. I told myself that one day if I have the ability and the capability, I have to give my nuns the same education as my monks. There should be mutual respect among both the genders. We owe our mothers our lives, yet women are not respected, which is nonsense. Enlightenment is beyond gender. How can the seat of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa help elevate the holistic development of the society? How do you reach out to the masses? We have set up Young Drukpa Associations (YDA) in different parts of the Himalayas. We have to start training the youth. Young people are more receptive to improvements and changes that are holistic. We have created programmes to make them
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