The RIGSS Dialogue | Transformation: Values, Spirituality and Progress with Gyalwa Dokhampa on February 13, 2024

Transformation: Values, Spirituality, and Progress

Transformation is inevitable. We must, first and the foremost, recognize that for many of us it is anything but easy to accept transformation in any form or shape. To share a simple example, greying of hair is a change we dread to see in ourselves. However, nothing can prevent our hair from turning grey at some point in our lives. In other words, transformation is inevitable. In fact, transformation has been taking place since the beginningless time and will continue to remain part and parcel of our existence and daily lives.

When we talk about physical transformation in humans, we have a tendency to take grey hair as the only marked sign of physical transformation. The reality, however, is that we undergo constant physical transformation from the very moment we are born— growing from an infant to a child, and then becoming an adolescent before progressing to adulthood. Everything around us is also changing unceasingly. Even the Himalayan mountains are said to be growing at a certain rate. The rivers are changing too.

It is important to note that transformation is not confined or limited to physical changes. Our lives change, and as a result, we change who we are as a person. Our relationship with everyone and everything evolves continuously. In brief, transformation is a natural way of life, and therefore, unavoidable.

Hence, we must embrace transformation. Because transformation is inescapable, we must make a conscious effort to make peace with it. Doing so helps us, both as an individual and as a society, to prepare for and adapt to the endless changes that come our way. Most importantly, embracing transformation is the first crucial step towards paving the way for a meaningful transformation, one that sets us on a lifelong path of personal growth and progress.

In other words, it is only when we come to terms with transformation as a reality that cannot be altered that we see opportunities to turn over a new leaf and transform ourselves into a better person. Otherwise, our personal transformation journey would be void of purpose and direction, and certainly lead us nowhere.

Transforming with compassion and wisdom.  From a spiritual (Buddhist) growth perspective, when we strive for transformation, we strive for development of two noble qualities—compassion and wisdom.

Compassion is understanding that we live in an interdependent world. From the moment we are born, we rely on our parents for survival. In our later years, we count on our teachers and family. Basically, we depend on someone or something for one thing or the other throughout our lives. With this understanding of interdependence, we strive to grow and nurture Sampa Semkyed.

Sampa means the ability to think beyond oneself, and that has many levels. For a Jangchuk Sempa, it’s thinking about all mother sentient beings, which is a great Sampa. As un-enlightened beings, our hearts are small. Some of us cannot extend our compassion beyond our country. Others might be able to think of their region or organization only. Some of us can only think of ourselves and that’s the smallest Sampa. Semkyed is about expanding your motivation. Having a good motivation is key as all actions of our body, mind and speech are determined by our motivation. Therefore, if our motivation is not good, we must work towards expanding it.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is the awareness that all phenomena are empty. They are without inherent existence or reality. That nothing happens by itself, and everything arises due to causes and conditions. For example, a farmer does nothing in his field and waits for gods to do something for rice to grow. Nothing is going to happen because the right cause and condition has not been created. On the other hand, the grass that cow eats turns into milk. With the right cause and condition, the milk gets transformed into butter and cheese. What this means is thatinherently neither the cheese exists, nor the butter.

Similarly, all the other phenomena we see in the world around us arise and cease to exist because of a collection of causes and conditions. When the right causes and conditions for something to exist come together, it arises. In the same manner, when the causes and conditions cease to exist, the phenomena will cease to exist. That is why in Buddhism we say that anything is possible so long as the right causes and conditions exist. In nutshell, cultivating the qualities of compassion and wisdom are the most important transformations on the spiritual development path.

Transform the mind to transform oneself. In Buddhism, self-transformation is all about taming our minds. This stems from the fact that the actions of mind supersede the actions of the body and speech. The body and speech do what the mind wants. Therefore, transforming our minds through cultivation of compassion and wisdom is key to molding and shaping ourselves into better individuals. And the only way to transform our minds is through spiritual practice.

One of the defining features of Buddhism is the belief in Ley Jum Drey or cause and effect. Ley Jum drey, simply put, is knowing and understanding that our every action, big or small, has consequences. It is as simple as how what we eat affects our health. Understanding that ultimately everything rests with the mind, we must strive to train our minds to generate Sampa Semkyed. When we are guided by compassion and wisdom, and the belief in cause and effect, our actions are less inclined to be motivated by anger, hatred, ignorance, and jealousy. In gist, a transformed mind or inner transformation sparks positive behavioral changes and virtuous deeds that foster individual transformation.

Individual transformation leads to societal transformation. It doesn’t matter whether you are a doctor, a politician, a businessman or a civil servant. What counts is your motivation and intention. Doing what you do with a sincere motivation to benefit others has a myriad of positive ripple effects on self and others. For example, politicians with transformed minds and driven by a strong faith and belief in cause and effect can help spur society-wide transformation.

In fact, if you look at the biographies of the Buddhas, we see that Buddhas were not always monks. The Buddha took 500 different kinds of lives. Sometimes he came as a King, other times as a prince, a businessperson, and a woman. But there was a connecting thread or a common quality that defined the Buddha in all his different life forms and lifetimes. And that was the Buddha possessed great Sampa Semkyed with which he led himself and countless other beings from the ocean of samsara on the path of enlightenment. Fundamentally, what this means is that societal transformation starts with individual transformation.

Leadership from a Buddhist perspective

The Mahayana practice is about leading oneself and others from the ocean of samsara with wisdom and compassion. If you look from this lens, Mahayana teachings are all about leadership with Buddha being the leader leading the sentient beings, the Choe being the path and the state of enlightenment being the destination Buddha is leading us towards.

From the spiritual point of view, the following four questions capture the essence of leadership:
     1. Who do you want to lead? 
     2. How do you want to lead? 
     3. From where do you want to lead? 
     4. Where do you want to lead them to?

1.   Who do you want to lead? 

As a leader, the first and foremost task is knowing who are you looking to lead—is it a country, an organization, a community, a family, etc.?

2.    How do you want to lead?

Once you know who you want to lead, the next step is figuring out the “how” part—how do you want to lead? From my understanding, there are two ways to lead. That’s because as human beings, we have both positive and negative sides to us. We have “jampa dang nyingjey” (compassion). At the same time, we also have fears, greed, and insecurities. Hence, leaders must lead accordingly, using different strategies. One way is using intimidation and similar tactics to appeal to the negative sides in human beings. This type of leadership becomes transactional in nature.

The second way is leading with compassion and wisdom, which is a leadership approach or strategy that Mahayana advocates. Leading with compassion and wisdom is based on the understanding that human beings have two needs—psychological needs and physiological needs. We need material possessions, such as money, house, and car. It doesn’t end here. We also need a sense of purpose, of being appreciated, cared for, valued, and respected by our leaders regardless of what position we hold in the organization. It cannot be one or the other. Fulfilling both needs are equally important. Leading with compassion and wisdom helps foster a positive work culture underpinned by “tha damtsi” and “ley judrey”. This is something that Bhutan’s successive monarchs have inspired in many Bhutanese.

To be able to lead with compassion, we must first get rid of our biases. Biases are formed the moment we label someone or something. Biases and labels prevent us from seeing the human being behind the label and from appreciating their efforts. We must remember that before someone is your wife, husband, boss, or employee, he or she is a human being who has the same aspirations as you. That is everyone wants happiness. No one wants sufferings. Thus, as leaders, we must ask ourselves these questions—are we creating the right condition for our staff to work hard with loyalty and dedication? Are we meeting their physiological as well as psychological needs?

The wisdom part is understanding that while all human beings want happiness and detest suffering (although the idea or definition of happiness and suffering differ from person to person), not everything that gives us happiness is good for us or is in our interest. For example, all an alcoholic wants to do is to drink. But giving the person alcohol to make him or her happy is a blind compassion. This is where the wisdom part comes into play. Understanding that alcohol is bad for the person even though it gives the person immense happiness, we see wisdom in depriving the person of alcohol. Wisdom is also understanding that there is no one fixed reality. Everything is a conditional reality. Therefore, we must lead every individual differently based on their varying circumstances and capacities. That is why in Buddhist teachings, it is said that Buddha leads sentient beings not just through peaceful means but also through wrathful, commanding and expansionist activities.

The Buddha is also known as the great charioteer who tames all sentient beings skillfully. He knows that sometimes when a horse becomes wild, you will need to let it be. But sometimes, you must be stern. And there are times when you must keep the wild horse with other horses to tame it. Likewise, as leaders, we must adopt and employ various leadership methods, skills, and strategies.

3.   From where do you want to lead?

From the spiritual point of view, “khamsum khorwa” (samsara) is the place that we don’t want to be in. So, the Buddha leads all sentient beings from this state on the path of enlightenment. Similarly, leaders must understand where your organization stands—what are the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities.

However, in the process of transforming, we must never lose sight of our strengths because we don’t want to land up in a situation where we end up trading off our strengths for certain new gains. For example, as Bhutan seeks to accelerate economic transformation, we must take care not to lose our cultural and spiritual values including “tha damtsi” and “lay judrey”.

4.   Where do you want to lead them to?

Leaders need to have a clear vision of the desired state. If it’s a society, what does it look like. If it’s an individual, what would the person be like. From the spiritual point of view, it is a state of fully enlightened being brimming with compassionate wisdom.

Gelephu Mindfulness City— a profound Royal vision to transform Bhutan

The Gelephu Mindfulness City is a great example of a purposeful transformation led by a wise and visionary leader, His Majesty the King, with a clear goal to propel Bhutan into a brighter future.

A profound Royal vision that seeks to share what Bhutan—a country that has always been grounded in the values of wellness, mindfulness and sustainability—has to offer and provide a unique opportunity to the rest of world to embark on a journey of mindful living and sustainable investment.

The Gelephu Mindfulness City, in my view, is not something totally new. Of course, infrastructure wise, and technologically and economically, it is going to be unlike any other city in Bhutan. But in essence, the Gelephu Mindfulness City, to me, encapsulates or embodies the true spirit of Bhutan. It’s carefully crafting a mini version of Bhutan with all its cultural and spiritual values as well as the values of Gross National Happiness intact, and where the outsiders can experience the country’s uniqueness and vast offerings.

The Indian masters are known to look for a hill whenever they wanted to meditate. This was a deliberate act aimed at helping them see everything clearly from a vantage point, both figuratively and metamorphically. Seeing the big picture is crucial for the success of any endeavor. But often we are driven by our personal and professional agenda. We always tend to see things from our own perspective only. We fail to connect the dots.

But His Majesty always strives to see the big picture. The Gelephu Mindfulness City is underpinned by the big picture that His Majesty has of Bhutan’s current state. A Royal endeavor to shape a happier, peaceful, and prosperous future for Bhutan and its people.

I have no doubt that the Gelephu Mindfulness City will be a huge success. Bhutan has always been a special place for outsiders, and I say this based on what I hear from my friends from around the world who remain awe-struck by Bhutan’s pristine nature, clean air, warm and friendly people, spirituality, and environmental stewardship. I see a tremendous interest in what the Gelephu Mindfulness City has to offer, especially in terms of spiritual experience.

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