His Eminence Kyabje Gyalwa Dokhampa, is a spiritual master of Vajrayana Buddhist of Drukpa Order. From his current residence Bhutan, a country known as the happiest place in the world and the only nation who considers the happiness of its people its most precious resource,H.E. Gyalwa Dokhampa travels the world over to teach and spread messages of grace and beauty.
In 2009 he was joined by 750 followers from around the world on a 42-day walk in the Himalayan region. With full determination, the group completed the journey, passing through regions of 3,000-5000 meters above sea level of the world’s rooftop, visiting some of the most historical holy places and inaccessible remote villages. Along this journey, more than 10,000 kilos of waste plastic was collected in an attempt to preserve the region’s green and pure environment.
“Ultimate victory can only emerge from utmost hardship” Gyalwa Dokhampa will guide us to reflect upon as he takes us on this arduous walking journey.
Join Gyalwa Dokhampa on his unique journey and discover how to overcome our primordial nature in an environment that is both materialistic and spiritual in order that we may embrace life, achieve balance, display respect and appreciate life and nature with an open mind, love and care genuinely for everyone, and become a responsible citizen. Let’s learn how to live a life of grace and beauty.
First of all, thank you all very much, the school, and the teachers and the students for welcoming me. I heard that this is a very special school and only very special people are allowed to come here; very special and talented people. So to be together with so many special people makes me also feel very special. Thank you very much for that.
And today I don’t want to talk too much because when I was in college, when teachers talked, I could concentrate for about 45 minutes then it became difficult. So I will try to talk as little as possible.
Today, I am not here as a teacher to teach you anything but to share with you many questions that come up in my mind, especially during the pilgrimage we did for 42 days. There were lots of questions that came up in my mind about the purpose of life, about happiness, suffering and the meaning of life.
The 42-day walk was not a fun one, especially at the beginning. There was no shower, no bathroom, not much to eat and we slept in tents. All we did was walk, walk and walk, together with daily meditations. There was this joke among the Ladakhis about one mountain—that when you looked at the top of it, your head would fall off. It was that steep. So what we did was we set out goals for ourselves. We would not look up for 5 minutes then when we reached a certain point, instead of looking up and feeling tired, we would look down and we thought, “Wow, we have done quite a lot this time.” We would accumulate happiness, slowly crossing this kind of mountain—many of them—and sometimes the ones covered in snow and we gradually found enjoyment in our achievement.
Living in the Present
Even though there was lack of food, sleep and basic necessities, I found myself enjoying the walk. I asked myself why? When I looked at my own experiences, I realized that there were many reasons but one of the reasons was that I was living in the moment, living in the present and we just had to concentrate on the walking - one foot in the front, one step at a time. That’s all. And there’s natural beauty. You are just concentrating on the moment because if you lose concentration, there is danger. So my question is: When you live, do you really enjoy the present? Are we in the present and are we aware of the present? Do we always think of things from the past? Or do we worry about something in the future?
The fact is we all want to enjoy life. But some of us such as me, I always believe that enjoying life is related to the future somehow, about happiness of the becoming. If you think about it - the present moment that we are living, it is also life. Why shouldn’t we appreciate it? What do we have in this life? And why not enjoy and appreciate this moment and the present life as well that is going to come in the future? When are we going to start appreciating our life?
The second interesting experience was about food. During the walk, everything we ate tasted delicious while it was not. It tasted good because we were hungry. If you ask any of us now, it’s not comparable to any food we eat here. But then it tasted better than the food in the top restaurants in Hong Kong. Similarly, the sleeping bag in the tent was comfortable and we had such deep sleep because we were exhausted. We were happy to see the sleeping bag. We were happy with the simple life we were living!
Look at this monk in the slide – he looks very happy. If I take you there right now, you would not be happy because it was 5,000 above sea level and the water he is taking a shower in is ice cold water. He couldn’t take a shower for 30 days and his body was itching so much. But then we take nice hot shower every day; we have nice clothes; we sleep in comfortable beds and we don’t feel anything. Why aren’t we happy if we eat simple food and live simply?
So my question is: Did happiness come from his taking a shower in the cold water? Or did happiness arise when he suddenly appreciated something, feeling a sense of satisfaction from being able to take a shower.
Let me rephrase this: Does happiness come from a sense of satisfaction or from external, something outside? If someone gives you a million dollar, you will be very happy. Why are you happy? You will say it’s because of the million dollars. But then imagine after 10 day, you find out that you have cancer and to cure that, you have to pay one million dollars. You would happily give out a million dollars. So again, the question is: Does happiness come from the million dollars or from a sense of satisfaction? Does having a million dollars make one successful? We all want to be successful but not everyone is going to become a billionaire or a millionaire. Does it mean we are unhappy? Does it mean we are all failures? That Kind of success is external success; at the same time, we need internal happiness to have appreciation and a sense of satisfaction about life and by being aware of present moments of Life
Happiness of the Mind
How important is materialistic happiness in your life? Many people want to become rich or become successful. Why do we want to become successful? Because we believe that by becoming successful we would be happy and comfortable. If I ask you: Would you be willing to sacrifice all spiritual happiness or happiness of the mind in exchange for materialistic gains and fame? By happiness of the mind, I am referring to friendship, sense of satisfaction, sense of tolerance to others and people’s fault.
The Chase for Happiness
This is how it works: We want something because we think that it will make us happy. We go for it. When we get it, it is not enough and it doesn’t make us happy. We want something else and we get that. We need something else again. The young people will think that the old people who are successful must be happy. The old people are still chasing after something they feel significant. So all our life we may be chasing after happiness and never getting it. And in the process of getting that happiness, we sacrifice our friendship, our emotions and our health and Life. We might end up sacrificing everything and not getting anything.
We just discussed happiness: Is it something we can have from the outside or is it something that comes from within? Secondly, what is suffering? Is it caused by others or by our own attachment?
For example, we suffered a great deal at the beginning of the walk because we were used to low altitude, comfortable hotels, nice food, etc. We suffered without these things but later we got used to that life. We were not suffering anymore because we didn’t feel the inadequacy. If suffering comes from lack of external comfort, then how come we didn't feel difficulties and actually started enjoying everything in the later stage of our pilgrimage? We learned to enjoy the beautiful scenery, the freedom, enjoying living in the moment. More importantly, there are hundreds of thousands of people living in the Himalayas who are without hotels, technology, iPhone 4, etc. Yet they are happy. Is suffering caused by not having something or attachment towards what we have?
A simple example: Let’s imagine I have a very nice watch. I break it in front of you. You guys would just say, “Oh, he is crazy!” or “What a nice watch! He broke it!” That’s all. But if I give that watch to you and after 5 minutes, I break the watch. You guys would feel pain and irritated. “Why did you do that to my watch?” Five minutes ago, you felt that I was the crazy one and now you became irritated and angry. Why is that? Why are you feeling the pain now?
I am not saying that we don’t need nice hotels and that we should all be sitting in the Himalayas or in the mountains, eating simple food and taking ice cold showers. But I think we should also have freedom. We should have the freedom to say that if I want to, I can stay in a nice hotel and put on nice clothes. If I don’t want hotels, I can sleep on the road or in a tent because life is not constant and is not always steady.
Life is full of ups and downs. If you cannot accept these things and when life goes down, we are not prepared for it. All our lives, we go through so many obstacles and difficulties. How do we face them?
I am a spiritual person. I go around the world mostly to listen to people’s sufferings. Sometimes, I cannot bear to see how much suffering people have. If it is a sickness, a disease or hunger, it’s understandable. But most of the suffering comes from the mind because they are so attached to wealth, fame, or relationship and they cannot live without these things. And then when things or people are not there, they go through so much difficulty, which I think should not be the case. We should be having the freedom to say that “I want to do this and I can”. We should be having this kind of flexibility and freedom in our lives with all the external things.
I am especially happy to meet all of you guys because my teachers and I always like to meet young people. All of you are not only young but also specially gifted and creative people. Creativity means that you are open to receive everything; that you are receptive and open-minded. You have an open mind, an open heart to receive and then check with yourself whether it is good or not? Isn’t that something? You can create something beautiful outside and if you can create something beautiful inside as well, you can inspire others!
We’d like to teach and go to the young people because you have a very important role to protect the environment. When we teach young people about environment, they are very receptive and concerned for the environmental problems we are facing. For example, During our walking experience in Ladakh in the Himalayas. we saw how much rubbish the trekkers left behind and went into the water streams. These water streams are the source of about 30 to 40% of the world population. Our goal was to pick up all of the non-biodegradable garbage. Anyway, when we talk about the environment to older people (I am not saying that they are bad), they tend to think, “I am already 30 or 40 years old and I am okay. My life is going to be okay.” It is generally more difficult to change their mindset. You are all very young so I am happy we have a chance to share each other’s experiences.
As important as external materials and things are, I think it is also important to have a spiritual and mental happiness to balance each other
This is the last main point after ‘what is happiness?’ and ‘what is suffering?’--Getting engaged and involved in the world around you.
Getting engaged in the world around you means that you should be caring and concerned for others. You should be caring toward each other as well as to all others. For example, one simple reason is that usually when we look at people, for example, when you look at your teacher, all we see is only the teacher. When we look at the principal, we only see the principal. The same goes to our father, our mother. We see beautiful people, ugly people, rich people, and poor people--these are all labels. When we take away the labels, behind it, whoever the beings are, whether they are animals or human beings, we all want the same thing and that is happiness. None of us wants suffering. When anyone of us sees something hurtful, it hurts us and we don’t like hurtful things. All beings like to be happy which is why we have to be engaged and we should look at the world around us.
And the second reason is that we depend on each other. Think about where our happiness comes from. We like to be loved. We need friends. We like respect. We like to be trusted. What does that mean? The world doesn’t respect you? iPhone doesn’t respect you. Hotel doesn’t respect you? Money doesn’t respect you, trust you or love you? It means that we need other human beings. We all depend on each other. So we need other people and their love and trust. How do we get it? Can we buy it with money? Also shall we demand for things we want? Or shall we give it to others and receive it back? I think we must give in order to receive. This is because we have to be kind to others and because we want happiness ourselves. There is a saying: A very smart selfish person is a selfless person. By being selfless, he or she ends up receiving everything he or she wants: friendship, love, trust. I think that is something that we can check ourselves.
Of course by being selfless, I don’t mean all of us should be giving away everything that we have and at once, But what I am saying is that when we learn something, for example, we first learn by ABC, then advance to more difficult things. Similarly one train oneself to selflessness step by step. Slowly it will become a mental habit, which will later translate into actual good deed of being kind to others and loving others. We have to love step by step. For example, if you cannot be selfless in a very big way, you start by sharing your notes; giving a cup of coffee to your father or your mother without expecting anything in return – just to make them happy. That also can be a selfless act, which is easy to do for any of us.
Inspiring Each Other
I think when you make others happy, and slowly they respond to your selfless act, you would find the genuine meaning of life and happiness. You would also be inspiring others to do such things. Because you know, when everyone has an iPhone and I don’t, I will be sad. So similarly when everybody is doing something inspiring, you would also want to inspire others. Everything in the world is connected. For Eg the environment is connected to us because we need it. We need fresh air, clean water. When we destroy the environment, we are harming ourselves, but in a very subtle way because it is something we cannot see. Every time we do something negative, we are harming the entire society.
Gross National Happiness
I come from a Kingdom called Bhutan. Over there, the index that we focus on is known as GNH (Gross National Happiness) not GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The government is not mostly concerned about how rich a country can get but how happy the people can be. Every policy is related to making the population happy.
I have some friends who are policemen and they are very nice people. They care for everyone and when they treat the criminals, the goal in their mind is to help and change the people rather than punish them. It got me thinking of what I learned about some other countries few months ago. I am not saying all the people in these country arr bad but it is to demonstrate how different acts can change the entire society.
Individual and Collective Actions
In Certain countries when a policeman catches a driver who speeds, for instance, he will come to your car and ask you to stop the car with a flash, then have you keep your hands on the steering wheel. If you violate that order and move your hands below, he will immediately point his gun at you. Why? Because the society has become so violent and people are allowed to carry guns. When the society becomes violent, the policemen have to be defensive and violent as well as they also fear for their lives. They have family too. For us who come from Place like Bhutan are not used to that but for the people who live there, that’s how they live. With their collective activities, collective actions and individual actions, they create the kind of society.
Let’s look at the law. In some countries, when you order a hot cup of coffee, you will find a label “Beware of hot items. We are not liable for any accidents caused by your own negligence.” or something along the line. This is how the society runs; it is the law. Imagine you run in a restaurant and how much money you have to spend just to put signs so that people won’t sue you. When one individual does something harmful to others, it affects many. It seems we are all connected. Perhaps in a subtle way or maybe in a direct way but it affects us, all of us.
When I was young, I was a very naughty student. I found it hard to concentrate and I used to always play and get scolded by my teacher. One thing he used to always remind me: If you don’t want me to control you, if you don’t want me to discipline you, you control yourself. If you control yourself, it is very easy. But when I control you, it is very painful. We don’t want too many bosses above us, controlling us, telling us what to do and what not to do. We don’t like too many rules and regulations. But when you can control yourself from doing harmful things, it is very good.
So, I think this is all for today. Some more pictures from Bhutan. And again I want to thank the principal and especially again all of you special school children and the school. I am glad we shared some views and experience of our life to each other. And I thank you so much for your attention. Thank you very much.
Question & Answer
Question (Comment) 1: I just want to share a simple message. If you can control your mind, you can control everything. I really believe in that.
Question 2: I am a teacher and some of the teachers might have the same problem. I am also a Buddhist. I always remind myself to be impartial, to be calm, to be settled, etc. But when I face my students, my lovely but not-listening-to-me students, then I would lose control. Of course I learn to control my mind, control myself, control my emotion; but when I face them, I would engage. When I engage, I also become emotional. And the other day, I feel sorry. I scolded one student very badly and then I tried to reflect. But then this comes on and off, on and off. And I don’t know exactly what to do usually, when I am at the spot.
Answer: First, as I was telling you, my teacher was a very strict and traditional one and he used to scold me a lot. I never used to mind. But then some other people who were not my teachers but just my seniors, they used to scold us and I felt very hurt and angry. I think it was because I knew that my teacher had very great love for me, love and concern. So out of love and kindness some teachers scold. Of course being a child, we feel sad and hurt. But behind it, we can also feel their love. And I think we don’t mind so much. So as a teacher, sometimes out of love and kindness, you have to instruct and you can’t help it. That is your job. It is not the job of the teacher to just be nice but to help the students improve themselves. For example, in our Buddhist’s student-master relationship, we always point out the students’ faults. Teachers are supposed to do that. We don’t do that in the 21st century but traditionally the job of teacher is to point out the faults of the students. If everybody sees you as great or good, or you are doing a good job, then where can you improve? We have to learn about our flaws and learn from our mistakes so that we could improve that and that’s the job of a teacher. But again, having said that – I think it is also beneficial to the teachers when you see a naughty student, remember that they are also human beings like us, wanting happiness, not wanting suffering. Maybe for them, happiness is about being lazy or not coming to the class. Of course you should be correcting them but at the same time we should also understand them.
I think that we, the teachers and also the bosses of the company, we have to learn the act of looking angry without being angry.
Question 3: This student is very happy and he loves to be happy. And he is honored to have you telling him how to be happy. But he would like to know you more - about your daily life, your habit – and how you pursue happiness.
Answer: One of the happiness we think come from looking good, beautiful or handsome. So then we spent lots of time and efforts putting on make-up, maybe we spend one to two hours doing exercises, lots of hours. Maybe you used to spend time and money on them because we want these things. So similarly, if you think that happiness can come from having patience, understanding, tolerance, sense of satisfaction, that also has to be exercised. So prayers, meditation, chanting become the exercises – if you don’t understand what it means, it becomes very boring. But if you understand what you are saying, what you are supposed to be thinking, it is the exercise to become the spiritual muscle. So you can say I try to spend a few hours in the spiritual gym every day.
Question 4: First of all, I want to thank you for sharing with us. I have a few questions for you. This is a question that has been on my mind. No one could actually answer my question. Recently I have been thinking a lot because I am really depressed. From time to time, I think to myself why I am not so happy. And then I go and ask questions. I ask people around me why am I not happy. Then people would come and tell me – if you want to be happy, you have to do this. You have to stop complaining. You have to look at the beautiful side of the life. You have to appreciate things around you, the family, friends, etc. But I don’t seem to feel better because the more I think about it, the more I hear about how to be happy, the more worried I am. The more I’m worried, the more I am not happy about myself because I just can’t seem to achieve how to be happy and I keep thinking and thinking. Recently I think that’s a problem. I have been thinking a lot but I just don’t seem to be helping it. You know – maybe - I heard a lot about how to be happy – but the more I think about it. I think that’s enough. I just want to ask – how am I going to deal with it. Thank you.
Answer: A few days ago I wrote a quotation on my website. You can visit my blog. So I wrote: “To love others is to love yourself. To make a difference in others’ life is to have a meaning in your life.” In my own thinking, and I am not saying that you are selfish or anything, but from my own personal viewpoint, when we are only concerned about our happiness and our own life, we concentrate too much on our own happiness and then slowly and gradually, we do everything to make us happy rather than causing others to be happy. Then slowly, I think socially also, we become a problem because you concentrate only on your own happiness. And then spiritually and mentally, there comes a time when nothing makes you happy because there come a time when you buy something nice, you go to shopping and you do whatever, but nothing seems to make you happy. Nothing seems to give you joy. And then when you look at yourself, you realize that you don’t even love yourself. I think a time like this will come when you look at yourself. When you show your face to other people, it is very easy to hide things because others cannot see what is inside the mind. But we cannot hide from our self and we know how we are. So when you are concentrating only on your own happiness, I think there comes a time when we look at ourselves and we find nothing to love about ourselves. And when you don’t love yourself, I think it is very difficult to be happy or to love others. I think that’s what happening. Maybe you can try it out. Anyway, what I want to say is “To love others is to love yourself. To make a difference in others’ life is to have a meaning in your own life.”
Question 5: Have you ever been really angry? Does anything make you angry at all?
Answer: Definitely. If I never get angry, I would never know how to deal with anger.
Question 6: Then how do you get rid of your anger?
Answer: There is a quote which says that “If there is something you can do about it, then do it and don't worry about it. If there is nothing you can do about it then there is no point worrying about it.” Anger comes from unhappiness: the way people say about you; the way they talk to you; the way the situation is doing to you or making you. Usually the first step before becoming unhappy is getting angry. So the quote says: “If there is something you can do to change your situation, then you should go ahead and change the situation.” Don’t get angry. Don’t be upset. But if there is nothing you can do about it, then don’t worry about it.” Do try your best not to get upset about it. It is what I try to remind myself. Because when you get angry or you have negative emotions, you are the one who is causing yourself lots of suffering.
Question 7: So this student asks about – she has one family member who may pass away very soon any minute and she may not see this person for the last time. So what should she do? Last time she saw that family member was suffering from great pain but, at the same time, she wants to see her/him for the last time. Now, she doesn’t know what to do.
Answer: The fact that the people that we love are going to be separated from us by death happens to all of us. Sometimes, some of us can go through it; some of us cannot. But that’s just something we all have to go through. The most painful part usually comes when we have not been able to give love who is important to us as much as we want to do; or spend as much time as we should have with that person and then regret it. So I know it sounds very difficult to you. But if you could think that not only you but also everybody in this hall, we are all going to die one day, it is not that one person that has extra suffering. And then whatever time there is left between you and that person, if you can make someone happy, even if it is 1 hour and even 5 minutes. Make others happy. Spend as much time as you can and share your love and affection with that person as much as you can even for 5 or 10 minutes. It would help that person if he feels love and care for and it would also help you not to regret later.
Question 8: My question is simple. I would like to ask about your personal experience. Why and what made you wonder about all these questions--the matter of life, happiness.
Answer: This is a very good question because as I was saying earlier, people want to know about happiness of mind and how mind works only when they are suffering. When they go through difficulties or sufferings or pain, only then do they want to become spiritual or learn about the mind. That’s very sad. It is like, after global warming or earthquakes, you want to do something about taking care of our environment. We usually learn through the painful experiences but luckily, in my case, from a very young age, I was trained in a philosophical school and a spiritual school of Buddhist tradition. Of course, being a human being, I naturally went through a few difficult moments. Also, we are a in the form of teacher so when we go around the world, we listen to people’s suffering and what they are going through. So even though sometimes we may not have direct experience but through others, we can understand what they went through, why they went through these roads and what and why they are going through.
Question 9: There are people who hurt us and there are people we hate. How do we face those people? How do we stop ourselves from hating or hurting people?
Answer: I think that when people are hurtful to you or harming you, I don’t think we should be saying that “I am a spiritual person, they can harm me.” I don’t think that is correct. I think that we should make sure that they cannot hurt or harm us but I don’t think we should be harming them in return. Because they harm you; you harm them. Then they harm you again. You know, this will go on and on like playing ping-pong. It would never stop. So you should try your best not to, stop it, keep a distance or do whatever you can so that you don’t get hurt. But at the same time, you should ask yourself: when I get angry with them, does it make me happy? Is my mind at peace when I’m angry with them? So you know you shouldn’t allow yourself to suffer so much. We say that whatever you experienced yesterday or in the past, it would be like a dream in no time. So when you think back, there are many things that happened that made us so happy and jump with excitement. Sometimes we are excited. Sometimes we are unhappy. So, for example, when I first came to Hong Kong, I was like: “Wow, what a city!” but anyway these “wows” are now finished. How come? Because all these things and experiences are in the past and when we look at them, it seems like they never happened; it’s just like a dream. But when you are in pain, it feels like it will last forever. Similarly whatever difficulties you are going through that make you sad or make you angry, you should try your best not to get hurt because they will disappear before you realize. You should not be holding onto these things but should try understand that what you are suffering, what you are going through, also would become a memory one day. Don’t hold on to it.
Question 10: We have lots of desire. How do we let go of them and how do we stop desiring so much? And how do you, yourself, stop them?
Answer: I go on a walking pilgrimage so that I learn the difference between what we want and what we need. What we need can be simple thing but what we want can have no end.
Just to answer completely. Every morning I try to appreciate all the beautiful people I have in my life and imagine that if they die tomorrow, how I would feel. And the fact that how many people I love; who love me in my life and I try to appreciate them. And then sometime I would close my eyes and pretend that I was blind – just to feel how my life would be and how many beautiful things I would not see. If I didn’t have my legs, my body, my ears, my brain; if I didn’t have all these things, how different my life would be. I try to appreciate all the things I have. I am not saying that it always works but most of the time it does.
Question 11: There are different types of anger or happiness caused by other conditions and the surrounding. One type is that you disagree with the government or certain kind of ideology. There are no actual people there for you to talk with. How would you handle this kind of sentiment or disagreement?
Answer: As I said earlier, if there is something you could do about it, to make a difference, to change, you should go ahead to change it. Do not get angry. If there is nothing you could do about it, by getting angry, it upsets you. It doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help anything. And there is no point doing anything. There is a saying in the Himalayan culture: if you say everything that comes to your mind, then you are crazy because crazy people say whatever that comes to their mind. So similarly, before our action and before we speak, or whatever we do, we should reflect on what would be the consequences of my action. If I say something like that to her, how would it make her feel? If I do something, is there any result—a beneficial or a harmful one? We should always think of the consequences and actions and then act.
A lady: Thank you very much. It is now time for us to present this khata to Rinpoche but this time is reversed. He is going to present this to each of you. So would you please come out one by one?
Rinpoche: This white khata represents purity or sincerity – just to say that a new year is coming; Christmas is coming; exams are coming. I sincerely wish you all the best of luck.