Exotica (Vol 3 No 9 | July '09 Issue)
Meet GYALWANG DRUKPA, the man who believes in the mantra of 'Live to Love' and interactive padyatras as a way of uniting people. ASRP MUKESH picks up trail at his Lahaul hermitage.
It's a sight unlike any other. To see maroon-robed monks trek up the lush green mountain meadows, ribboning up like a giant prayer flag, fluttering its goodness in the wind. This is a spiritual trek being led by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the 800-year-old Drukpa lineage of Buddhist monks. "The most important part of a pilgrimage is not the destination but the journey itself that makes you worthy of absolution. Not only are you exposed to a world outside yourself or the challenges it poses, you learn to survive them with your fellow travellers and bond with them in the process. In subsuming yourself to collective will, you have gained knowledge; you have become a better person," he says.
We meet the guru midway through his "Walking Along The World's Rooftop" mission, a 400-km long march that started at Khardang in Lahaul and after crossing five Himalayan passes, the highest of which are Shingola and Senggela, will end at Ladakh this moth. He says he's leading his followers to make them confident and that interaction with diverse people would help them be self-sufficient.
The guru makes his first halt after setting out of the Khardang monastery and shares his wisdom in detail. "Our journey has two purposes, the physical and the spiritual. Physically, we are going to walk in the Himalayas, paying homage to the great masters of our past, visiting their holy caves and hermitages at 6,000m above sea levels. At that level, it's inspirational, it's about matching the greatness of the feat, it's about physical endurance. How do we gain spirituality? we are not grounded due to the superficial conditions we are living in. It's very difficult for us to break away from these conditions. To be able to do this, you need to develop a very strong mind, an altruistic mind of enlightenment. You are not doing this for yourself but doing this for others, who are not fortunate like you to be able to undertake this spiritual journey," he says.
Ladakh is dea to the monk because of its association with the lineage of which he is the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa. This lineage, a school of Mahayana Buddhism, spread across Tibet, Bhutan, China, Nepal and India. It was founded in 1206 by Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje. Story goes that he saw nine dragons flying up from the ground into the sky. This led to the name "Drukpa" which means "lineage of dragons."
To meet the current Gyalwang Drukpa is also an opportunity for me to understand the principles of "being enlightened for the benefit of others" on which the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy rests and focus on their practical application. Among the key lessons to be learnt from padyatras in t he countryside are humility, simplicity and high thinking. "The hill people are a contented lot, without avarice and work their lives on a spiritual matrix. I don't want them to lose this. I want to tell the world that they are not poor but rich. Where else will you find every family opening their homes to you, fully trusting in human goodness?" the guru asks us.
How then can we imbibe their goodness in a material world? "They balance their life in such a way as to resolve every conflict and confusion. The root cause is lack of traditional, value-based education. Modern education may equip you for the prevalent world but without being rooted to your traditional philosophy and thought, one that has civilisationally talked about transcending the material world for nirvana, you are nothing. See the size of the smiles on the faces there," he says, panning the pilgrims who have by now shared their many stories and realised that hardships are a given. And rising above them is an easy task when others are doing it too. "Just now, we did a very difficult kora at the Drilbu Ri, the holy site of Chakrasamvara. a few people did not make it because of mountain sickness but almost everyone made it with a very strong mind. There were avalanches a few days before, so walking in the snow and going up to the peak of the mountain was extremely difficult, even for myself. We had to use ropes to go up. Yet everyone was smiling so happily when we reached the top. This experience tells us that our mind has to be stronger than our physical body, if we want to achieve anything in this life. If your mind tells you that you cannot make it, you will not be able to make it. Your mind determines everything."
Getting ready at Khardang Gompa
And how is it possible to overcome the commonest of human frailties, fear? And the sage answers, "I had a very old friend in Darjeeling who was a very successful businessman but he was very worried about not being prepared for death. So he requested his guru to advise him and prepare him for this moment. At the peak of his business career, one day his guru called him and said that he should sell his business, and he did it immediately without asking any question. He moved into his guru's gompa after that. Then his guru asked him to follow many practices. After that, his guru told him to go into a three-year retreat and he did it without any doubt. he passed away in his second year of retreat, which was great. In our case, we are never prepared, we are constantly busy doing this and that, planning for this and that, as if we are immortal, we are never going to die. When death knocks on our door, we cry and there is nobody to help us, because we are not spiritually prepared. Therefore, I am very happy that so many of us are courageous and determined to put aside 42 days to do this padyatra. Even those who manage to come for a part of it are considered to be very fortunate."
How does one lead a life of peace when pursuit of material needs can get competitive? "Again it is all about ultimate truth and relative truth. The education of ultimate truth has to be kept in your prayer while the practice of relative truth has to be always kept in your mind. If the world is competitive, go and compete. If you have to compete for the sake of your family, why not? But do so without harming anyone. Whatever you do, you have to live harmoniously," says the wise man.
"Today, society is at a risk of losing the big smile," he points out, due to the aggressiveness and anger that is creeping into people's thinking. "There's a certain frustration with their situation, born out of uncontrolled greed," he warns.
Significantly, the reverend monk, who makes a strong distinction between religion and spirituality, calling religion "a beautiful wrapping for spirituality" but a barrier if it stands alone, says he doesn't go on a padyatra out of compassion as some might assume. "I'm doing it to introduce compassion. Compassion comes before love. I call it "Live to Love", which is the practice of our lineage." Distinguishing compassion from pity, he says, "The bottom line - compassion is understanding."
And once humans understand each other, they can rescue each other. For example, the padyatris are already gearing up to combat the kerosene deaths in Ladakh. With no electricity, people in these parts use kerosene oil for light and cooking. Stove bursts are common and behind a lot of accidents. "We are trying to popularise alternative energy. We are even giving vocational training to the locals so that they can benefit from a tourist economy and teaching them the value of preserving Mother Nature. I feel very sorry for my students, friends and devotees in the Himalayas because they are not very much educated in the sense of, for example, use of plastics. They love using plastics, it has become like an addiction. We cannot explain to them about the earth getting sick, they won't understand. So rivers, streams and lakes are getting polluted. I am ashamed to say that even our monks and nuns tend to leave behind a bunch of disposable cups, plates, empty instant noodle or biscuit packets at their camps and holy places. There is no sense of understnading at all. When they wash their clothes, they need to use the strongest soap that gives off the most bubbles, but this kind of soap pollutes the water most. We human beings are very childish and foolish, always fail to see the bigger picture."
The walk stresses on participation, gettin as many numbers as possible. "Experience brings real compassion - I would call it experiential compassion." Over the years, the Drukpa lineage has undergone a massive transformation and philosophical change. The current guru, unlike other spiritual leaders, doesn't preach simple meditation because he thinks it is ia waste unless it's practised and applied the way it should be. It is because he walks the talk that his entourage comprises mostly young followers. Interestingly, there are more women than men.
"We're focusing on youngsters for this is the generation that likes to see and feel," says His Holiness. "That's the reason I tell my nuns and monks to go out of their monasteries, reach out to people and tell them how they can lead a better life. Meditation will help only in the enlightenment of the self but how can it benefit others unless you talk about it?"
And for all practical reasons, he feels women today have a major role to play in bringing about change. "The number of nuns is growing; it is 400 now. Our nuns are learning English and computers so that they can reach out to the masses and impart knowledge in a language they understand," he says. Women do not need to make any special effort to serve humanity. "For they are blessed with versatility and it is in their nature to contribute towards any humanitarian activity. So, even while bringing about change in society, they will prove to be catalysts. As for the duties of men, they will follow women and our aims will be achieved," the teacher rationalises.
Right from driving a car or a truck to practising Kung-fu and performing traditional mask dance - the nuns do it all. In fact, a lot of owmen are now turning to the faith. Consider, for instance, Jigme Thupsten, a former woman police officer in Jammu and Kashmir and now a nun at the Kathmandu monastery. Or Jigme Cheneing Khandro - princess of Nanching province in China. The 20-something opted to renounce materialism and become a nun at the age of 12. There's an intersting anecdote here. The first time she went to the monastery's mess to eat, all the nuns got up from the table out of sheer reverence for the princess. But today, she is one amon gthem. She doesn't miss the luxuries of her palace. Her regular day starts at three in the morning with prayers and recital of mantras.
It doesn't surprise me that the Drukpa's modern outlook has found supporters in Brad Pitt, the British royals and common men throughout the world. "Buddhism is not a fanatic religion; it is a philosophy that doesn't list any conventions except "Live to Love". This, I believe, is the easiest to follow. Anything done with the genuine thought of selflessness will always make you happy emotionally and be an accummulation of positive karma," he says.
Unconventional in more ways than one, he is a modern day monk who has a website of his own, is a blogger and webcasts his teachings in multiple languages.
MANTRA FOR WELL BEING
I sometimes look at the pollution in this world, in the air, in the sea, where many beings suffer unnecessarily due to human selfishness. There is only so much the bunch of us can do, but if we as a community don't do it, we cannot depend on others. Of course, in these tough times, it is difficult for everyone to consider the welfare of others. But during prosperity, people are too busy enjoying themselves to think about others. We need to think that we are breathing the same air, drinking the water from the same source and we are supposed to be more intelligent than other helpless beings. As citizens of the earth and the universe, we should at least be responsible for the home we are staying, we have no choice. I read recent news reports about scientists finding living beings in other planets and exploring the possibility of earth colonies there. It seems they are giving us the hope that even if we have dirtied the earth, our planet, it's okay, because we can always go to another planet and mess it up. I want to remind everybody that the rising moden pandemics - be it the swine flu or bird flu - will not give you the chance to even go beyond your own home. Even if you go to live in another planet, your karma will be like a shadow following you.