Peace is Not Boring

by Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

I am fortunate to travel and meet with many interesting people. One subject I often discuss with those I meet is our common wish for greater peace and harmony in our lives.  It seems like a rather obvious statement to make – who wouldn’t want to be happy and be free from conflict?

I am surprised though, that while some claim that they seek peace in their lives there are others who tell me they prefer the challenges, without which they feel life would be boring. They tell me conflict gives their lives meaning. I have found this view to be so prevalent that I think it would be beneficial to take a moment and reflect on whether this statement is true or not.

Many regard peace as being a state of relaxation or a calmness. It is often understood in a relative way, as being absent of action, that which is present when we are not engaged with something else. It is still, quiet and non-confrontative. In other words, even though it feels nice, if you were to spend all your time in this sort of peaceful stupor, you’d end up either asleep or very bored.

I feel this understanding of peace is limited and misses a fundamental point. Peace is not something that you do. It is something that you are. It is your primordial nature. That nature is not a mere absence of doing, but instead an essence of bliss that pervades each and every moment of our existence.  The experience of such bliss is not boring, but is in fact invigorating, rejuvenating and inspiring.

Most importantly though, such blissful peace means that no matter what situation you may find yourself in, there is no reason to suffer. You can be living a fully engaged life, working with people and helping them in whatever way you can, and at no point do you ever need to feel sorrow, anxiety, fear or depression. Who needs confusion and anger? None of this is necessary for you to live a meaningful life.

In the Kalachakra tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, reality is non-dualistic in nature and cannot be defined by relative terms of ‘this’ or ‘that’. Within the infinite sphere of reality, all qualities exist in co-emergence, free from limitation. While we may temporarily experience only a tiny fraction of our true nature, Buddhists believe we each have the innate capacity to reveal its complete and perfect truth. We call this capacity “buddha-nature”.

Buddha-nature binds us together as a single universal family. Rich or poor, big or small, male or female—no matter who you may be, we all possess buddha-nature. Regardless of the spiritual path that you have chosen to follow, if that path is rooted in this deeper truth it will provide the means to reveal an aspect of your inner true nature.

Recognizing that some paths are more suited to specific types of minds, there is no need for us to take extreme positions that hold one path as superior. Instead, we endeavor to cultivate an attitude of mutual respect toward one another, an attitude that values the diversity expressed within our societies. This unbiased view will allow us to create conditions where peace and harmony can thrive.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society. At such a time, not only will we come to know the profound peace that lies within each of us, but our actions will naturally express peace.

 When we train the mind through the practice of meditation, we learn to relax the body while maintain a lucid state of awareness. A tiny taste of bliss begins to grow becoming stronger and stronger.

An effective technique to develop this skill is to lie flat with the head slightly raised on a pillow. Let the arms rest naturally to the sides so that your shoulders drop down. Legs should lay relaxed.  With the eyes closed, become aware of the breath flowing in and out. With each out breath, relax the body, releasing all tension. Then, with each in-breath, arouse the mind slightly by paying attention to the sensations in the body. Alternate like this for however long you like. Exhaling, relax. Inhaling, paying attention. It is the combination of the two—relaxed but vividly aware—that will help us find the balance we need.

Something as simple as watching one’s breath can become the doorway to a much deeper sense of peace. As you come to connect with aspects of your buddha-nature, that nature begins to permeate more and more of your experience. When you are just starting to train, you will find the peace of mind will eventually carry over into the periods between sessions. This begins a process of bringing harmony into every aspect of your life.

These two—peace and harmony—are ultimately inseparable. We each have the ability to make such a practice a personal priority. We create the cause for peace to arise in our mind and when we know true peace we interact harmoniously with others and help them discover peace in their own experience. In this way, the world will change one mind at a time.

If You Want to Save a Culture, Save a Mother

In the remote region of Surmang, giving birth was a matter of life or death. Both mothers and children were at extreme risk. Located in the Yushu prefecture within the Qinghai province of China, this area has been among some of the places in the world with the highest maternal mortality and infant mortality rates. A mother was three times as likely to die as an American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In 1987, Lee Weingrad, an American student of Trungpa Rinpoche, traveled to Tibet to visit his late teacher’s monastery.  Upon leaving Tibet, Lee said, “I thought I had reached the destination in my life. Years later I realized I had only arrived at the bus depot.”

He was distressed with the poverty he saw, with the harsh living conditions of the Tibetan Khampa nomads and farmers. When he heard the numbers of mothers and infants that were dying needlessly, he said yes to an adventure that has put the Buddhist teachings of compassion and reverence for life to the test of reality.

He returned to the US and not long after, packed his bags and moved permanently to China. There, he fell in love and married Wang Wenjing, a Tibetan scholar who had spent 4 years living in Lhasa.  He reflected on how he was going to undertake such a project with his background in teaching and sales rather than international development or aid. But he worked directly with his inspiration, and his passion was able to do its work. When asked how he could do such a project by a representative of UNICEF, he said, “did you ever see Field of Dreams? Kevin Costner’s character asked the same question. The ghost answered, ‘build the field and they will come.’”

Shortly after he arrived, he incorporated the Surmang Foundation. Since that time more than 150,000 people in the region have received lifesaving care.

In 1992, the Qinghai government agreed to let his group build a clinic, which would be completed over the next few years. They would eventually hire two resident physicians, who were local Tibetans themselves.  Lee and his team invited volunteer doctors to visit annually and often stay in nomadic tents after treating hundreds or thousands of patients over several months.  Visiting doctors from the West will often acknowledge that being there was a waters­hed moment in their life and career.

Among the beautiful and remote mountains, with forbidding snowy winters and fleeting summers, the villages are scattered and it can take hours to reach even with vehicles. Travel, even in emergencies, is impossible in the winter and in the rainy seasons. A corps of 40 midwives and traveling health care workers brought the health care to them, traveling to some of the more far reaching areas by foot.

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Lee’s deepest motivation was ensuring that no mothers die in childbirth. When a woman dies the effects are devastating and it touches everyone. The family is cratered. Grandparents especially bear so much grief for all. A mother’s death tears at the fabric of their small encampments and communities where women hold so much together.  

In Tibet, nomads have high status. Leading the traditional life of a nomad in a tent encampment, despite the harshness of the terrain, the sun, the winds or the icy temperatures of winter, few would trade it for city living.  Here they tend herds of sheep or yaks or horses. Some cultivate barley on small farms living in village dwellings. With a few exceptions all are devout Buddhists and children wake to incense and offerings being made each morning.  Afternoons are for prayer or making butter and cheese or sipping many small cups of tea.  The community is close and there is ample work for the young and old.

In the warmer summer months, they will set up high mountain camps, and as the seasons change, they will again move to areas better suited for animal grazing and nearer to safer, more accessible roads. They believe, in accordance with their Buddhist principles, that slaughtering one yak will feed them all winter, and is more compassionate than harvesting a whole field of crops. All the tiny beings also have a lifeforce: the plants, the worms, the insects, the fungi. Their animals are sacred, sentient, and life-giving. Life, in all forms, is precious.

Since the permanent clinic originally opened, patients have never been charged for services or medicine. In this area where the land and their way of life provides basic needs for food and clothing, but otherwise money is scarce and people may live on less than 50 cents a day.

In addition to assisting with births and well-baby visits, the clinic sees many other patients. The clinic can offer an ultrasound, set bones and pull teeth; they are often treating mild ailments; and even offer veterinary services when there is great need.

Expecting mothers will often receive a birth kit that includes basic items such as a clean sheet and a sterile razor for cutting the umbilical cord. This can make a world of a difference—often, the difference between life and death.

It has taken years of patient work by the clinic to get the women of the region onboard. But when they saw that their pregnant friends and family were no longer dying from pregnancy or childbirth, more and more trust was established for the clinic and the foundation.

After decades of the foundation providing aid, everyone at the clinic and the region agrees, “If you want to save a culture, save a mother.”

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Abbot of local monastery and Lee Weingrad.

Please visit www.surmang.org

 

Emma Szymanski