Although the feature to sign up for a newsletter has been on my website for quite some time already, a newsletter had not yet appeared. Till now, Since this is new to me, let me start by saying that suggestions on how to write a meaningful newsletter amidst all the messages that are already coming our way, are welcome.
Though it is a bit painful as a writer to hear, ‘short and simple’ will probably be on your mind. It always makes me wonder what this says about our life & society. Writers, philosophers, great scientists and other kinds of wise people in this world have traditionally taken serious time to gain insight into the world we share.
If we want to understand ourselves, knowing how to live well and contribute to cultivating more compassion in our communities, taking time to read, listen, contemplate and meditate seems essential. This is wonderfully expressed in the main title of a great book by the Zen Buddhist teacher, Haemin Sunim: The Things You can See Only When You Slow Down.
There is also this beautiful notion of ‘starting a new chapter’ in our loves. These days it seems more like starting a new line everyday that can be put in no more than 200 words or even less on a picture on social media that otherwise gets swiped away within seconds.
Do we still take time to consider where we came from, where we are now, and where we are heading? Can we see the patterns in our lives, some of which we perhaps need to let go of and others we might do well to nourish to move forward with? Do we have a clear sense of how to really close one chapter and known when and how to start a new one?
At the end of 20109, I flew to the United States, another ‘first’ in my life. There, I stayed at Nalandabodhi’s Contemplative Center, Nalanda West, as a resident and participant in the Three Paths Program. I imagined it to be half a year to connect more with our sangha, to do volunteer work, and as an in-between period before I would move to Sarah College in India, near Dharamsala. At Sarah, I thought, I would start a new chapter. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world.
Facing the uncertainty of my own future, I was reminded of the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.”
Initially imagined to be an intermezzo between two chapters, I decided I was going to ‘open a new chapter’ and let go of what might follow from that. Though my aspiration to take monastic vows continued to be with me, I started to ask myself how I could translate the meaning behind that path into meaningful actions today?
Consequently, I made it my daily practice to contemplate at the end of each day whether I had lived up to specific aspirations made the day earlier. Had I lived up to what I had wished to accomplish the following day? Maybe not so much in a task-oriented and detailed sense but more so in the sense of the quality of my physical actions, speech and mind. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully recommends: “Our own life has to be our message.”
So, finding myself in the United States, I decided to engage actively with my direct surroundings and investigate time to understand this part of the world. The United States. The American Dream. The Black Lives Matter movement. Make America Great Again. Elections. And the Covid-19 virus, which made this country lead the world in terms of cases and deaths.
It gave me plenty to contemplate and a strong wish to act for the benefit of my direct surroundings and eventually everyone, both in the present and the future. Various articles on my site reflect the outcome of my direct experiences, reading and subsequent contemplations of my time in the United States and the so-called ‘western world’.
Another consequence is that I became increasingly involved in volunteer work for Nalandabodhi. Even up to the point of starting to fulfill the new role of ‘PR & Outreach officer’. I wonder if this question would have been posed had it not been for the pandemic.
Despite walking my Buddhist path and aspiring to pursue the life of a Tibetan Buddhist monk, it’s funny to me that marketing & management keeps returning to cross my path. Well, I happily embrace it. If I can use the skills, which I started to learn during my first bachelor, for the benefit of our sangha and the well-being of all sentient beings in the world, then why not? Again, we only have today to make a difference!
After postponing my journey to India for more than seven months, I had finally found my way, safe and well, to Sarah College. Though I continue my work for Nalandabodhi, my studies, my practices in the Vajrayana tradition, and the ongoing Tibetan language program I started online in July of 2020, it still feels like opening a new chapter.
This chapter started with 15 days in quarantine at Sarah; an experience that has deeply moved me and which inspired my latest article about what I learned during those days. Namely, the lessons that point to the very heart of my own path and a dharmic path in general: the necessity of knowning ourselves, training our mind and living with great compassion in this world.
At Sarah, I find myself among monks, nuns and the for the most part, laypeople. Many are Tibetan, Vietnamese, Korean, or come from other Asian countries. Only a handful of people come from the ‘western world’. It is really a wonderful coming together of people with different backgrounds on various levels; not just per country, gender, being a monk / nun / layperson but also from various non-Buddhist and Buddhist traditions, with various languages, cultures and much more.
A first insight has already crossed my mind, something my teachers Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Acharya Lhakpa also clearly pointed to: it is easy to get distracted by the appearance of things. That is, by the ‘form’ of phenomena. The way we dress, the calendar we follow or the celebrations that we take part in. Likewise, living as a monk, nun or layperson is eventually not the point. Increasing our wisdom and living with more kindness is what truly matters.
I had a conversation with a very dear friend from the Netherlands whom I had not spoken with for a long time. Pressed by recent events, we found ourselves asking all kinds of beautiful questions as we had done so many times before. To conclude, there is one thing that truly matters. Something, she told me, which was expressed beautifully in the book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy.
I might study at Sarah College for many more years. I might take my monastic vows someday soon. I might write articles, books, and share about wisdom and compassion, and so on. Yet the words, frame on the wall by my dear friend, are something for each of us to keep in mind daily.
And it is with those beautiful words that I will conclude this newsletter.
Sending you all possible blessings,
P.s. As always, feel free to share moments of wonder and suggestions on how to make our world a kinder place for all sentient beings.