An interview with H.H. Jangtrul Y Rinpoche

Kuensel Online, June 16, 2008

Timphu, Bhutan -- In 1988, Jangtrul Y Rinpoche was recognized as the trulku (reincarnate) of H.H. Jangtrul Pethrin Rinpoche by H.H. Drubwang Penor Rinpoche, under whose guidance and patronage he studied. Today, Jangtrul Y Rinpoche is known as a gifted poet, fluent narrator, and a nature lover. He has immense interest in poetry and other literary works.

He has kindly shared his thoughts on Buddhism with Kuensel.

What is Buddhism? Why should we practice Buddhism?

Buddhism is a way of life based on the view that everything is interconnected. To achieve contentment and fulfilment in life, one must know that one is also dependent on the contentment of others. To seek happiness at the cost of other humans or non-humans is a mistaken approach. Many people think that Buddhism is complicated with its elaborate rituals, tantric deities, 84,000 different teachings and crazy yogins. They think practising it is difficult.

Actually, it boils down to a few points. Don’t commit any negative deeds. Commit yourself to doing good deeds. If you can’t help others, at least don’t harm them. Learn to control yourself and your mind. To practice such simple principles in day to day life is to lay the foundations of contentment and fulfilment in this and the afterlife. It is not necessary to lock yourself up in a room or cave for days on ends, not at the beginning at least.

As Bhutan changes, how should we also change?

By change, I think you’re referring to Bhutan’s political transition. I know that change hasn’t been forced upon the Bhutanese. We chose the way and the path of change under the guidance of our leaders. Therefore, it’s a change for good. We’re democratising to better ourselves and our society.

It’s often true that, as the political institutions and structures change, the people’s mind refuse to change. We’re so set in our habits and beliefs, which are so deep-seated that, even when democracy requires us to re-think them, we won’t. Democracy would require us to be more tolerant to criticism, more compassionate to others as part of our fundamental rights, more disciplined as a fundamental duty, more accommodating to different points of view.

Rather than see political change as an opportunity to be more aggressive, reckless and self-asserting, we should learn to recognize that we’re members of a society that’s interconnected, and what we do has implications on others.

What is your understanding of the Bhutanese youth? Do you think they’re losing interest in our religion? If so, is modernization responsible for that?

Bhutanese youth are increasingly being weaned away from basic spiritual values. Of course, they aren’t to blame entirely. Modernisation has somehow made them believe that happiness and fulfilment are achieved through consumption of goods and ideas that aren’t necessarily local or spiritual. For example, how beautiful or handsome one should look is dependent upon a particular hairstyle one should keep, pants to wear or creams to use.

Basically, modernisation has induced the idea in our youth and adult alike that happiness is generated by consumption, not sharing, that we’re individuals, and not members of an interconnected society, that contentment is possible through adoration of heroes to whom revenge is justified.

You said that Bhutanese have the spirit of Buddhism but lack understanding. Why is it so?

Generally, most Bhutanese have grown up in a social and cultural environment that is informed by Buddhism. This environment is not new but has a long history. We’re used to certain do’s and don’ts that culture prescribes. And, since culture is largely based on Buddhism, the prescribed or prohibited values are internalized as a way of life. The spirit of Buddhism pervades our idea of living. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into our understanding of Buddhism. Understanding requires certain literacy or interaction between those who know and practice Buddhism as a spiritual pursuit. To understand Buddhism is to understand that it teaches nothing is permanent, that attachment to self is the greatest obstacle to happiness and that happiness can actually be found within.

One rising problem in Bhutan is our youth going into drug abuse and alcoholism. As a Rinpoche, what would you advise them?

My advice to them is not to go into drugs and alcohol. It isn’t worth it. It really isn’t cool.

How different is Buddhism as it is understood and practiced in the west?

Western societies aren’t Buddhist. Their culture has no Buddhist basis. When they approach Buddhism, they do so to it like science. They study, research, analyse and begin practice after accepting the meaning and value of certain teachings, meditation or rituals. It isn’t blind faith, not a voluntary surrender to the teachings just because they need an escape from some suffering or difficulties in life. They take to it once they know that it can help them deal with difficulties, not just seek a miraculous solution.

A Bhutanese, who is so used to the ceremonial and ritualistic accoutrements of practising Buddhism, would be surprised to see that western practitioners have usually none of these. By this, I don’t mean to say that these accoutrements are bad. Both have their values and merits.