5 Lessons From the Tibetan Culture by Karma Tensum

My work with the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation (TCEF)  is made possible by the compassion of some amazing persons. During this stretch of my life I’ve crossed paths with incredible persons like the late India Supera who helped to found TCEF. Another inspirational person who now helps to sustain it is Jennifer Prugh. Through Jennifer and Breathe Together Yoga we’ve found over fifty sponsors who support the education of Tibetans in exile or provide comfort and succor to Tibetan elders in need. Often I think of ways for us to give back to this amazing community of sponsors and supporters who donate hard-earned money to support a child or elder they’ve never met on the other side of the globe. I’ve always been passionate about sharing the Tibetan culture and nowadays my head is wrapped around trying to share aspects of Tibetan culture that have the potential to benefit others. Viewed from that lens, this is also an expression of my gratitude to everyone who supports our work.

1.Spirituality in Daily Lives

I think what distinguishes Tibet from many other cultures is its massive emphasis on spirituality. I’m perhaps a little biased when I write along this vein, but I also know that others have thought along similar lines. Huston A Smith writing in The Illustrated World’s Religion: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions, writes,” As rain forests are to the earth’s atmosphere, so are the Tibetan people to the soul of this planet……..” So, yes, I do like to think of Tibet being this oasis of spirituality. But the bigger question, the more relevant one is, how does this spirituality help the Tibetans and does it have the potential to help others as well? And I think the answer to both is yes. I don’t mean to suggest that the Tibetan society is perfect. Far from it, we have our share of the naughty ones, the greedy ones, the violent ones. Yes, we do. But, by and large, we are a spiritual community, devoting at least some part of our day to spiritual practice.

2. Training The Mind

One of the things I’m really excited to share is the concept that the human mind can be trained or tamed. Now, we know that we can train our bodies, build them, sculpt them, make them bigger, skinnier, or whatever! What about our minds? Well, we think that we can also train our minds, tame our minds and make them more disciplined, more peaceful, calmer. Having a calmer mind, a mind not prone to emotional swings can have a fundamental effect on our sense of happiness.

Knowing that the mind can be trained, one key area of training is mindfulness- training the mind to be mindful – mindful of our thoughts, speech, and actions – all to make us better and happier persons.

The best book that I’ve read on mindfulness and living in the present is Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step – The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.

HH The Dalai Lama praises this book and writes, “This is a very worthwhile book. It can change individual lives and the life of our society.”

3. Karma – Taking Responsibility

Several years ago, I was a guest speaker for class on Comparative Religion. I had the opportunity to present basic tenets of Vajrayana Buddhism and also compare it to other major world religions. While all religions’ morality seems to be on the same page, a significant philosophical difference struck me. Several religions place a considerable amount of emphasis on faith for salvation. In contrast, in Buddhism, the emphasis is on earning your spot to nirvana or salvation. So this sense of responsibility for one’s action is pretty pervasive in our world. We compare our actions and our karmas to our shadows, which is such an inseparable part of our beings.

Now I’m not here to debate the merits of the divergent religious philosophies. My point is that this emphasis on being responsible for one’s actions has the potential to make us better persons, act as a deterrent against negative actions, and push and motivate us towards good and wholesome actions and activities. As a Tibetan educator, for Tibetan students, and maybe for all students, it makes sense to reinforce the concept of being responsible for one’s actions and teach them at an early age that both good and bad actions have respective and corresponding consequences. I know His Holiness feels that just as we educate the mind with Science, Math, and other subjects to make the world a better place materially, it is equally important to train the heart so that we can be kind, compassionate, caring, and happy in this world.

4. Compassion & Altruism

In the Tibetan spiritual heritage, there is a huge emphasis on compassion and altruism. Compassion is empathy in action with an accompanying sense of responsibility. So you see someone in need, feel empathy for that person’s plight and then feel a sense of personal responsibility to do something about it.

True, undiluted compassion is unbiased compassion, when we do something out of genuine concern for someone else without thinking of any payback, without any bias or precondition. This category or class of compassion has the potential to not only bring comfort to others whom you bless with your generosity and kindness but also to make you genuinely feel good and feel happy… and right there, feeling happy, isn’t that what we are all shooting for!

4. Global Peace – One Person at a Time

So I believe a combination of daily spiritual practice, that includes meditation to increase our mindfulness, and then the practice of compassion can lead to a more peaceful person. A peaceful person can be the foundation of a peaceful family. A group of such families can creat a peaceful community and in this way, we can expand the width and breadth of peace in our world.

Tibetan spiritual masters like HH The Dalai Lama have impacted the lives of millions. My best hope is that the benefit translates to behavioral and attitudinal changes in real life, that the impact is not merely philosophical or theoretical.

For those who want to pursue this thought a bit further, I would recommend a wonderful book by HH The Dalai Lama: Beyond Religion – Ethics for a Whole World