Ethics in the Age of Social Media
Like all technological innovations, social media platforms can bring both positive and negative consequences to our lives. Knowing how to maximize the good and minimize the bad is a challenge that Buddhism can teach us, by showing us how to properly use the technology. Learning to distinguish what is true from what is false is not trivial, and the sheer magnitude of social media’s presence in our lives can be daunting. In this talk, Khenpo Sodargye discusses the issues and challenges involved in social media, and he presents the tools found within Buddhism that will help us free ourselves from negativity to once again find joy in our lives, as we positively affect our society.
“Like droplets of water, one drop after another, can eventually fill a giant pot, as humans, we can make positive changes in our life from little things, correcting those small, negative actions and instead performing small but good deeds, then gradually, everyone will become a very wonderful person.”
We’re Tiny Cogs in the Social Media Machinery
Dear fellow teachers and students, good afternoon. Welcome to this live talk. Let me introduce our guest speaker Khenpo Sodargye. He is a bestselling author who has written, Tales for Transforming Adversity, Achieve by Doing, and many other popular books. He is a highlyrespected Khenpo who strives to share the insights of the Buddha with contemporary audiences. While he is a monastic,Khenpo is not satisfied with just doing solitary retreats, but wishes to inspire everyday people to free themselves from suffering and to find great joy. Khenpo often says, Buddhism is a science of mind, and its wisdom is to be uncovered by those fortunate enough to be connected to it. Please give Khenpo a hearty welcome as he talks to us about Ethics in the Age of Social Media.
We’re Tiny Cogs in the Social Media Machinery
Today, I’m glad to speak with you about the Ethics in the Age of Social Media. To start out, I believe that all of you here are very familiar with social media. Each of us has a smart phone, which is undeniable evidencethat every one of us is a tiny cog in the social media machinery. This sounds kind of devaluing, but I often think about how much of our personal time, space, and wisdom we’ve lost due to the culture of instant gratification and impulsiveness. We’re being overwhelmed by a bombardment of messages and notifications and our thoughts are manipulated and changed by them. So in this hyper-connected digital age, as individuals, we must know how to face our life challenges, ups and downs, and how to prepare for what might happen in our future.
As in the past, when human civilizations progressed through different ages, today we are living through another new age, the age of social media. In this age, everything is becoming digitalized, micro and instantaneous, such as micro films, micro interviews, micro novels, micro blog, and many instant messages, all of which are interesting and intricate. Some say, micro, in Chinese “wei”, means tiny while great. As social individuals, we have each become the creators and spreaders of information, sources of information. When thinking about this, we can see that our lifestyle is radically different from the past. Back in the old days, if one wanted to read a book, most people couldcomplete it within a few days. Yet, today when we try to read a book, we might get a thousand notifications on our various devices, inclining us to check our phones incessantly, scrolling, texting and replying, busy with it all and distracting us from our books. Our daily time is scattered and fragmented by these activities.
So people today are easily distracted by various thoughts and ideas, and seldom have long-lasting concentration as before. Including me. Being a Buddhist, and a monastic, before I got started with various forms of social media, I had more time to recite sutras and to read books. But now, with the use of social media, if I don’t manage my time properly, there’s a big chance that I cannot finish my daily chanting and practice, or complete my work of scripture translation. Also, I clearly notice that not only myself, but people around me as well, are exposed to many different things and ideas, and have more complicated way of thinking. At this moment, it makes me reflect on the patterns of thinking patterns I’m engaged in every day. Perhaps some of you teachers and students have a similar feeling.
People nowadays prefer to receive instant messages, in the swiftest, easiest and most direct way. I’m guessing that’s why micro films have become so popular. What’s special about it? It takes the minimum time, spanning from 30 seconds up to five minutes to tell a complete story. The necessary investment to produce them is minuscule, just a few grand. The production time is also minor, taking just a few days or a week to finish. Think about how much investment, time and hard work is required to make a big screen movie. Today these are going out of fashion, as people are becoming increasingly fond of micro films. Besides films, micro blogs such as Weibo (China’s version of twitter) have become another popular media platform. On Weibo you can only use 140 words maximum to tell a story, or to even create an absorbing novel, a micro novel of just 140 words. Back in the old days, reading a novel, such as Dream of the Red Chamberor Romance of the Three Kingdoms,would take a long time, but now you can finish a short novel within a very short span of time. Moreover, people love to watch or engage in micro interviews—a guest interview product of Sina Weibo, through which they can directly interact with the invited guests. Through interaction, tens to thousands of questions can be asked and answered within an hour.
Negativities of Social Media
I’ve also tried these social media platforms. While applying them, I see their advantages and disadvantages, their good and the bad. What is the bad? There are way too many platforms which don’t have a valid system to properly control and filter poor or offensive content. In this process, lots of news and ideas are circulated, much likely, a lot of which aren’t factual, or are just downright dishonest. Yet, once they begin to circulate, too many people believed them to be true and are misled. For example, some may post critical messages about certain people in their Weibo, although often those people being criticized are being unfairly maligned, but once these posts have been spread around, as people nowadays love to share provocative messages, maybe tens of thousands of times in seconds, then as a result of that the fake news becomes accepted as the truth.
Generally, every personal interaction in this world has three sides: my side, your side and the side of truth. Very likely, while we’re communicating and making judgements, my side is subjective, and so is your side. And the truth is possibly altogether missed. Unlike the past when news used to be approved by the state before it was released, today social media, or “we-media”, has become a shared public space, and on social media, everyone has become a news writer, publisher and promoter. People may write and post whatever they want. Then everybody can read it and forward it all over the world. As we see, lots of news, either domestic or international, can be posted, updated and spread within seconds. This makes the truth even harder to find. So there’s no doubt that we always need careful observation to find the truth.
If a post is positive, encouraging goodness, spreading it is very meaningful, and we should certainly use modern technology to promote positive messages more efficiently if we can. But nowadays, many individuals have an inclination toward accusing and blaming others, holding grudges against the society, and struggling with unskillful interpersonal relationships. They see the world filled with negativities, and full of darkness. They also have very strong, outspoken opinions, and lots of ideas. When they make comments, they may even turn out something that is not negative into something negative, spreading a feeling of anxiety and disappointment through society at large. Why is it that after something negative is posted, even though it is not that severely bad, people can still feel that there are no good people, and no hope in the world, and that everybody could be an evil person? I feel this is somehow related to the improper uses of social media.
In fact, the essence and core values of Buddhism are wisdom and compassion. As an education, Buddhism teaches these and other noble qualities to people. Authentic Dharma learning and practices, including meditation, take years of listening, contemplating, and practicing, just like any university program.
Sharing Inspirational and Positive Messages
The Way to Form Social Media Ethics
- Cultivate Mindfulness of Your Posting
How then should we minimize the negativities regarding the uses of social media? As I mentioned, each of us is a news writer, a news creator. As a writer and promoter, in our own social circle, Weibo or Twitter, we have our own voice and control to influence our community. So we need to set an example on how to reduce negative influences. To do this, first, in the midst of all the myriad opinions, in a complex situation, we must have awareness and the wisdom to discern good from bad, true from false, and right from wrong. In this regard, both the worldly and supramundane wisdom is needed, so that we can make correct choices. Once we’ve discovered that the sharing of certain comments and content only has a negative impact on society and other individuals, we should stop spreading them and also persuade others to do the same.
I know one person who learned some Buddhism, but I’m not sure whether he is a genuine Buddhist or not, as he often claims to be a Buddhist, but sometimes he disclaims it. I hear that he posts every day on his Weibo, blog, and WeChat with meaningless content, indulging in mindless entertainment. And worse, the messages conveyed in his posts often bring about negative effects. For example, he would post, “Oh, today I went to dog meat restaurant, and the dog meat was tasty!” “Let’s go to seafood restaurant tomorrow.” “The seafood there is so fresh and amazing.” He has attracted lots of followers. Surely many people like this. If the content were about serious subjects such as certain fields of study or the arts, it would only attract those few people who are interested in it. That’s why now certain publications and advertisements are so popular today, as all they talk about is indulging in food and entertainments, such as various dishes from across the world, the different ways of eating and drinking. Everyone loves it, regardless if they are wise or ordinary people, Northeasterners or Southerners. When I was told about the content of his posts, I spoke to him, “If you must post something, instead of suggesting seafood, could there be something better to share? When you share a post about seafood, it will encourage many people to go out and eat seafood. If you understand that every living being has feelings, you should consider how many lives your post on seafood would take away, how many lives would be sacrificed.”
So I’d like to encourage everyone that when we send out a message, we must first consider its impact, whether it’s beneficial or harmful for others and ourselves, either in the present or future lives. I think this is crucial and it is also a way for us to make changes in a worsening social environment. Everyone has responsibility to control their own speech and actions, and each suffers the consequences of their actions. If you act carelessly due to your irresponsibility, you may have to bear unfavorable karma later in this and future lives. Karma is actually a natural law whether you acknowledge it or not.
There is a story in the Sutra of Prince Mupo, also included in the Collection of Six Perfection Sutra that illustrates this. There was once an elegant prince who never spoke a word until he was thirteen. For fear that he might be mocked by the neighboring kingdoms for having a mute son, the king summoned the brahmins in the country to ask them why the prince never spoke. The brahmins said that although the prince looked elegant and handsome, he was evil inside and was inauspicious to the nation, so they suggested that he be buried alive to save the country from trouble. The king then consented to this suggestion and sent some servants to do this job. When the servants were digging the hole, the prince started to speak about his story. He said, “I do not speak because I can recollect in one of my past lives, due to my carelessness with my speech, I created bad karma and suffered in hell because of it. I was a nice and loving king of a country with great power and nurturing virtues. On one occasion, when I was receiving many guests from neighboring small countries, my attendant suggested to fete them with the meat of livestock. I was a bit reluctant, but I agreed to it. Due to this simple act, I suffered in hell for sixty thousand years, and experienced the pain of being tortured, killed, and stewed repeatedly. With just a few careless words, I had fallen into hell, so I’m extremely terrified and can only remain silent in this life.”
From this story, we learn that the consequences of our speech can be really terrible. As humankind has progressed up to this modern age when everyone is using various social media platforms, it is impossible and not necessary to escape from it, trying to go back to the 20th or 19th century, or even more ancient times, when social media did not exist. So I encourage everyone to cultivate mindfulness of their speech hand behavior in this life.
- Sharing Inspirational and Positive Messages
This second point I’m stressing is that when we share knowledge with others, we all need to be aware that what is most needed in moment is knowledge that is inspirational and beneficial to both others and ourselves. This is quite necessary and important for everyone. In this regard, I would say Buddhism has great power to change people’s mindset, and to encourage people to engage in virtuous behavior and refrain from non-virtuous acts.
I met some teachers from Tianjin University yesterday, who were also discussing the necessity of positive education in this modern age because cases of college students committing suicide are happening in many universities, even many prestigious universities. Being admitted to a prestigious university should be seen as something fortunate and esteemed because there are so many who can’t enter. Yet, even in such good universities, there are always some students who feel unhappy, or struggle anxiously over insignificant things. In the worst cases, tortured by their negative emotions, some wrote a will, some even not prepared one, and then they committed suicide. It was reported that at a certain school, a few students came togetherto jump off a building, as if they were diving. If these students could be educated on kindness and the virtues starting when they are very young, they might cherish their precious life more, instead of wasting or abandoning it due to trivial things.
Therefore, I’d love to discuss the value of life with students and teachers. We should respect our own life, as well as the lives of others because life is so precious. However, the reason why many people fail to recognize its value is often related to the ideas and messages of their milieu. For example, many young people like pop music. But the lyrics of those very popular songs are all about emotional attachment and love affairs, and which describe frustration, suffering and desperation, most of which are not so bright and seldom have a positive side. If you young people often sing along with these pop songs, like us monastics reciting the name of Amitabha every day, you become so absorbed in the lyrics, then when you encounter difficulty in your life, the only thing you will have to face it with is the negativity and mindset presented in those lyrics, which cannot help at all. So our attitude toward life has very much to do with our cultural environment.
In this regard, I would say, if you can understand and accept certain principles in Buddhism such as impermanence and apply it in your life, then like a ray of sunlight shining into your heart, most of your difficulties can be easily overcome. Even if it is the case that you lose your wealth and status, it’ll also be acceptable, as Buddhism tells us that all phenomena are impermanent and conditional.
Once a professor at Peking University told me a story about his classmate at college whose family had been quite influential. At that time not many people in China owned luxury cars, but a Mercedes-Benz regularly came to pick him up, making others very envious. After graduation, he had a good job and had his own family, everything seemed to be admirable. But later his father was arrested in an incident because of violation of the law. When this happened, all his friends and relatives left him, nobody came to help, and even his wife took their children overseas. Back when he was at college and he was a bright young boy, he was a bright boy, never had he experienced such suffering, pressure, and discrimination. When all these happened to him, with others’ insults and slanders hitting him, the intense suffering made him unable to sustain his life, and he committed suicide. If he had received the education of impermanence at a young age, he wouldn’t have been so susceptible to those difficulties.
Regarding certain lyrics of pop music, young people should at least realize that pain, excitement, desperation, and frustration are not describing everything there is to life. Life also has the aspects that are taught in Buddhism such as everything is conditional and impermanent and will sooner or later part from you, but then given this reality, how you should relax, stay easy, happy, and content. If you could receive this kind of education in your youth, then when you encounter various situations in your life, you will be well prepared to deal with them easily and with an attitude completely different from the worldly approach.
From my view and experiences, Buddhism isn’t what people commonly think of as only a religion or a set of ritual, at least, not exactly. Buddhism is in fact an excellent education on mind. Especially for young people, if you can spread and share such an education and understanding in the age of social media, you are following a code of ethics, the social media ethics. What is it? It is to require everyone to share positive and virtuous messages.
If we can adjust our mind well, keep a pure mind, then we can bring a smile to our face, and such a smile is the real deal anti-aging formula. We will be happier and sleep better, and always have wholesome dreams.
Make Changes From Small Acts
Make Changes From Small Acts
There’s an important saying in Buddhism. Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish, a sutra on the discernment between the wise and the fool, says,
Do not take lightly small misdeeds,
Believing they can do no harm:
Even a tiny spark of fire
Can set alight a mountain of hay.
This means that we should not downplay the so-called minor wrongdoings, feeling that we can do them since they are minor. Our conduct, speech, mindset and any social engagements should avoid whatever is harmful to self and others. As it says, “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.” If you think something is insignificant such as stealing a small item, or cursing now and then, then just little by little, these actions will gradually cause negative results, like the one tiny spark of fire which can set a mountain-like heap of hay blazing on fire, burning it into ashes. This is a great analogy. We should make it our focus in life to avoid committing any wrongdoing regardless of whether it seems insignificant or not, and we should never fail to commit any act of kindness, no matter how small and inconsequential they may seem. We shouldn’t engage in any non-virtuous act, no matter how small or innocent it seems. Likewise, we should always look to act virtuously, even when it seems trivial. Never think that minor acts of virtue have no merit.
There’s another teaching in the same sutra, the Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish:
Do not take lightly small good deeds
Believing they can hardly help.
For drops of water one by one
In time can fill a giant pot.
This means, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of a small act of kindness, thinking that a kind word, a smile, helping an elderly, or tweeting a positive message, has no big benefit to yourself or others. Like droplets of water, one drop after another, can eventually fill a giant pot, as humans, we can make positive changes in our life from little things, correcting those small, negative actions and instead performing small but good deeds, then gradually, everyone will become a very wonderful person.
I always believe that, in this modern age of social media, everyone can be a good example by applying ethics, and can also influence people around them to perform good deeds. If one can apply this code of ethics in one’s life, even a small positive post could possibly give rise to a huge change, like many small rivers of virtue coming together and eventually forming an ocean of goodness.
For example, we all hear about Yulin’s dog meat festival in Guangxi where every year a large number of dogs are killed for human consumption. But when someone initiated a Weibo posting calling for ending this brutal trade, many people came together to appeal the cancellation of this festival. For those who love animals, and those who are kindhearted, this is a big progress. Mankind kills every day. In recent news, we see horrible murders are happening in some countries. People feel killing a person is horrible, but killing an animal is acceptable. This contradiction is just due to our lack of recognition of the preciousness of life.
Another example is the program of Free Lunch for Children in the western area of China initiated by Deng Fei, a Chinese man dedicated to the public welfares. This program also started with a short post by Deng Fei on his Weibo in 2011 calling for providing free lunch for schoolchildren in rural areas of China, and now it has become a great charity foundation.
So in this modern age, everything becomes possible. Someone can become a millionaire instantly, or become a celebrity overnight. This is a characteristic of the social media age. For example, someone without much intelligence or ability, yet, with just a weird face or who behaves strangely, or says something beguiling to the public, then he or she becomes famous. Living in this age, it is good but not so good because it’s full of uncertainty. In such circumstances, if you have the inclination, it is very good for you to learn about the Buddhist teachings on virtue. Personally, I’ve been studying Buddhism nonstop for more than 30 years. To put it fairly, it has been very beneficial and helpful for my life.
Why Buddhism Is Misunderstood?
However, there always exists the misunderstanding by the general public that Buddhism is a negative influence, so it’s not that good. I’d like to clear up this misunderstanding. Lots of negative impressions and misunderstanding about Buddhism are caused by some irresponsible behaviors of individual Buddhists and the local environment, not by Buddhism itself.
Firstly, many Buddhists do not understand the essence of Buddhism, and for them, Buddhism is little more than a ritual or a formality. In many temples, Buddhist rituals in Buddhism have been commercialized and become trivialized. Ringing a bell on the first moment of a new year costs a few thousand dollars, and burning the largest incense on the first day of a new year costs tens of thousands of dollars. This leaves a very negative impression on people today. When people think about temples or Buddhism, their only associations are offering incense and making prostrations, which are just formality with very shallow meaning, and like a mundane custom, lacking wisdom and profundity. I’ve seen some people, including children at an airport, who upon seeing me says, “Oh! Amitabha! Amitabha!” In their mind, a monk in a robe can only recite Amitabha or burn an incense, and nothing else. It’s undeniable that these rituals do exist in Buddhism, but they do not represent all that Buddhism is. Buddhism is far more vast and profound than many can imagine, and just that certain individual Buddhists reduce Buddhism to these rituals and formalities.
The second reason for misunderstanding of Buddhism is the commercialization of Buddhist monasteries in many places. Now due to many factors, monasteries have been commercialized as tourist destinations, selling entry tickets and tied in with business. That way, whichever temple of this kind you go to, the only purification you can find is the purification of your wallet. So from time to time, we’re raising concerns about selling tickets in Buddhist monasteries. Actually this phenomenon started back in the 70s and 80s in some Han monasteries for the purpose of restoring them, but over the course of time, only a few monasteries were restored through this way. In the Tibetan regions, there isn’t such a thing in Buddhist monasteries, which are open to everyone.
The third reason is that some Buddhists are turning Buddhism into entertainment, which is a mundane and vulgar thing to do. For examples, some Buddhist organizations always have dance and singing performance. In some Tibetan monasteries, even at consecration or some other ceremonies, celebrities and singers are invited to take part in it. Certainly a consecration ceremony at a monastery shouldn’t be held by celebrities. Although I haven’t heard of it yet, maybe in the future, this will happen in Han monasteries too where celebrities and entertainers are invited for a consecration ceremony. These kinds of things certainly are not appropriate in Buddhism. If it happens, fine. But it definitely is not representative of the core of Buddhism.
Therefore, Buddhism being tuned into a business, an entertainment, or a formality are the factors that are causing the general public to misunderstand Buddhism. In this way, Buddhism will be marginalized and its essence will be lost, becoming something else. This is what’s currently happening in the Han region, but less so in the Tibetan regions.
In fact, the essence and core values of Buddhism are wisdom and compassion. As an education, Buddhism teaches these and other noble qualities to people. Authentic Dharma learning and practices, including meditation, take years of listening, contemplating, and practicing, just like any university program. Like in Tibetan Buddhism, the systematic education within monasteries that has continued over many centuries is quite compatible with the Western education system. Through this systematic education, people gain an integrated and complete understanding of Buddhism.
Buddhism Changes Our Life for the Better
Here I am going to share some of my feelings with you. I’m not asking anyone to have faith in or to study Buddhism. We cannot do that because everyone’s experiences and conditions are different. However, everyone needs to face their own life, and therefore, everyone should find something to support for their heart and mind. This support cannot just come from others, but should be something we find within ourselves. Failing to understand this point, many people experience interpersonal conflicts when associating with others.
For example, young people today think that friendship is transactional. I’m treating you so well, so you must return the favor. Say I’m treating you with 5% kindness, then you must at least be 7% or 10% good to me. If not 7% or 10%, then you’re mistreating me. I won’t do business without profit, because 5% is what I’ve invested. Actually, Buddhism teaches us that everyone is an individual who comes into the world alone, goes through their life alone and dies alone. When we came to this world, we came alone. No one can live it for us. Upon death, we will leave this world alone, and our karma is the only determinant that takes us to the next life. Nobody has the same karma as me, or the same personality as me. But many young people today try to force others to accept their own preferences, to follow their own thoughts, and to live by their own pattern, which is certainly impossible. This is why when young people deal with relationships, with their lovers or colleagues, very often they experience setbacks. If we understand that every sentient being is different, and such differences have been existing since beginningless time, our frustration will be much relieved.
Also, families quarreling against themselves is unfortunate and unnecessary as well. Why? Any conflicts within a family aren’t usually a big deal like national or international conflicts are. When family members fight, they never fight for truly significant things, but usually about trivial things, like “you said this and that”, “you said something wrong”. When family members are talking, it’s impossible that everyone’s speech is without error or is flawless, like debating in Buddhist Logic, which requires one’s statement to be impeccable, following a strict logic. Just because others are not speaking to me the way I like, not meeting my demands, not giving in to the urge of my mind, I have to argue with them. This is unreasonable.
In this age of social media, I feel lots of people’s suffering is caused due to their lacking the knowledge of social media ethics. As a result, they have to undergo lots of mental suffering. However, we can choose to follow a wholesome lifestyle to avoid unnecessary suffering. Unless we encounter serious illness or financial crisis, which is difficult to cope with, generally speaking, we should be able to face common situations. As I often tell others, it’s important to smile in this social media age. A simple smile lights a lamp of wisdom deep in your heart. When you smile, you’d bring warmth to others. When you speak with a smile, others will feel nice and sweet inside. But if you’re often frowning with worry, and talking with anxiety, it’ll affect your mood and physical health, threatening your life span, career, work and many other things. When your mind is unhealthy, you won’t be interested in anything, not even in eating and sleeping, and your dream could become nightmarish. All of these are related to our lifestyle. If we can adjust our mind well, keep a pure mind, then we can bring a smile to our face, and such a smile is the real deal anti-aging formula. We will be happier and sleep better, and always have wholesome dreams.
Therefore, in our daily life, we can make it our focus to observe and adjust our mind. If we fail to do this, we will always be caught up in various setbacks and sufferings, and struggle with all kinds of complicated problems. Some university students think, “When can I graduate? After graduation, I’ll have a family and a career. Everything will be settled down.” In fact, after gaining a career or family, you will experience even greater pressure. It is fairly easy just studying. When you get older, become middle aged people, again you may think, “When can I retire?” But after retiring, you may only experience a sense of loss. So what matters the most is our mindset. If we can cultivate an attitude of generosity and altruism, as Buddhism teaches, cultivating an altruistic mind without considering our own gain, it can really bring great benefits to ourselves. So in this obscure age of social media, we should uphold virtue by following these keen ethics, which will bring about one skillful cause after another, leading to a wonderful life.
Letting Go of Self
Letting Go of Self
Hello Master. As a beginner following the path of Dharma, I find all my thoughts arise from myself, and it’s difficult to let go of my self. How can I let it go?
As Buddhism tells us, the truth of all phenomena has two levels, the relative and the ultimate level. On the ultimate level, “I” doesn’t exist, nor does “mine”. Both you and I don’t exist. This isn’t just a saying, it can be verified through the subtle wisdom of discernment. But on the relative level, “I” needn’t be completely abandoned. In Buddhism we can say, “I’m the liberated one. I’ve acquired liberation from samsara.” It’s the same for worldly activities, “I” is surely needed, like striving for myself, breaking through myself, and discovering myself.
So the Buddhist philosophy cannot be simply generalized by just one sentence. There are different levels to analyze the truth of phenomena, which is also true for the teaching of no self. Sometimes we need self, while sometimes we need to let go of self. For example, when we have a business, it’s necessary to work hard for oneself. But if this gets too intense, to the point of disregarding others, disregarding their business, and even harming them, this attitude is certainly unacceptable. In this regard, Buddhism teaches altruism to reduce self-grasping.
The Proper Way to Spread the Dharma
Rinpoche, I’m an undergraduate at Tianjin University. My question is, when promoting the Dharma to benefit others, how should we find a good balance between being active and loud and keeping a low profile? Some think that maintaining a low profile can prevent obstacles. But others think that obstacles are inevitable, and purposely keeping a low profile may become the biggest obstacle, so we should promote the Dharma fervently as long as we don’t break the law and disturb other people. How can we find a good balance?
When learning the Dharma and propagating or spreading its positive messages, sometimes we need to be low-key. If we are too loud, we may encounter various challenges. For example, at school, at work, or in other environments, if we attract too much attention, we might make it hard for ourselves by creating tension with others. Yet, sometimes, if we’re too scared and too timid, always acting conventionally, or just following others, keeping unnecessary worry and anxiety, then we can hardly succeed in anything even if it is easy to accomplish. So we need different approaches under different circumstances.
When we talk about the development of Buddhism, or spreading the Dharma, we need to have the wisdom to see if the necessary causes and conditions can be created. “Oh, in this situation, I should be loud and passionate, so that I can effectively share this idea of positive energy with others.” While in other places, “Oh, if I’m too loud and obvious with it, not only will I fail to communicate with others, I will negatively impact myself and them.” Therefore, whatever we do, we should first consider how to do so in a way that is not disturbing or offensive to others. And in the meantime, we should maintain our enthusiasm and vigor to carry on, instead of being passive and feeling timid or afraid. People often have two types of extreme mindsets both of which are not appropriate. One is emotionally driven, so emotional that one immediately gets carried away. But such passion doesn’t last, like a bubble that vanishes quickly. Another one is being indifferent, becoming lazy and inattentive when doing things. Whether it’s to propagate the Dharma, or to do other things, there should be wisdom, the wisdom of observation. In that case, even if there are obstacles or challenges later, since you have prepared, you will have solutions and ideas for dealing with them.
For anything we want to accomplish, we can wish for a good result, but we also need to prepare for failure. We can have a lofty goal, but we need to be meticulous with details. There’s a saying, “Aim for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.” This is quite important. Our aspiration can be grand, we can think big and aim high, and never give up. But meanwhile, we must be meticulous when we act, being attentive to details. It seems this doesn’t apply to most people nowadays. They start big, without much consideration of potential future difficulties. Once a challenge arises, they cannot handle it. So I want to emphasize wisdom in this regard.
Khenpo’s Opinion on Young People Getting Ordained
I saw this news on the web that a student in Shandong became a monastic after she finished her undergraduate study which received lots of comments. I’m curious about your opinion on this, maybe specifically for us who are about to graduate.
I saw the news too, with a title like, “A girl born in 80s becomes a monastic to practice at 4,200m altitude.” To be honest, at Larung Gar, lots of monastics are young people born in the 80s and 90s. Although this is not so common in the recent history of Han Buddhism, it’s very common in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Here is my opinion: In general, there need to be many favorable conditions in order to become a monastic. It’s not just going to a Tibetan or Han monastery and getting ordained. Our society today puts a lot of social responsibility on young people. Particularly, many born in the 80s and 90s are the only child in their family and have to take care of their parents. So I wouldn’t suggest that many young people should become monastics, but I would not discourage them either, because when the time comes, others can hardly stop them. Like myself, when I decided to become a monastic, many tried all possible ways to stop me and convince me to change my mind, but I couldn’t follow their advice and just stuck to this path. Actually, throughout history there are many precedents where people have chosen monasticism, including great scholars, emperors, generals, and ministers. So when I saw the news, it didn’t strike me as unusual.
Proper Attitude Toward Charity on Social Media
Rinpoche, as you said, on social media platforms, we should post messages that are beneficial to others. Nowadays on Weibo and WeChat, there are lots of charitable events posted. Some are initiated by NGOs, like One Foundation or other micro foundations, but still there are lots of personal posting too, which we can’t verify if they are true and effective. What kind of attitude should we have toward these charity messages?
While we can post messages on Weibo about altruism or helping others, such as charities, reposting or forwarding such messages should follow certain principles. It doesn’t mean they are valid messages just because they are charity-related or Buddhism-related because there are many initiatives posing as charities using false information to cheat others, or even conducting illegal activities. So before reposting or spreading such messages to others, we must look at their source to verify their credibility, whether they are really doing charity work or not. With this matter, we need to have clear discernment, since there are many activities undertaken in the name of kindness but with ill intent. This phenomenon is quite common today.
Positive Job Attitude
Hello Master. I’m a sophomore student studying business. In daily life, many of my classmates talk about how to get a good job and make money after graduation, but my parents give me different values. They often tell me that I shouldn’t pursue this kind of thing seriously, because it is temporary. So I feel torn. Would you please advise me on how to resolve this and get some peace of mind?
How to find a job, make money and have a car, a house, after graduation is a common question among university students. Not only in mainland China, but in other regions and countries as well, students are concerned about this, which is quite understandable. Here I just want to say that when you are just finishing school, if you think too big and try to be successful too quickly-to get promoted or making big money in a short time-you will probably be disappointed.
If we look at successful individuals in the world, it took a long period of time for them to achieve success after college. Particularly, job-seeking nowadays can be a big challenge. Even if you’ve found a good job, you have to work hard step by step. I’ve read the story of Yu Minhong, founder of New Oriental. After graduation, he rented a place in Beijing for 50RMB per month. His salary then was about 120RMB. He tutored his landlord’s kids, and in return he didn’t have to pay rent for one year. After a year, the family still asked him to continue tutoring, and he didn’t ask for much since he had just graduated. Many of today’s college students however, when they are fresh out of school, expect big things to happen. Many of them won’t be satisfied with an average company and salary. Why are they discontent? They may hear about how this person got rich, that one has this much wealth, how much other people make per month, and then they will inevitably make a comparison. Originally you had two thousand, enough to live on, but once you hear that your classmate is making five or ten thousand instead, you begin to compare and feel jealous.
We should have a clear understanding of our true capabilities, and at the beginning we must work hard, but not ask for too much. If you are greedy, you may do things without proper care, and very possibly things will not turn out in the way you expect them to. So in the beginning, whether the path in front of you is a spiral or a straight line, just bravely keep going. In this way, you’ll accumulate much virtuous merit.
Secret of Being Happier
Hello Khenpo. I am a Tibetan student studying here. I’m very excited to see you today. I also post personal opinions, sometimes complaints, on WeChat. I feel that, among students, socializing is fading away. Everyone is so busy with their own stuff, and we can hardly find anyone to talk to, or to share our feelings with. Especially when we’re studying science, we are very busy, and seldom have time to pay attention to Buddhist philosophy. In this situation, how can we learn some essential Buddhist teachings so that we’ll be happier in society and live more happily?
This is a practical question, but really, it’s not an easy issue to resolve. It is quite true that now, when everyone sits down, they just read their WeChat and Weibo, and check their messages. Even in an intimate relationship, maybe after 5 minutes’ of interaction, they begin to check their phones separately instead of talking with each other. It is the same in a family. Sometimes family members fight because of such unsociable behavior. For those I’m familiar with, I can also feel that they prefer to focus on their own things and not share anything with each other. Some say that when best friends sit together it’s the most painful thing when each of them is glued to their own phone. This situation has to do with the modern age. Although people are together, their emotional bonds and closeness are pulled apart by the different social media. It has become very common in this day and age. Even worse, the important knowledge that we should be learning, such as traditional culture, the Buddhist tradition, science, and the specialized knowledge in our own field, are not given the attention needed due to our fragmented lifestyle.
A similar situation is also happening in Buddhism. I mentioned it last year. In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were phenomenal teachers, great Buddhists, who had acquired immense knowledge of Buddhism. Why was this so? Probably because the information age had not yet come. Nowadays however, even some khenpos and rinpoches use social media all the time, and have little time to focus on Buddhism. In their minds, one part is Buddhist knowledge, and another part is worldly knowledge. Likewise, for teachers and students who study science, in the past they would have read lots of books and retained extensive knowledge. But now, many young professors have gotten used to scrolling their devices all the time. Because of that, their knowledge has certainly been compromised.
For any kind of knowledge, we need to study it systematically and thoroughly. So it’s necessary to have a break from social media, with our phone being turned off. But for many people, if their phone is off for an hour, it seems they become so worried that they will miss what is happening and feel an hour is too long. If they keep the phone off for half a day, it’s as if they’ve missed out on a lot. It’s actually not that big of a deal. When I’m at Larung Gar, I need to turn the phone on in the morning to do certain kinds of work. But I just turn it off in the afternoon, no matter what happens. So we need to reserve some time for ourselves, otherwise we become enslaved to this technology, and become the victims of this social media age.
If we are swayed by different kinds of disorganized information, becoming consumed by them all day, what we can actually accomplish is very little. There is indeed valuable knowledge such as in science and in Buddhism that can nourish, cleanse, and purify us, which is absolutely necessary. Yet, in this day and age, we are so drawn in by every enticing and tempting message. One after another, it seems like we cannot stop looking at them. If we don’t get involved with them, one hour becomes a long time. But once we start to look at them, time goes quickly. Check out those messages, like during the recent World Cup. The news reported that many people stayed up late, and one person passed away due to a brain hemorrhage. What a pity!
Dealing with the Sense of Loss, Greediness and Restlessness
Dealing with the Sense of Loss, Greediness and Restlessness
Hello Rinpoche. I’m an undergraduate student at Tianjin University. I’ve been exposed to Buddhism since I was young. I’ve also been reading your books recently. I have an exam tomorrow, but I still came today to attend your talk. I have a few questions. Let’s say, when preparing for an exam, I put a lot of effort into studying, but in my exam I don’t perform as well as I expected. I am so disappointed. I thought that certain questions would not be included in the exam, but they were. It seems as though I worked so hard, but the result wasn’t satisfactory. Although we say, “Just let it be,” I still feel a sense of loss. What should I do in this situation?
My second question is about greediness. Being a young student, my greediness is intense. I ask my family to buy things for me, get me my favorite things, and let me travel wherever I like. Sometimes I try my best to control myself, to reduce my greed. But when it strikes, I just lose control. Being “out of control,” what can I do?
My third question is: People get anxious and restless nowadays with cellphones, computers, etc., which are distracting us at every moment, leaving us no way to calm down and do what we need to do. We become so restless. In such a state, while knowing I should calm down and maintain a peaceful mind, I’m still anxious and restless. I wonder how can I let my mind regain peace and stability? Thank you, Rinpoche.
Out of your three questions, for the first one: In our life, very often we can’t achieve our initial goals, probably because we expect too much, and reality can’t catch up with our desires. At times like this, whether it’s your exam or your job search, when they don’t meet your requirements, you should have something prepared to transform your mind. This is quite crucial.
Nowadays, for some students, as well as other people, when they don’t get what they wished for, they get extremely upset and cannot go back to their normal life. This is pretty common. So we should know clearly that with an exam or anything else, it is fairly normal for things to work out different from how we imagined they would. For example, whether I’m traveling and teaching or doing my own things, many things don’t turn out as I initially expected, and they are not as simple and beautiful as I imagined, which happens all the time. But I’ll still do what I need to do willingly and joyfully because I know that whatever happens depends on lots of causes and conditions, not just my own expectations. Your desire or expectation for something is just one of its many causes and conditions, but it depends on many other causes and conditions. For any worldly activity, whether it is project or a business, it cannot be accomplished simply by just wanting it to be. Lots of young people tend to oversimplify things. They oversimplify business, perhaps with a simple budget estimate, so they think they will make money. Or a friend mentions an idea, and immediately they want to kick off a project, thinking it’ll be quite simple. In fact, for anything to be successful, lots of causes and conditions are necessary along the way. As Buddhism teaches, “All phenomena arise from causes and conditions; as are their cessation.” I think understanding this teaching is extremely important.
In your life, when something fails, you should not blame others, nor blame society. It is not necessarily someone else’s fault. There could be certain causes and conditions from your own side. Also, you should not lose interest afterwards just because of one failure. Some individuals, in the course of their life, get discouraged just by one failure, and then they lose the courage to start over again. This is an ignorant way to behave. In fact, as long as we are persistent, we can eventually accomplish our goal.
In your second question you spoke of greediness. All worldly beings have greed. The Universal Door of Guan Yin from the Lotus Sutra says that if you are afflicted by intense greediness, you can pray to Avalokiteshvara wholeheartedly, and the blessing of Avalokiteshvara will go straight to the bottom of your heart and relieve your affliction. Likewise, if your anger is uncontrollable, pray to Avalokiteshvara sincerely, then the blessing of Avalokiteshvara will enter your heart and eliminate your anger. Should your mind-stream be filled with ignorance, and you are confused and unsure about many things, as there is so much confusion in our lives now that makes us feel lost, at times like this we should pray wholeheartedly to Avalokiteshvara. His blessing will enter your mind and help you to resolve your problems, leading you onto a bright path.
For your third question: In modern times, of course many people are restless. So for this, if you’re interested in Dharma practice, you can read some Dharma teachings or chant certain mantras. Sometimes, when I’m anxious or frustrated, I close the door and recite mantras. Naturally, lots of afflictions and restlessness settles. This is one way. Another is to adjust our mindset in daily life. We should reduce our attachment to many things. Our over-attachment can destroy our peace in life. When your mind is freed from different kinds of attachment, your restlessness gradually dissolves, and you will regain the control of your life and have a clear direction and mindful awareness. By raising your awareness, you’ll succeed in whatever you do.
Conditions for Taking Refugee
I’m a graduating student at Tianjin University. I’d like to ask Rinpoche for us fortunate ones here to kindly confer the refuge vow. Thank you Rinpoche.
If you are ready, you can receive the vow through live streaming or on another occasion. When we visit schools, the purpose is to exchange ideas. But of course I can talk about the theoretical meaning of taking refuge. The Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha can be the support of our mind. If, deep in your mind, you have an irreversible faith in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, then on the proper occasion, or in front of a Buddha statue, you can take the refuge vow by making a strong resolution. Say, in certain places, at a certain time and situation, you take the vow, “From now on, one-pointedly, I take refuge in the Three Jewels.” Then you become a follower of the Three Jewels.
Proper Attitude for Working with People
I’m also a graduating student at Tianjin University. When we enter society should we treat different people in the same way, or adopt different approaches when working with different people? I feel that if I treat others differently, I may lose my own personality, which is kind of sad. But I also feel that this attitude is absolutely necessary in society, so I’m confused about how to properly work with different people.
When we work on an issue, sometimes it is appropriate to treat different people in different ways, but at other times we need to interact with others with the same attitude since there are all kinds of people. I’m not too sure about your personal orientation, but I think we do need wisdom in all situations. A while ago, I had a post on my Weibo saying that, “Given an issue, we start to deal with it with the same motivation, but if we adopt different methods, we probably will get different results.” So facing a specific problem, when we try to analyze it, investigate it, and resolve it, we need discerning wisdom to examine its various causes and conditions, factors and structures, as well as the potential benefit and harm before we can find a specific solution for it.
Sometimes, even a single issue a person faces may need many different methods. For example, we want to promote traditional culture to someone who isn’t interested in it at all. In this situation, we will need to apply various methods to observe his attitude, his preferences, his family background, etc. Then, we can use different approaches to elevate his views on traditional culture. So we should develop a subtle wisdom to observe various situations and then use specific methods accordingly, which is very necessary.
The Way to Control Discursive Thoughts
Rinpoche, I’m in my third year at Tianjin University. I don’t think I’m a restless person, but I notice I have too many thoughts going through my mind. For instance, while I’m sitting and my body is relaxing, lots of thoughts pop up in my mind. Just before coming, I was at the gym where I saw a friend and chatted with him. He is kind of overweight. So as I was sitting here, I thought, he’s working hard to lose weight, I hope he can get fit soon. Then I recalled the girl I met at the gym who was doing very good sit-ups. These random thoughts keep coming into my mind, and I can’t control them. Now I’m remembering a book I had read, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It mentions something about meditation, saying that thoughts come from mind, and we can let them pass by, just let them come and go, not grasping onto them. But I find that when I don’t hold on to them, they keep coming back. When I see something similar, those thoughts are back again. If I try to control them, I get controlled instead. So please give me some advice on what to do about this. Thank you, Rinpoche.
When I hear your question, my mind gets overwhelmed too. I remind myself to follow what you are saying, but then I get lost with something else. One moment I think you are asking about The Tibetan Book of living and dying, but then I feel you may be confused with your social attitude, guessing you are discontent in a sense. One moment I wonder if you have doubts about Buddhism, but then I think you’re probably asking something else. Whatever the case, in this day and age, people’s minds can be very busy.
Buddhism teaches that a human being has 51 mental factors. From a psychological perspective, every person has a specific mentality. In Buddhism this mentality is further divided into virtuous, non-virtuous, and neutral mental factors, which arise from the deepest level of consciousness, called alaya. Alaya contains all kinds of mental inclinations, or karmic seeds, like a storehouse. Our thoughts during the day and night, in the past and at present, all of them are stored there like seeds. When its causes and conditions mature, a seed will sprout and engender an action. That’s why Buddhism talks about meditation practice, because through meditation, all kinds of discursive thoughts such as afflictions and confusions can be pacified, and one will be able to abide in a state of luminous emptiness, serene and relaxed.
In modern society, filled with anxiety and bombarding messages, most of us need to find a way to rest our mind. If you cannot engage in complicated practice, I’d like to introduce you to a sitting posture, a mudra named Rest in the Nature of Mind. Just cross your legs, with palms placed on your knees. This mudra was introduced by the great Tibetan Buddhist master Omniscient Longchenpa, through which one’s mind can be rested completely. I will be teaching his treatise of Finding Rest in the Nature of Mind at Larung Gar soon, which will help us to cultivate a peaceful, harmonious and relaxed mind. Such a state is very necessary for us.
As you mentioned The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, this book talks about meditation practice and the practice of the six bardos. It has become a bestselling book in mainland China and the West because it gives an illustrative teaching on the birth and death of living beings, including a clear description of how the mind works, which Padmasambhava taught back in the 8th century. While our science has made breakthroughs, developments, and contributions on a material level, on a spiritual level, including even psychology, it hasn’t gone very deep in understanding the mind. On the spiritual plane, science’s understanding remains pale and blank. But the teachings in Buddhism, particularly the teaching of Padmasambhava in Tibetan Buddhism, offers explanations that complement these. In the 20th and the now 21st centuries, certain subjects in Tibetan Buddhism have drawn much attention from psychology and psychoanalysis. Not only are they popular, they are also very practical. Being practical does not mean talking about future lives, past or future things, or just mystical stories. It’s not like that.
People in the 21st century emphasize practicality. They are looking for a direct method to solve their problems. They are not interested in what happened in the past, nor in predictions about the future. They just ponder whether a teaching can solve their real problems. That’s why, as I mentioned just now, in this age of social media, studying something from Tibetan Buddhism will enable us to be more relaxed and peaceful. It will bring us a lot of unexpected benefits in our daily life. Such benefits cannot be obtained through material wealth. Some people may own luxury cars, houses, and great wealth, yet their minds still remain panicked, worried, and anxious. That’s why we must have an authentic spiritual supplement, to nourish both our body and mind.
Thank you Khenpo for all your wonderful answers. Due to time constraints, our Q&A session has to end here. Let’s show our deepest gratitude to Khenpo for what we’ve learned and experienced from this talk with our warmest applause.