Awakin Calls » Lobsang Phuntsok » Transcript
Lobsang Phuntsok: Re-inviting the Uninvited Guests of the Universe
Guest: Lobsang Phuntsok
Host: Amit Dungarani
Moderator: Gayathri Ramachandran
Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world, to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us!
Amit: Well, good morning, good afternoon and good evening. My name is Amit Dungarani and I'm really excited to be your host for our weekly Global Awakin Call. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Now the purpose of these calls is to share stories that helped plant seeds for more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. And we do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, who inspires us to live in a more service-oriented way. And behind each of these calls is entire team of service based volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is Lobsang Phuntsok. Thank you for joining our call. Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space. A minute of silence, please.
Thank you and welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call, today in conversation with Lobsang Phuntsok. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that's co-created by many invisible hands. In a few minutes our moderator, Gayathri, will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker, Lobsang, and by the top of the hour, we will roll into a Q&A and a circle of sharing where we'll invite all of your reflections and questions. Now, I've gone ahead and opened up the queue right now. So at any point you can hit star six on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org that's ask at service-based dot org or submit a question or comment via our webcast form, if you're listening in online via the webcast.
Now our moderator today is Gayathri. She is a gardener, by hand and by heart, and a scientist by training, presently on a quest to align her life with her calling. As a way towards tapping into the sacred feminine, she has spent the last few years engaging in meditative practices, learning nonviolent communication, cooking traditional recipes, and working in her organic garden with close to 100 species of native trees, shrubs and herbs. She volunteers with various ServiceSpace projects and communal tree planting initiatives in her native Chennai in India. Gayathri will now introduce our guest, Lobsang more formally, and get the ball rolling for this conversation. Gayathri, over to you!
Gayathri: Thank you so much, Amit! And it's a great pleasure to introduce Lobsang Phuntsok. So Lobsang is a former Buddhist monk who has trained with his Holiness the Dalai Lama. He spent 8 years in the west, initially translating for senior Tibetan monks at the United Nations and subsequently, teaching Buddhist meditation and compassion practices at various local high schools, colleges, hospices and other professional arenas in the USA.
He hails from the state of Arunachal Pradesh in North-East India and was born an unwanted child of an unwed mother, what he calls being ‘an uninvited guest of the universe’. The love of his grandparents rescued him during an early, dark period in his childhood, where he’d even contemplated suicide before the age of 7. At 7, his grandparents made a life-changing decision to send him to the Sera Je monastery in Mysore in South India. There, as he experienced the rigorous structure and compassionate atmosphere of monastic life, his childhood wounds healed slowly.
This healing experience was pivotal to his later-life decision in 2006 to disrobe and move back to the Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh, where he started a home for children who come from adverse backgrounds called the ‘Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community’. Jhamtse Gatsal means the ‘garden of love and compassion’ in Tibetan and their purpose is to provide a safe and loving home for their children to enable the cultivation of three key values – that of intelligent mind, kind heart and healthy body. The community originally started with 34 children, and over the last decade has grown to currently house 92 children who are cared for by 4 housemothers and 13 teachers. Jhamtse Gatsal hopes to keep expanding so that 200 children can eventually live there. This beautiful home is also the subject of the 2015 award-winning documentary ‘Tashi and the Monk’ which chronicles the story of Tashi, their youngest and newest addition to the fold at that time and her transformation from a willful troublemaker to a more peaceful and contributing member of her community. So with that introduction, a very warm welcome to you, Lobsang, and thank you very much for joining us today!
Lobsang: Thank you, Gayathri, and thank you everybody for taking time to be part of this conversation, and I hope I could say something useful.
Gayathri: Lovely, thank you so much. Thank you! One of the places we like to start with, for many of our guests, is to get a sense of pivotal moments in their early childhood that woke them up to a sense of their calling in life. For you, being sent to the Sera Je monastery in Mysore by your wise grandparents really turned your life around. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the monastery, what life there was like and whether you could recount some defining moments there that you recall?
Lobsang: Sure, Gayathri. Usually when a young boy or girl, when they're sent to the monastery, it's like primarily for two reasons. And which is like, somebody like great, great, great human beings like his Holiness the Dalai Lama. They are amazing, enlightened beings, they're like exceptional, enlightened beings. But there's also, I see another category, that people like me, who have a lot of challenges in life and many, many, many problems in life. And I am definitely in that category. And I remember very clearly that when my grandparents were aging, one of the really stressful situation for them -- when I was a young boy, they did everything they could to help me to become a better human being, and they couldn't help. And they told me that my last option is to become a monk and they wanted to send me to the monastery. So that was their last option.
And I often call -- it is like in a modern time or in the Western version, maybe it's like sending to a very severe kind of mental health center, that I needed a lot of help to overcome my obstacles. And that was the reason. It wasn't something like -- I was an amazing boy, I was very compassionate, I was very intelligent -- those were not the reasons. The only reason was I had so much anger, so much hate, so much problems in my life and only last hope was to send me to the monastery, so I could overcome my own challenges. So that was a reason they sent me to monastery, and...
Gayathri: Yeah, go on!
Lobsang: And being in a monastery and really there's so many, of course, like amazing things that the great teachers, masters are able to teach you. And my focus was basically not adding something to my life, but more shedding, more unlearning in my life the things that I was doing -- not right things, wrong things, harmful things. And unlearning those things and also shedding lot of my more disturbing emotions -- hate, anger and and all these sorts of disturbing emotions. So this is the one, I think one of the most important things that I learned in a monastery -- and I'm still unlearning and trying to shed more and more in my life rather than adding something, adding new skills and new wisdom in my life. I try to do this every day in my life -- if I can unlearn, and I can shed more and more.
Gayathri: So could you, for our listeners, maybe quickly describe why you were a child who was full of anger, and so many negative emotions? And then could you maybe tell us how the structure of monastic life helped you, in some ways, to resolve some of this baggage?
Lobsang: I mean, when I look back now, I have no right to blame anybody, or point a finger at anybody, or give a responsibility of my behaviour to anybody, but it was unfortunate situation that I was, I happened to be arrogant. And my mom was young. She got pregnant. She had gone through a lot in such a young age, and she is like any other human being, any other mother, who was going through a lot of challenges, and because of that situation, and I being a part of that -- there was a lot of challenges in my life, like some questions -- why it is like that? Why in my life it happened? Why I didn't have parents, or why I didn't have a dad? All this sort of things that happened to me and these are part of the situation and part of why I was so negative, why I had so much anger. So this is maybe one of the reason.
And going to a monastery was again -- basically, the environment in a monastery is like reflecting on those things and basically learning not to blame anybody, but really look deep inside my own life and really not running away from that. But face that! And then learning what they call my “weakness”, not having something in my life; and not having is a strength -- it's not a weakness!
Sometimes we human beings tend to blame -- why don't I have this? I don't have that. I don't have this, that's why I'm like this. All because of my past, I'm like this. Or because of my parents, I am like this. So we often -- these things become a excuse for not doing, or often we justify our wrong doings, because of our past and because of other reasons. But being in a monastery the whole teaching was about turning that inward and what you don't have is a strength rather than weakness. And as I mentioned, trying to shed those stories or trying to remove those labels and the stories that we tell to ourselves. So it was one of the most amazing experience for me.
And even today I really feel strongly that one of the best decisions in my life was made by my grandparents. If it was me, I would have never made such a great decision. So their decision to send me to the monastery was one of the great decisions they made for me, and I'm grateful for that.
Gayathri: It's definitely sounds like something that was probably needed for you and it's lovely to hear that. One of the things I was curious about is that I think, for lay people like us -- we assume that people go to monasteries because the people there have this seed for enlightenment, the sort of Dalai Lama case that you described. So I never thought that a situation like yours was also a place where a monastery would be warranted, so I was just wondering when you were there, whether lots of other children who were in your category were there too, and how did you interact with each other? Was it all together?
Lobsang: Yeah, absolutely. There were many kids in my category and there were whole gangs of us (laughs) and sometimes my category of gang can become pretty big and powerful, and do all the destructive things. I mean, we do all sorts of wrong things, even being in a monastery! And that is what I think is the beauty of the monastery. Giving us the space, giving us a place to really transform ourselves and able to help a person like me is something really, really special, I think, in a place. One of the reasons that I wanted to create that kind of environment, and it was one of the reasons that I wanted to start Jhamtse Gatsal where many Lobsangs can come and be there and learn and transform. So my inspiration definitely came from there.
Gayathri: And can you give us some sense of what kind of structure the monastery gave you to try and channel some of those negative energies? Like what kind of practices do they teach you to calm down and to be more disciplined and how did the others who were on this path, I'm just going to call it the ‘Dalai Lama path’, how did they interact with your category of children?
Lobsang: Wow, (laughs) so I think you are going to encourage me to share all the secrets about the monastery! Honestly, it would be really hard for me to speak about amazing enlightened beings like the Dalai Lama's transformation and learning in a monastery, because I've never been to that side. I could only speak about my part, of the side (I was on), and how these wonderful people helped me to transform, people like me. I mean these amazing, amazing, amazing monks, including my great teachers, my greatest spiritual friends in the monastery and their way of life was basically a role model for me to really to see and get inspired; and also these are the people that were with people like me all the time, to support and really kind of accept and even embrace even. I'm not like the best, even I'm not like a really compassionate or caring (person), but still embracing me and including me and accepting me, and yet encouraging me to transform, and also giving me a hope every day, that I could overcome. I could become a better human being. These are very, I think, special people.
Some of the situation that I could, kind of, trying to maybe make more sense, was that -- when I was in the United States, and I was trying to help there with some of the kids who have behavior issues and who are drug-addicted, I happened to visit a couple of these places. I don't remember what they call it -- a center where they take kids and put into those kind of facility? One time when I wanted to see them, and from my personal opinion, you know, I may be completely wrong, but it was very depressing. You know? It wasn't the environment that I felt appropriate.
I can relate to those young Americans, that I was in their situation.
But it was not about the policy, it was not about the whole, how that place was run. It was more about me and the the focus was centered on me, a person like me. How we can help Lobsang to change?
Those places when I visited, there was so much policy, there was so much, sort of, I don't know, ‘trying to control from outside’, but not helping the kids to heal from the inside. Very different approach. So, I feel that it is important to people like me, who are going through mental challenges that, you know, the most important thing is to support and help these people like me to heal from inside, not something from outside.
Gayathri: So I was wondering if you could tell us then about this moment when this realization sort of really crystallized for you that you had to disrobe and go back to Tawang and, you know, open Jhamtse Gatsal, because you were on a slightly different part? You were in the United States and you were translating for different Tibetan monks and teaching people. So, what exactly happened in that period where, you know, you just shifted your life path?
Lobsang: I mean, my life, again I mentioned, you know, my grandparents' goal for me was to become a human being. And they said to me -- the reason we are sending you to the monastery is to become a human being. Then when I got into the monastery, my teachers and all the spiritual friends, they helped me to find a purpose in my life. So, becoming human being to finding a purpose in my life was two main focus in my life, and still is.
Again, you know, long story short, one of all these -- finding a purpose, becoming a better human, being a better human being and trying to find a purpose in my life -- was creating something like Jhamtse Gatsal, a garden of love and compassion. For the other kids who are very similar to me, it is to create a space for them to heal and transform.
Teaching Jhamtse Gatsal, it was easier! It is always easier to talk about Jhamtse Gatsal, love and compassion. It is very different from doing something! But for quite a while, I just felt sometimes like, I'm not doing the real thing. I just talk talk talk, and I am not really putting compassion into practice. You know, there was all these reasons and eventually when we started Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community, and when I came back to India, my biggest challenge was...interestingly, when we started, you know, it's a community, it is my home, it is a family. You see that there's so many personal reasons to this. I myself is looking for home. And I myself looking for creating my own family. It was not a project for me and it is not kind of work for me. It is basically my life, my purpose.
Once we started that, number one being a monk, and number two, being a founder, and I was always put way above, up from everybody. You know? Monk, you cannot sit next to him. Or monk, you cannot touch him, you cannot hug him and it was difficult. I love hugging people, but monks, you are not supposed to hug, and especially if you are a lay person or a woman, you're not supposed to sit next to him. And eventually with the children, they are not supposed to sit on my lap. Again those are cultural things in remote places -- they look at me as a holy man. But honestly, I was not holy and it was hard for me to kind of maintain that holiness, which I'm not!
But also in many ways becoming like, I wanted to be close to children, and I wanted to be the father figure for the children, it was very challenging. We have so many challenges -- being remote and also people were like, you know, saying oh you should not work in Jhamtse Gatsal, because it's a monk community. You have to become a monk! Or he is a monk, he can do, but nobody else can do. All sorts of these things, being in a remote village. Anyway, you know, I think the mission or purpose that was -- how I can be the parent or the dad figure for these children? I needed to remove all these layers or the boundaries to be close to them. I needed to be one of them, not the holy one, the holy man. That was a sort of a conscious decision. To be who I am, and not the holy man.
Gayathri: Yeah! No, that's beautiful to hear. I think if there was ever a powerful decision, to come back to the world and disrobe, this would be it. So I'm also really curious how you chose this name because it's a beautiful name. Is that just random or is there a story behind it?
Lobsang: Yes, it is. I thought through a lot about this, and we had a lot of debate about this name and a lot of people, like my advisers, saying, oh, this is very difficult to even pronounce Jhamtse Gatsal, for fundraising purposes or for marketing purposes. This is horrible strategy and all sort of things. But I thought for a long time and very good reason of the purpose of Jhamtse Gatsal. You see, the garden of love and compassion. Jhamtse means love and compassion, and Gatsal is a garden.
So, like you see, when we wanted to start a community, the philosophy behind this is when we talk about education, when we talk about educating our children or when we talk about raising children, you see so many of our modern education or even sometimes more modern parenting, we think it is pretty much like manufacturing. It is pretty much like a project. You know? Okay, I'm going to produce these children and these are the deadlines -- by the age of three, my kids are gonna be like this. It's basically like parents or our society is a system to manufacture our children. But in reality, it's not!
For me, it was really like a garden. Garden in a sense that we need to nurture. We need to garden them. We are not producing or manufacturing them. Jhamtse Gatsal children philosophy -- we have four families right now at Jhamtse Gatsal and each family is named after a medicinal flower which grows in the Himalaya region. Each family. And the philosophy is: for every adult that I train, and I teach them that we are just a gardener, and our children are medicinal flowers, and they heal themselves and they heal the rest of the world.
Our job is not that we go and tell, "I like the pink color and why you are not pink color?" Or, "I like this shape, and you should be in this shape.” The world loves, you know, the marketing perspective! Our donors love this kind of color! We need to create this kind of color or flower or this kind of shape. So as a gardener, as an organic gardener, as a gardener of love and compassion, it is not our job to tell them what kind of color, what kind of growth, what kind of shape, what kind of -- you know -- things they should have, but our job is just to take care of whole garden, just garden environment
If there is too much rain, then we need to protect from them from rain. If there's too much sunlight, then we need to protect them from sunlight. And basically understand each flower is different. Their needs are different. They have a different contribution, unique contribution. They have a different color. They have a different growth. So these vary. The name itself, I wanted people to think about this when we say "The Garden of Love and Compassion," -- that we are just a garden, and that philosophy of love and "The Garden of Love and Compassion." When people say "The Garden of Love and Compassion," I really want them to think and act accordingly. So that was one reason I chose Jhamtse Gatsal.
Gayathri: Yeah, it's beautiful. I noticed from your website that you have these three foundational pillars: intelligent mind, kind heart and healthy body, and your activities are all planned around these pillars. So could you tell us about what core activities you have in the school that help cultivate these three qualities in the children?
Lobsang: I think I've been a while, not visiting my own website. There were few changes I made. I'm sorry for that. My brain is not up to date and our website is not up to date (laughs).
So, first one is “healthy and skilled body.” And second is "awakening mind" and third one is "kind heart."
-Healthy and skilled body
are the three pillars of Jhamtse Gatsal Children's Community.
Again, it is important as the the gardener of love and compassion to really understand the wholeness of each flower, understand that, and also to help, to really kind of support the whole flower, the whole plan or thing. It's not just one part.
You see, even today that our education, our expectations from parents to children, is -- we are very narrow-minded. We just focus on a small part of of a thing, maybe. Yes, I think it's right that people call it, we focus on the left brain, and we feel nothing else is important; and that’s very narrow-minded.
So that's why the first part, when we say the "skilled and healthy", it is about educating our body. Let's educate our body. So at Jhamtse Gatsal, we do this every day. We are not saying, "Only people who are good at math and science is worth living and you are worthy for society and parents and the school." Everybody has his uses. Now we decide, first, is important -- educating body; second is awakening mind, educating mind; third is educating heart. So we really have to educate the whole human being. Not just one part, that we think, or our society thinks, or government or world thinks, is necessary.
So educating body part is like, it begins from taking care of your body, what you eat. We try to grow so much of organic vegetables. That is a part of healthy body. And we do exercise, yoga, meditation. These are part of healthy body and educating body every day on a regular basis. And also a lot of what you call the skill-based education. So our kids are involved with the construction to the growing, the gardening and every aspect of the community -- children are one of the most active agents in our community.
And then, you know, mind, awakening mind, is so much emphasized on -- not just the memorizing of the facts and repeating them, but a lot on reflecting and debating and the analytical thinking on an everyday basis, to evolve, which his Holiness the Dalai Lama often advises us to think about, the great tradition of Nalanda University, a great tradition of this great country, India. And I think these are so important, that we involve kids in a debate. We involve kids and thinking and more critical thinking and analytical thinking, reflection, reflective practice.
And kind heart is, again, another putting another practice in meditation, but more than that is to helping them to put their understanding of compassion and love into practice and in applying those principles in their day-to-day life
So basically these three again, you know, educating body, educating mind, educating heart, not just the left side of the brain but whole human being.
Gayathri: Yeah, I know, for sure. So the other thing that I find quite fascinating and really unusual about the way children at Jhamtse Gatsal live and study is, I gathered from reading your website, that they live together as sub-families and mixed-age groups. So boys and girls live together, and they learn to see each other as human beings first and not primarily through the lens of gender or sex. So I also gather that they live with housemothers. So I was thinking a lot of the success of your model obviously lies with having housemothers and subfamilies.
So could you tell us a bit about how these people joined you, your housemothers and teachers and how they help you in implementing your vision?
Lobsang: Yes, one of the most important, I think, the adult members of the community are housemothers and they are one of the most important, and their primary responsibility is really kind of building close trust in our relationship, the care and relationship with the children.
Our goal, the main goal, is that our children, they don't feel that, "When am I going to graduate from Jhamtse Gatsal?" and "When can I run away or get freedom?" Our goal and focus is -- obviously, our children, literally, most of them do not have a home or family -- and we make a lifelong commitment. It means that of course, supporting through their college, get their education, if they want to go college, or if -- whatever they want to do, but it is a lifelong commitment.
Even after, when they get married and they have their own family, we as a human being, we always need somebody in our life that we can lean on. Love and compassion we need, and even for me, like in this age also, I need a lot of love and compassion. So it is a lifelong commitment. They can always come back to Jhamtse Gatsal whenever they want, whenever they need, and it is a lifelong commitment. In order to do this, one of the most important thing is to build relationship, the parent relationship, parent-children relationship with them. So that's why the amalas play one of the most most crucial role in building this relationship.
What is a community? Community is relationship. What kind of relationship? It is a deep, trusting, caring relationship. So they are doing this, I would say amazing job, appropriately helping these children to build home, family, hope. So many of our children -- they're coming from a lot of abuse, lot of horrible things. But these housemothers, amalas, are helping them to rebuild that hope, rebuild that relationship, so they can grow as a better human being, good human being.
Gayathri: And are all your house mothers and teachers drawn mostly locally from Tawang district?
Lobsang: All our house mothers are from Tawang District. They are from local tribe called Monpa. The reason why we made a decision, because housemother really has to speak in their tribal language and needs to understand the culture very well. So that was necessary and needed to easily understand and reconnect with them. And our teachers are basically from all over, I think from many different states, very diverse, very dynamic and amazing teachers. We have a lot of teachers from South India. We have people from Rajasthan. We have people from West Bengal. Yeah, teachers are from many, many places.
Gayathri: You know, I was also wondering if, because these children like you say who come to your school are children who are troubled, and have had a lot of difficulty and there's so much they need to heal, I was also thinking that one thing really unique about how Jhamtse Gatsal is enabling that healing is that you're also very strongly rooted culturally in your native Monpa and Bhoti traditions, and you're also rooted in, I think, Buddhist practices. So the children have a sense of connection to place and land and spirit, and is that intentional? Does it help with the healing?
Lobsang: Yes, I think so, Gayathri. When we started Jhamtse Gatsal, of course, I was not thinking so much about Buddhism or anything like that. But I think again, going back to my own childhood, what really helped me was this great environment in the monastery, having very compassionate teachers which were you know, really guided and directed by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Great monasteries that still exist and that thing -- it really kind of helped me to overcome a lot of my challenges. I'm still what you call in the process of progressing (laughs). Long way to go! But I feel I was able to overcome some of my challenges and I feel hopeful.
And I think when we first started Jhamtse Gatsal, so many of my friends, they are what you call -- the therapists, psychiatrists, with very great intention, they're my friends. They're my sponsors. They are my donors even. They are great people, great and have (good) intention, and they're -- from really sincere concern, they have told me, “Lobsang, wow! We see what kind of kids that you are bringing to community and they’ve gone through lot of trauma, and you will need the experts. You will need the therapist, you will need the psychologist to really help. Otherwise, how you're going to do this?” Honestly, I know they are (saying this) for my well-being, for well-being of children, and also for love for me and they said that to me, out of love, out of compassion and care to me. I remember asking them -- “Please give me 10 years. I'm gonna do it in the way the monastery did to me. I'm going to do it in our way.”
For a couple of reasons. Number one, you know, I am not even able to find one teacher to sustain and stay in Jhamtse Gatsal. In that case, how I'm gonna find the therapists and psychologists to come in and work at Jhamtse Gatsal. It was not practical. Number two, financially, I cannot afford to have a psychologist or psychotherapist. So I needed to think for another way, or aspect -- how I'm going to sustain? So I did the monastery's way of doing, what they did to me.
And you're right and that is really rooted into the practise of Buddhism, the great Nalanda University tradition of India, you know really kind of applying the principles, the universal principles of love and compassion. And that is the main sort of tool -- how we help children to overcome from their trauma and heal. So absolutely, now, when I look back, you know the purpose of Jhamtse Gatsal was not to just kind of implement the Buddhism, but I think the Buddhism is kind of playing a role in helping these children to heal from their trauma, and to become a better human being. It just sort of accidentally came about.
Gayathri: Absolutely! I think I am, and the other callers will also be curious, as to how those of your children who have left your warm, loving, geographically-isolated community and gone out to the outside world, what are their experiences like, of culture shock literally? Because you know, the outside world is not like Jhamtse Gatsal! So I'm just wondering if you could tell us some stories of how they’ve had to keep their practices going and how they've dealt with the world after they've moved out for college and so on?
Lobsang: As we talk, Gayathri, and as you know, right now, I'm in Delhi and one of the reasons why I'm in Delhi is that I have come to meet them. Since they have left Jhamtse Gatsal and joined college in Delhi, so this is my first time meeting outside Jhamtse Gatsal community.
And even as we were talking, and they’ve become really good at WhatsApp (laughs). This is the first thing that they learn! And they keep sending me these messages, with many photos of what they are eating, where they went or what did they do. They keep kind of popping up on my phone. So I think they changed a lot. In Jhamtse Gatsal, we don't do this kind of things. (Laughs). I'm just kidding. I am meeting with them and some of the kids actually are with me and they are doing so well.
They’re doing so well, and they are enjoying this new life. And I again realized that I was more worried about them than they themselves! So maybe this is a part of just being a parent. And I think I was panicking and I was like, oh how they're going to do it, how are they going to sustain it, da da da. But even if this world is somewhat completely different from where they came from, but I think my children going through so much of trauma and challenges in their life and being able to overcome and heal themselves through the love and compassion, I feel somehow maybe they are much stronger and more resilient than any other kids.
Gayathri: Yeah, that makes sense.
Lobsang: This is what I feel. When you are born in a normal family, by a normal family, what I mean to say is you have just normal parents, you know? Good education, good manners, there's also good education, da da da...
The kids of Jhamtse Gatsal, they had a very different life, like, you know, gone through a lot of challenges, abuse, all sorts of things. Then they came to Jhamtse Gatsal and then they, as I said, you know, they came to Jhamtse Gatsal not to add something to their life, but basically they were doing lot of undoing, lot of shedding in their life, their anger, their frustration, their hopelessness, and then healing from that situation. And then, you know, able to face it and overcome, I feel somehow that will make them much stronger.
Now when I see them in a big city like Delhi, and yesterday, they were telling me how I should be careful and they were telling me how I should not trust everybody in Delhi and it's amazing that they learn all these things in a very short period of time! And now they are telling me that I need to learn from them how to live in a city. So really amazing. I'm really happy for them.
Gayathri: Sounds lovely!
Amit: Yeah, that sounds great. I just wanted to jump in here, and this is a fantastic conversation and I’m learning so much on so many things and as a parent myself, hearing a lot of wonderful ideas and and sort of like philosophical mind shift to the parenting approach. So I'm really appreciative of that. I just I wanted to remind our callers that, you know, if you do have a question or a comment that you'd like to ask Lobsang, you could push star six on your phone and you'll be entered into the queue and you will be selected to go ahead and ask a question. And for those of you that might be listening in, on the live stream, you can email us at email@example.com or use the web-form. We actually have a caller that is ready to ask a question. So I'm going to go to one of our callers first.
Pancho: Thank you so much Amit and sister Gayathri. Can you hear me?
Amit: Yeah, Pancho, we can hear you!
Pancho: And hello to Brother Lobsang. My family calls me Pancho and your story is a ‘Jai Jagat’, 'glory to the planet' kind of story, brother. I remember crying tears of joy as I learned the story of Tashi. And first of all, let me send all my love and blessings to you and all the the kids and family of Jhamtse Gatsal, from here, the watershed of the river in Huchiun in Ohlone territory, also called Oakland, here in California.
And I just wanted to share with you -- it's a reminder kind of thing, an insight -- which is that you remind me of my mom, my mother, with your unwavering commitment to become a better human being, and how to unlearn your fears. And your vulnerability is just another example of the grand human family of active hope that we have it in us to recover. I myself as a recovering left brainer and and also undocumented, and in a way, you know, all the undocumented human beings in this part of the planet and all over the world, are some sort of uninvited guests.
So your example is so inspiring! And as you said, you know to revive the human spirit and reveal human community, being an integral organic gardener wherever we go. And and the insight -- as I was just listening to your laughter, is that you becoming a father-figure of fatherless children, it occurs to me that actually a ‘holy’ person is a human being who becomes aware of his or her holes! And to fill them up with love and compassion as an organic gardener, and then we just move from ‘holiness as in full of holes to wholeness as the ultimate human being ,a gardener of love and compassion. And so just sending so much love and gratitude and inspiration, and solidarity from this part of the planet. Thank you so much!
Lobsang: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. How wonderful.
Amit: Thank you, Pancho. Really appreciate that, it was very sweet, and I love that thought of using that holiness to fill that hole and to bring out the wholeness in individuals. We have someone that's written in, Matthew from Los Angeles who asks and says, "You know trauma, particularly ancestral trauma passed down through family seems to be a common issue among people these days. Are there any specific methods of loving kindness that you used to help the children heal from trauma and how do you know when it has worked?”
Lobsang: Well, this is a very important question for us. I must confess that I'm not the expert. Rather, I'm also one struggling to learn and how best that I can help these children and myself, and like many other people in the world who are struggling through trauma and depression, or all sorts of things.
One of the things that we have been doing very consistently in Jhamtse Gatsal, and sometimes we feel it may be a very simple and a universal approach is basically again, you know, spending time with children, building a relationship -- and that means like really being with them with the whole heart, not just simply sitting with them.
And over these 13 years, one thing I see that it always helped was -- let me explain it this way: in the modern world, why therapists and psychologists are helpful and necessary for so many people to overcome their trauma and their depression and the challenges they go through, is because we pay money and we ask them to basically listen to us. It is not necessarily that they will have all the answers, but it feels great if somebody sits next to us, and somebody compassionately and with caring, if they listen to what we have to share.
And at Jhamtse Gatsal, everybody, including children, we ask that, we encourage them every day to spend time with each other. Like for example, I would tell if somebody is having a hard time, even if we have to drop every project, every work and even if we have to close the school and be with that person -- it is that human doing is not more important than human being -- if we can take care of human being and be supportive to the human being, then we can worry less about human doing! So we have this: when somebody needs support, if somebody's not feeling well, if somebody needs care and attention, our community, we basically drop everything. For many people, they feel this is a strange thing. Of course if you look from a totally business perspective, you will see we are really a dysfunctional community.
But this is what is exactly meant, what Jhamtse is -- "love and compassion". And in 13 years, when you do this... So love is a healer, compassion is a healer. It's not just a feeling. It is a healer, maybe one of the most powerful healers. It can heal, we just have to really do these things from our heart. Not just send a flower or card to say "please recover fast", "I hope you’re feeling better" or send a WhatsApp message. You see why, now again, I say -- Educated body, educated mind and educated heart?
When we do something from our body, it is powerful, you know? If we go, if we send someone flower, if you go and hug, it is very powerful. Now, it is more powerful when we do something from our mind, if we put our mind to the action. And it is the most powerful when we do it from our heart. Now, you see if we put all these three together -- we hug from body, our mind is there, awakening mind is supporting with the hug, we put our mind there and we really generate genuine love and compassion from our heart. You see how one simple hug can be so powerful? If we put not just our body, our arms around that person or not just sit next to that person who is having difficult time, just simply sit there and be physically present. But if we put our mind and heart with that person, that increases 100%, it is more powerful than just physically being there.
So these are the pillars. These are the things that we do and I don't know again, you know, to be honest with you, I'm not the expert. But so far in 13 years of our history, spending time with kids with lot of trauma -- I found this very, very powerful and which may not work everywhere in every situation. But this is what I feel is really important.
Amit: Very beautiful, very powerful. We have another individual. It's Wamgal who's actually listening in from Delhi and asks, "How do we make our minds to think that what we don't have could be a strength?
Lobsang: Wow (laughter)! Am I getting all the difficult questions today? :-) Amit are you intentionally picking those very difficult questions for me?
Amit: Whatever the universe is presenting to me, I'm just sending to you. :-)
Lobsang: At this stage of my life, I do not feel that it's a right thing to blame anything and anybody and I know it's not anybody's fault, but it was just the circumstances. I just happened to be part of this whole situation, like my own situation. You know, I always feel there are so many emotional moments in my life that I always wish, "How wonderful if I had a dad in my life and I never get a chance to call somebody my dad." If you have a dad, you might not appreciate that, but you know, when you don't have it...I feel, "Wow, you know, if I had any opportunity in my life to call somebody dad. This word daddy or dad was not something that I had a privilege in my life."
Not having something in my life, I was taught by my great teachers, you know, that "not having”, that means you can give this to somebody else! And it is equal as that having you. And my childhood was very filled with trauma, lot of challenges that so many times I felt that I missed my childhood, and that was another thing that my teachers in the monastery helped me with -- that you can have that childhood, you can almost like undo and go back and you can start living it like, you know, you can have your childhood. And those were some things that I wanted to give to these children who are at Jhamtse Gatsal.
You know, I want to be somebody's Dad so they could have a dad in their life and you know, one of the most emotional (events) I think that happened in my life was when my children started calling me "Dad". It's very powerful. It's a really powerful that somebody calls you a dad and when they call me that I feel... Basically, there's a very selfish sort of reason that’s also involved in the whole creation of Jhamtse Gatsal Children's Community. I didn't have a dad. So I want to be the dad for somebody who doesn't have a dad and that helped me to really kind of turning "my not having something" into my strength
It's a great great honor and a privilege to be able to become somebody's dad. It is such an overwhelming and a powerful [experience] when my own children from Jhamtse Gatsal are calling me a daddy. It was very emotional for me, that hearing somebody call me Daddy. And also that I feel that so many times I missed my childhood, but now I'm able to see that my own children, they're living an amazing childhood, the childhood they deserve that they're living, that I feel I'm living through them. I did not miss my childhood.
So, I do not want to make my own lacking or things that didn't happen in my life, I didn't want to make those as an excuse, but I wanted those things to turn into the source of my inspiration, so I can give back to the world, to the children. I don't know I'm making any sense or not, but I'm pretty much now getting distracted. But I hope I'm answering...
Gayathri: Yeah. Yeah. You are. Very much.
So Lobsang, I've heard you say so many times that you are still in the process of dissolving the negative labels you were given as a child and you are still processing some of the remnants of trauma that you have left, so we've talked so much Jhamtse Gatsal, but I was wondering if you could just tell us a little about your personal grounding or centering practices that you do on a daily basis, to try and release trauma, and to just come back to a place of quietitude?
Lobsang: (uncontrollable giggles/laughter) I am a really bad practitioner...
Gayathri: After so many years in Sera Je?!
Lobsang: I know, I know (laughs)! Honestly, one thing that I could say is I do put a lot of effort. Every day, I take at least an hour and a half to two hours to sit quietly in my room, reflect, and to do chanting and meditation. The adults at Jhamtse Gatsal sometimes get frustrated with me, like after dinner. Morning is very, very busy at Jhamtse Gatsal. The moment lights go out, we just become so active. People come, there are so many questions and so many discussions. Very active moment.
Every day after dinner, there's one very rigid policy that I have, which is: nobody can knock on my door and nobody can disturb me. But sometimes my colleagues say, "Lobsang, this is an emergency!" and would just come into my room. I would be saying a wonderful prayer about love and compassion, then they would see this mean look on my face, while I'm saying wonderful things from my mouth (laughs). At least I pray to Buddha, "Buddha, excuse me that I'm not good, but at least see that I'm trying." It is very contradictory when they come to my room. I say, "Let me practice love and compassion! Get out from my room!" (laughter). So I often laugh about my own practice!
As I said, I still have a long way to go, but my goal, that my grandparents set up for me, is becoming a better person. It is still my goal, which is very good, that I did not achieve it. It means I have to keep working every day. And one of the important things for me is that everyday at least an hour or two hours to take time and sit, reflect, chant, and meditate -- maybe that is too fancy of a word for me -- but everyday I have to do it, otherwise I become wrathful (laughs).
Gayathri: Right! This is a great call. There's just so much here. The other thing I was wondering was whether your grandparents were still alive when you started Jhamtse Gatsal? And if not, what would you like to say to them about what you're doing with your life's work?
Lobsang: No, unfortunately they were not alive when I started Jhamtse Gatsal. They passed away way before that. As I said, one of the best decisions they made for me was sending me into monastery. Unfortunately, I couldn't continue (laughs) but that was the most amazing thing they did for me. I think because of that, I got this inspiration and strength to do something very -- my bit -- a very small thing, whatever I can for the other children. One of the main reasons is them and I remain always grateful for their great decision for me. I hope that wherever they are, they see that I'm still trying my best to become a better human being and I'm not giving up on what they told me. The reason they sent me to the monastery was to become a monk. I'm not a monk anymore, but I did not give up hope and the responsibility or the practice of becoming a human being. No matter what, I'm still doing that, and I hope I can say that to them if they were alive today.
Gayathri: Yes! I'm sure they'd feel very proud and feel very vindicated in their wise decision.
Amit: One of the things that comes to mind that sounded so beautiful was when you talked about the three foundational pillars for Jhamtse Gatsal in terms of a healthy and skilled body, awakening the mind, and awakening a kind heart. It seems to me that while those three pillars make absolute sense in terms of what you might want to instill into a child to truly make them a whole human being; at the same time, I also have to wonder that as the person that's going to be a gardener, those things should be something that you are living as well. So to those of us maybe out there that are raising children, what sort of things can we do as gardeners ourselves to make sure that we too are practicing to always further awaken our minds and our hearts and our bodies?
Lobsang: Absolutely. I think I agree with you one hundred percent. As I said, the garden of love and compassion -- another way that I explain to the gardeners, the adults, of Jhamtse Gatsal children's community, is that we have our challenges in the garden of love and compassion. Sometimes we have very difficult adult members in the garden of love and compassion. Sometimes people get impatient with their behaviors, impatient in the way they talk, and they get frustrated. But I always remind them it is a place of transformation for both children and adults, not just the children.
For example, every adult is involved in everything that children do. It's not just for the children. Again, as I said, while we were creating the Jhamtse Gatsal community it was not for the children, it was for my own practice. It is my own practice, that every day, I need to become a better human being. We need to cultivate the skilled and healthy body. I need to nurture the awakening mind. We cannot teach our children things that we cannot practice by ourselves. We put a lot of emphasis and equally important for every adult at Jhamtse Gatsal to really lead by example in our everyday life. Every day, even a person like me has to really cultivate a healthy and skilled body. I have to nurture the awakening mind. I have to cultivate a kind heart. Without that, there is no way that I can teach or I can even tell our children that they have to have these qualities.
Amit: That's definitely true. You know, we're running towards the end of our call and there so many questions that we still would love to dive into, but you know, I will leave it with two final questions. I know that some of our callers have had the opportunity to watch the film ‘Tashi and the Monk’, and so I was just wondering -- how is Tashi doing today?
Lobsang: (Laughs) When people ask me about Tashi, I start to become really emotional and sensitive. You know, nobody asked me how is monk doing. They always ask how is Tashi doing. (Laughs) No no, I'm joking! Tashi is doing really well. She is doing really well. You know, I used to get really anxious about that. Oh wow, now everybody is talking about Tashi. We better kind of make her the best person, and I used to tell people -- she will save Jhamtse Gatsal or she will destroy Jhamtse Gatsal. So I feel she's going to save Jhamtse Gatsal community!
And she's been changing, and recently I was just telling Tashi that -- you know, I don't want you to change completely. I really want you to have some of the Tashiness, the naughtiness, because you know, as any parents, when they're little -- and certain behaviors are maybe not appropriate when they grow up -- but they look so cute when they are young! So when they grow up so fast, often you miss those naughtiness, those crookedness. So I was telling Tashi -- you must not change everything, you know? We still need to see some Tashiness within you, which I think she will have that, but she's doing really well. Thank you. Thank you for asking.
Amit: With that I would like to ask, how is the monk?!
Lobsang: (Laughs) I am feeling very grateful. I must thank the whole ServiceSpace, Awakening talk. And I think a couple of years, you know, I even don't remember the years, but when I got the opportunity to be a part of retreat called Gandhi 3.0, I must express this -- that it was an amazing, amazing experience.
And today again, being a part of Awakening talk, I do feel that I'm talking with my family members. I mean it. I'm very calm. Even I don't make sense most of the time, what I say, but I feel very calm and myself with you guys. And thank you for doing such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful service for everybody and thank you for seeing some worth and giving me this opportunity to be a part of your wonderful service. So the monk is feeling very good!
Amit: Wonderful. (Laughs) You have got an infectious laugh too -- that just warms my heart. So one of our final questions to you is how can we, as the larger ServiceSpace community support you, your work and Jhamtse Gatsal?
Lobsang: Thank you. Thank you so much for asking. I think one of the best ways of helping this is like really sharing the things that we are doing. As both of you, Amit and Gayathri really kind of researched and studied about Jhamtse Gatsal. It seems like two of you know it better than me and maybe I should come to you guys to learn about Jhamtse Gatsal's vision and mission (laughs). Some of the things -- it looks that I have forgotten. I should have done my homework, but I didn't, and you guys really refreshed my memory, and really sharing about the work that we are doing.
And honestly, I am not an educated person. I have very limited education and I need lot of support and I really want to see the work that we are doing at Jhamtse Gatsal is useful not only for the children of Jhamtse Gatsal, but I would like to share this with the rest of the people in the world, if this is something that is useful. For that reason, I will need so much support from you guys to give me advice and let us know what do you think about it -- like even today's conversation and asking these questions makes me think. And may be just sharing ‘Tashi and the monk’ with the your friends and families and give us a feedback, and also, if possible, please engage with us in whatever possible way. Thank you so much for asking!
Amit: Thank you. Thank you so much for these beautiful insights, and sharing so deeply and sharing so honestly and vulnerably from different parts of your life and just to be able to see the transformation or hear about the transformation from when you were a young child, and to become a monk and then to become a parent of so many children and being that transformation. And then hearing that love and laughter and wisdom just behind your voice and in every way that you respond, it's truly been a gift, so thank you so much.
And I also want to thank you Gayathri for just lovingly, coming up with such wonderful questions and deep insights, and to all of our callers for truly co-creating this call. I think there's a lot to be grateful for and so we would sort of close the call with a moment of silence in gratitude for all of it. Thank you!
Thank you so much. We hope that we have become a part of your gang of educated body, mind and heart, so we can all be whole human beings. Thank you so much!
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