Spotlight features 'The Karma Connection:
Traleg Rinpoche Looks For Answers In Our Tragedy'
the reprint of an Interview given in New York City, by David Hershkovits, for the magazine Paper.
Hershkovits: I'd like to start by asking about your reaction to the events of
The Venerable Traleg Rinpoche: It took me about two days to fully appreciate the extent and gravity of what had really occurred. And then I felt mixed emotions. Much of it had to do with sadness. It's not just the people who actually lost their lives at the site, but so many other people's lives have been altered. Their lives will never be the same. I also felt angry. Because I think whatever grievances certain groups of people may have, terrorists or otherwise, against another group of people - societies, countries, nations, states, races even - they should not take the grievance out on innocent people. Because of that, I did feel anger. Because it was so unnecessary. I really do not think carrying out terrorists acts of this kind does any good for their cause. The means used to bring attention to whatever cause it is that they're fighting for is totally wrong.
DH: You come from Tibet, a country that, in many ways, has experienced even greater devastation than what's happened in New York.
Traleg Rinpoche: Yes, I think as a Tibetan Buddhist, one would have to say that we have to show some kind of compassion toward the people who carried out this horrendous act. Because they're acting out of ignorance. And if they knew any better, they wouldn't be doing what they do. But at the same time, while showing compassion, one should also be able to recognise where evil is. I think we have to be able to discriminate and say that certain people are predisposed to wreak havoc, bring death and destruction, because they want to have monopoly in terms of power. And what happened in Tibet is also a symptom of that. China did not need to invade Tibet. China was already a huge country - a massive country in terms of landmass, people, and resources. So there was no need for China to invade Tibet, yet it did simply because it could.
DH: Everyone in the world is affected by continuing fears of terrorism. Is there a way to cope with these fears through meditation, prayer, or psychotherapy?
Traleg Rinpoche: One has to combine all three. I'm not going to just sit around and do nothing about it. I'm going to be active politically, and not just stand by and let things unfold in front of me. But that in itself I don't think is sufficient. When we are psychologically harmed, then we need to look at it in the context of psychology and psychotherapy. And that is also not sufficient. We need to have strength. And true strength comes from drawing real inspiration from the power of the spiritual sources.
DH: Do you think anything good can come from these terrible events? Do good things come from evil?
Traleg Rinpoche: Yes, I really do. I think there's always a flip side to everything. I think we are already witnessing that. In recent years - even though I'm not a U.S. resident, nonetheless I've been coming here for how many years now - I've been observing signs of fragmentation of the American society. But due to this tragedy, everyone has come together. It doesn't matter what your political persuasion - conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green. I think that's the positive outcome. Because of this tragic event, the world as a whole may see terrorists in a totally different light. If people's perception of terrorism and terrorist activities change, then that means that at least for now, the world is going to be a safer place than before.
DH: They will lose sympathy because the tactics are no longer acceptable.
Traleg Rinpoche: Exactly. You see, I read many Pakistanis are sympathisers of the Taliban. But there were Pakistanis working in the Twin Towers who also got blown to pieces. So what I'm saying is that they do not discriminate. So that even the people who may have sympathy for their causes may now fear for their lives because they themselves could become victims.
DH: Is there such a thing as a just war in your teaching?
Traleg Rinpoche: Yes. I think so. It is extremely important. It's worth fighting for. Even in Buddhist teachings it is said that if a king is unjust and is not a good ruler and is not looking after his subject, then that king should be overthrown. And if that means taking on the king's army, whatever, then one should do that. In a way, it's one's duty.
DH: Most people have never had an encounter with this kind of evil.
Traleg Rinpoche: When I say evil, I don't mean it as some kind of amorphous, abstract, cosmic force as some people believe evil to be. When I say evil, what I mean is what Buddhists call the unwholesome attitudes and beliefs - anger, violence, resentment, bitterness, jealousy, thirst for power, and selfishness. These are the roots of all of our social, political conflicts. That's where they arise, according to Buddhism. So evil is not an abstract thing. It has to do with certain traits that are inherent in certain individuals. And those individuals then start to influence others who may be naive, who may be gullible, and then they buy into it. They become like their mentors, so to speak. If there is someone who is full of hatred and malevolence and hostility - those kinds of characteristic traits - then one has to recognise that and not think, oh, underneath all of that there must be something good in that person.
DH: Do you feel that we have a decadent culture?
Traleg Rinpoche: No, I don't think we have a decadent culture at all. The decadent culture is the one where people have no freedom to be who they want to be. That's the decadent culture. Down to your dress code, down to dietary practices, everything is dictated by the powers that be. That is the decadent culture as far as I'm concerned. So it's the opposite. People from all over the world have migrated here. And they can still continue to preserve their culture in pockets wherever they are in their own neighbourhood and communities. They can actively encourage and propagate their culture and religion, and introduce that to white Anglo-Saxon Americans. Now that is a sign of a civilised society, showing so much tolerance. Not only just barely tolerating the diversity of races, creeds, cultures, but allowing them to really actively engage in propagating their own unique ethnic values and traditions. So I don't think America or the rest of the western world is decadent. I hope that it'll continue to be this way. Because as you know, many people lost their lives fighting for freedom.
DH: Are you afraid now, more than before, for your personal safety - whether it's bioterrorism or flying?
Traleg Rinpoche: Yes, I am. I am now.
DH: Some people say when its my time to go, its my time. A sense of fate is fate.
Traleg Rinpoche: In Buddhism, we believe in karma. But karma does not mean fate. With fate, your future has already been pre-determined. And its like a railroad track. You just go in a particular direction. There's not much room for manoeuvring. But karma is elastic. One can, in fact, improve one's karmic lot. We have an inherited karmic lot, and that's allotted to us. But what we do with that is up to us. Because otherwise, as Buddhists say, there's no point in engaging spiritual practices, meditation, self-cultivation, and to develop self-knowledge. It is said in teachings like this, "What we have been when we look at our life now ." If we want to know what we have been, we look at ourselves now. And if we want to know what we are going to become, then again we look at ourselves now. What we think. What we are doing. What sort of lifestyle do we have. What sort of person we are becoming. That will determine what we will become in future. That's how karma works.