Living through the Lockdown

Few weeks back I was invited to resource a video conference call with 300+ participants brought together by Abroad Inc – an executive retreat program that attracts some of the top entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley, world’s top philanthropists, scientists, thought leaders and change makers. The theme was, how each one us were coping with this global pandemic that has taken the world by storm. In the five minutes I was allocated, I humbly presented what I was going through and how we were dealing with this fear that has engulfed us – and the world. Here is the rough transcript of my submission:

Greetings from the Contentment Valley

“Greetings to everyone from the jungles of Athang Rukha. This is where I am right now – having escaped as far as I could from the coronavirus (smile). I drove for two hours to find a stable Internet service. I am on a hilltop – surrounded by wilderness. And I am glad that I could join you.

Well! Even we, here in Bhutan, have not been spared from the fear and hysteria caused by this coronavirus pandemic, although only two American tourists have been tested positive so far. But whether it is our own people or a foreigner, once they are here, it is our problem and they have been treated with kindness and compassion – apart from free medical care.

Jumping directly into the question: how have I responded to this crisis, and what do we, as humanity, learn from this crisis? Now, I could have joined the bandwagon of getting into the panic mode – and go shopping and hoarding, and sharing fake news or screaming on social media. But, I thought I could do what is closest to my heart – practice selfless service, compassion and kindness. I chose the latter. And I headed back to Rukha valley.

For those of you who are not familiar with my works in this valley. I have been working with this small community of the last hunter-gatherers of Bhutan – since 2006. I began as a volunteer for a foundation and after the project closed, I stayed on to work on my own – to help the villagers build a community temple – or simply be there for them.

In 2012 I went through a personal tragedy, which almost killed me. When that was over and when I reflected on my life, I realized that if I deserved a place in heaven it was only my work for this community. Otherwise I would burn in hell. As far as I was concerned, no other things I did, or achieved, or accumulated mattered because you would be losing everything in an instant. The few years I had dedicated to this valley was the only thing that made me proud if I was gone that day. Ever since, this valley has become closer to my heart. It is a place for me to practice selfless service and unconditional loving kindness. It is a secret refuge, where I withdraw into during confusing times. And in this global lockdown saga, since I cannot return to Macau, I have decided to be here and complete two temples, which I started years back.

Are you “there”?

When I drove into the valley I found the people were terrified by the news – and by all the rumors that were being circulated – mainly through the social media. Without access to correct information, they relied on hearsays and gossip. They heard that the world was going to end and that we were all going to die. I calmed the situation and told them what I knew that it wasn’t the case. Everything is about how prepared we are and how we can prevent the crisis. I told them that our King is personally overseeing the preparation and prevention works.

I was supposed to return back to Thimphu after a few days, as I always did in the past. But this time I realized I just needed to stay put because the whole valley needed someone – a reassuring figure. They were all relieved that I was here. They have a belief here that when a soenamchen (person of great fortune and merits) is among them, no disease or tragedy would befall on them. I felt funny but didn’t challenge their belief systems.

So, the first lesson we can learn here is that although we are all going through the same fear and trauma, you can still be there for someone who needs you more. If you look around, you will always find another human, another sentient being – someone who is more terrified, less educated, and in a worse situation than you are. You don’t have to be president or a prime minister to lead. You can also provide leadership to those around you – your family, your community. They look up to you for words of comfort to say that everything will be OK. Some of you have thousands of people who even work for you.

Are. You. “There”. For. Them?

Working together

Collectivism, imagination and community have been the secrets of human survival – and of human dominance over other species. Our ability to work together has not only enabled us to hunt animals that are bigger and stronger than us, it has allowed us to reach the Moon – both metaphorically and literally. Otherwise some species of monkeys are stronger, faster, or more agile. Our collective strength – to put our hands, hearts, minds and brains together have let us tide over every challenge and every obstacle. So the question is: how can we work together so that we get over this crisis? What is your role? What can you do for others? What can you do for the community or for your country?

Find your “temple”

Lastly, in a bid to succeed, to get rich, to accumulate power – or to simply feed our family, we often forget our inner self and its core wants and needs. As a Mahayana Buddhist where compassion is a core value, I find my inner self drawn towards selfless service and loving kindness. As I said, I am here in this valley completing these two temples. In doing this, I have realized that I have also managed to divert my mind from paranoia to positivism – to something that brings pure joy. I see this being radiated in the whole valley. I suppose this is also providing leadership. What is the use of worrying about something that you cannot bring any solution to it. Of course, we can pray – and we are doing a sacred ceremony on Tuesday the 24th March. But no one is talking about dying here. There is laughter, there is joy and there is togetherness. Yes, we are facing this crisis in our own ways. The other day I was saying that if we should die, we should die doing something we are proud of.

In closing, I hope you all will find your “temple”, your inner self, the true you and who you really want to be. I guess, this period of lockdown is a great time to be that – even if it is for a short period. I hope you will find time and energy to help someone in need. I hope you will find your community and your togetherness.

I thank you all for being in this community.

Rukha temple people



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