August 21, 2007

Zhabdrung : Bhutan Founder's Advice

Emphasize perseverance, sacrifice, enthusiasm, the significance of contentment and the need for discipline to ensure self-improvement.

This is the essence of a speech written by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan, which was recently translated from the ‘History of Ladakh’ (page 196, 3rd paragraphs onwards).

Whether the speech was ever delivered is not known. But it can be said that it was inspired by prayers.

“There is no greater advice than this, so keep it in mind. By praying to the wish granting jewel-like wise, The desired forms of the profound meanings, Are clearly reflected in the mirror of my heart; And as they appear there, so I have written them here.”

Zhabdrung begins his speech by saying, “Think well on this! Whatever work you do, whether worldly or religious, of importance or not, begin at the beginning and having started, be certain that you can carry it through. If you are not sure that you can do it, do not regret but leave it. That is best, because once you have started, it is not right to give up.”

To illustrate his point he used a metaphor, still popular today, “It does not matter if lighting strikes from above, if the earth caves in from below, if the land and the sky crash together like mighty cymbals, if your head is ablaze, if poisonous snakes crawl on your lap, whether you have time or are busy, are hungry or well fed, happy or sad; whatever happens you should not give up.”

It is likely the speech was written for a mixed group of people. Zhabdrung says it would be embarrassing for a person not to complete his task but also make teachers, elders and friends unhappy. Zhabdrung then questions, “Would it be right?”

Zhabdrung makes his audiences think about it and questions the meanings of all the time wasted in meaningless activities. He specifically instructs them to ponder on distraction such as “mental, visual distractions, enjoyment, leisure activities and laughter.”

Zhabdrung stresses the importance of discipline and the necessity to consistently look inwards for self improvement.

“You discipline yourself, if you look to your own faults. Likewise, constantly ask yourself: One month has passed; have I done my recitations? Have I memorized the scriptures? Am I more capable? Am I wiser? If the answer is yes, then rejoice. If the answer is no, you should hang your head and consider that such a person as yourself, no matter what religious or worldly tasks he undertakes, does not rank among human beings. And you should make strong resolutions.”

He compares a person without perseverance to dust and quotes his teacher Lama Guma to further emphasize his point, “Wear the hat of straw on your head, the clothes of straw on your body. Keep your hands dirty; do not avoid mental suffering. If you do not do hard work, you will not find sweet food. If you do not know the taste of suffering, you will not know the taste of happiness. The hands that wish for food need iron tongs.” Also: “The wise suffered when they were learning; if you understand this, your joy will be greater than gold and jewels.” And: “Having developed perseverance, you should apply it.”

Talking about happiness, Zhabdrung says, “If you are attached to small pleasures, you will not attain great happiness.” He then advised, “Do not put this unceasing mind on other things; do not rest in shameless sleep; do not take joy in never-ending prattle.”

Zhabdrung compares distractions, play and flattery of the young, elders and friends to demons. “If your mind has been turned by demons, you have no wish to study, to work, perform recitations; you feel unhappy and you wonder if you have enough food and clothes.” As a counsel, to reap the reward, Zhabdrung advises: “Think! Even if my heart rots and my body falls into a hundred pieces, even though I am unhappy, I must apply myself.”

Like all the great Buddhists, Zhabdrung believed in the value of the human life and understood impermanence and propagated the importance of change. He stressed the need to be happy and be satisfied. “If you are happy, study, if not leave it; if you understand, study it; if it is difficult, do not study it. If you are attracted, stay; if not, go. If it happens, good; if not then that’s it. The stomach is satisfied, the clothes are warm. Thinking like this also will not deem you unworthy.”

Zhabdrung attributes values to sacrifice and accountability while maintaining freedom and independence. He is convinced that good qualities cannot be cultivated without hardship. He says, “Good qualities do not arise as an aside while you are enjoying yourself and taking pleasure in your darling children.”

Stressing on values, he said, “If good qualities arose incidentally, then because there is no one who is not attracted to the wise and to happiness, everyone would be wise. Because that is not so, do you see how important perseverance and enthusiasm are? Look well!”

As a conclusion, Zhabdrung says “Read these words every day and keep their meaning with each movement of the mind. Have your own mind as a witness and do not be disappointed with yourself. You must discipline yourself. Do this and you will quickly become wise. Therefore, please take this to heart.”

Contributed by Tshering Tashi

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