It’s always a delight to catch up with Anam Thubten Rinpoche whenever he returns to Hong Kong (he’s based mainly in the US). I enjoy listening to his thoughtful, spontaneous, and frank responses about the big questions of our day. He is also a most engaging writer, and you can verify this for yourself at his Dharma Gossip column, which Buddhistdoor Global hosts.
Although I belong to the Chinese tradition, I think it’s fair to say that Rinpoche and I share a strong affinity and I’m not surprised at his growing popularity here. In my upcoming interview with him we discussed inner turmoil and how practitioners need to dive deeper into their interior being to examine what’s really going on before they can relate to the outside world in a more peaceful, compassionate, and wise manner. It’s a step-by-step journey to Buddhahood, and Rinpoche used the idea of evolution to illustrate how our collective spiritual maturity hasn’t kept up with the incredible advancement of civilization of the past few thousand years.
“We are still primitive,” he said, in relation to how mass media still appeals to our lowest common denominator by playing to women’s insecurities about their body image (when the body is illusory anyway) and how men are pressured to indulge in violent and toxic tendencies. “We need a new sacred outlook. One’s body is already a temple.”
“Men are encouraged to be callous and renounce tenderness or compassion while women are pressured to conform to unhelpful physical and social expectations. The modern world is causing lots of pain to men and women.” As a result, materialism has become a religion more pervasive than anything Buddhism, Christianity, or other great faiths could hope to be. “And the USA is the guru of materialism!” he joked, although he didn’t spare Hong Kong and South Korea either.
Perhaps things were different in the days of cavemen, but Rinpoche said that we are living in contemporary times with a mentality that hearkens back to the days of warring tribes, where life could be described as cruel and short. “We’re still in the evolutionary process. We are still primitive in many senses. But we need to have hope in humanity. Every person has their noble duty to change themselves and make the world a better place.”
We are budding bodhisattvas. Barring global catastrophe, humanity’s childhood will soon be over. What matters now is whether we are willing to rise to the challenge, to answer the calling to nothing less than Buddhahood itself. We must contribute to a big spiritual awakening, for the sake of our own survival and progress.