by Ngawang Tenzin, Deputy Secretary at the Department of Health, Central Tibetan Administration
The meaning of life for me has changed over the years. Growing up in a household stricken with poverty, as a little girl, I thought life was about having a job and becoming independent enough to support myself and my family. As I grew up, I developed a love for learning and reading. This and the exposure to Buddhist teachings in our community made me realize that Life is more than being independent and financially secure. As a human being, I have the ability and the responsibility to think beyond myself and my family. And as a Tibetan in a free world, I have the moral obligation to stand for truth and speak for those who cannot. When this kind of attitude towards life began to take its root in me, I realized that death is also a part of this journey. With every beginning, there is an end and vice versa. This helped me in dealing with the problems in my life, including an existential crisis during my Nursing studies and the death of a friend. It also helped me in living a more purposeful life driven by a desire to help and learn and not merely survive.
Do you believe in God? Why?
Yes, I believe that God exists. But I don’t believe that they can help me become a better person or escape the sufferings of this cyclic existence. Only I can do that, by changing my own attitude, thoughts, and actions. Having a god to believe in, someone who will be there for me in every step and save me sounds wonderful. But I know that without my own concise efforts, even If someone takes a horse to the river, no one can make it drink it. If we leave everything in God’s hand without doing anything on our own, it’s childish of us to expect anything good to come out of such behavior. It’s like a school exam, if we don’t study anything at all, it’s difficult to pass the exam even if we spend the whole year praying. Praying can only help when we have tried our best too.
Becoming a mother has opened my heart in a way that was not possible just through reading. It helped me, experience love, in its truest form. I have read in scriptures that when we learn to love all sentient beings as to how a mother would love her only child, then only we would know the compassion of Buddha. When I held my daughter the first time, I realized what Love really meant and that I was capable of loving and being loved this way. It was something I have not imagined or felt before. It also showed me what being a mother is and I realized that the day I could feel this same feeling for all sentient beings, that’s when I would know what the immeasurable compassion of Buddha feels like.
The role and the place of the woman, in our world
As a woman and a mother of a baby girl, I have no doubt about the role and place of women in our world. It is not in the kitchen, it is not there where people tell you to, it’s where you want to be, that’s where you belong. From childhood, I have had many arguments and even got beatings for speaking my mind. I was told that a girl is supposed to keep quiet, be soft, and large-hearted if she wants to go ahead in life or be accepted in the community. But I have never changed my attitude and believe in myself despite everything. I always believed that as a human being, I have the same rights, same potential, same shortcomings and it is not I as a woman that should be expected to behave in a certain way, but because as the same human being I have the same capability, rights, and duties.
Can there be universal ethics?
Yes, but it would take time and effort. In a world driven by materialistic pursuits and profit-making, it will take the participation of people from all walks of life If we are to achieve universal ethics. We will need to start from home, school, and workplace and from every corner of the earth and not just from churches and monasteries.
One action, from you, to improve the world
By being true to my roots and commitment to upholding truth and justice as taught by my parents, our Buddhist culture, and His Holiness the Dalia Lama, I feel that I can contribute in my own way. To improve the world, we need individual action and contributions. Through my job, I can work for the Tibetan refugees and stateless Tibetans and be a voice for those who cannot speak. Someday If I get the opportunity and educational access, I would very much like to work for other stateless people as I aim to continue working for the most vulnerable.
A remarkable story, a memory from you
I was a naughty child, always restless and curious. I wasn’t studious though I always came among the top-ranked students. Due to an incident, I broke my right arm when I was 9 years old. The half-yearly exam was in two weeks and everyone told me that I cannot sit for the exam If I can’t write. For the first time in my life, I was scared about staying back a year and letting my classmates leave me behind. I started practicing writing with my left hand. Everyone told me that I was being stupid and stubborn and that I should give up. But I practiced and practiced and a day before the exam I showed everyone that I can write with my left hand almost as good as my right hand. They let me sit for the exam and when the result came out, my dad cried tears of pride and joy to hear that I got the first position in the exam. That’s when I realized that If we work hard, we can achieve our dreams even if everyone tells you that it is impossible. Impossibility is something that is there for someone to make it possible. But you will need to believe in yourself, be courageous, and willing to work for it.
What sets you apart from the rest?
Despite all the shortcomings, I strive to improve myself and learn from my mistakes. Also, the cultural upbringing where we are taught to think of others and work towards a larger goal gives me strength and confidence to face the difficulties in life with courage.