I have an idea for the preservation of Tibetan culture, but I've kept it mostly to myself because it's even crazier than my usual ideas. Last week, I shared it with Bob Thurman, Tsewang Namgyal, and a few other friends, and they were inspired and they encouraged me to blog about it. So here it is.
I call my idea for the preservation of Tibetan culture "Seven Billion Tibetans". I sometimes also call it the "Greek Model". This idea came from witnessing the preservation of the Greek culture. The Greek Empire of Alexander the Great has been destroyed for more than 2000 years, yet ancient Greek culture did not just survive, it flourished for 2000+ years, even up to today. Greek philosophies, beliefs, literature, political thoughts, architecture, mythology, language and art have been thoroughly integrated into Western culture, and Western culture is the dominant component of modern world culture. In that sense, Greek culture became Western culture, and Western culture became world culture, therefore, all of us have Greek cultural DNA. And that's really a good thing because Greek culture gave us such valuable things as democracy, logic and geometry.
My idea is to replicate the "Greek Model" for Tibetan culture. I hope to see that 100 years from now, Tibetan culture will become so integrated into global culture and thinking that everybody will take it completely for granted. And I think it'll be an extremely valuable outcome for the world. There are very many things in Tibetan culture that would be a huge boon for the modern world if adopted globally, such as Tibet's national obsession with Compassion, the culture of inner development, and the central importance of peace and sustainability. Even Tibetan art and fashion alone would be a boon for the world.
I think the effort should start now. This is a very special time, with Tibet being forced into the modern world only a few decades ago and having a highly enlightened Dalai Lama, the Tibetan people is at a juncture where they are still connected deeply to their cultural roots, and at the same time, connected to the modern world. And there are still great spiritual teachers alive and a few young ones emerging into greatness, such as Mingyur Rinpoche and the Karmapa. This is a valuable opportunity, for the Tibetan people, for Dharma, and for the world.
I have a vision where every Tibetan person is a precious ambassador for the Tibetan culture. Every Tibetan person takes it upon himself or herself to live the Dharma and personify the best of Tibetan culture to the fullest that he/she can, and then share it with the whole world. In that world, no Tibetan is a victim, every Tibetan is a teacher, a living example of peace and Dharma, and a guide towards greater good for humanity. Every Tibetan becomes a rinpoche (a precious gem) for others, and humanity learns from Tibetans. And eventually, in a very good way, everybody holds Tibetan cultural DNA, in the same way everybody now holds Greek cultural DNA.
That, I think, would be an amazing solution to the "Tibetan problem".
The biggest question is "how?"
In addressing that question, I first like to share my thoughts on Unlikely Great Success, such as creating a world-changing product or company, or earning a huge amount of money, or creating Seven Billion Tibetans. It is like growing flowers, you cannot force flowers to grow, all you can do is to create the conditions for flowers to bloom, and then you sit back and allow the process to unfold, if it wants to. There is simultaneously effort and letting go. I feel that all huge undertakings in life are like that, we cannot really control the outcome, all we can do is to create the conditions conducive to the outcome, and then let it happen if it wants to. Thinking that you can control outcome is a mistake, but at the same time, not trying just because you cannot control the outcome is also a mistake.
So what conditions should we create for this? I take my inspiration from 7 of the 10 paramitas (paramitas are "perfections" practiced by Buddhists).
1. Dana (Generosity)
First and foremost, there has to be a strong inner faith and a willingness in the Tibetan community to try this. The Tibetan culture is a gem for the world, a gift to the world from the Tibetan people that will make the world a much better place, an act of national dana.
Tibetan leaders must feel that the goal of Seven Billion Tibetans is actionable and beneficial for the world, and they can and should do this, galvanize the Tibetan people, and create a critical mass of ordinary Tibetans willing to try. I think even merely arising the desire to save the world changes everything. If most Tibetans simply think, "I want to change the world for the better, and my culture is the key", just that mere thought will create massive change. (My personal experience: the mere aspiration to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime changed my life.).
This faith and willingness, this aspiration for national dana, is the first condition, and one that only the Tibetan leaders can create. I feel that the Tibetan race is a Bodhisattva race, an entire people destined to preserve Dharma and then, at the right time, bring Dharma to the whole world. An entire people being a great Bodhisattva, suffering for the salvation of humanity. So I encourage you, my Tibetan friends, to fulfill your sacred destiny. And for the rest of us, let's help our Tibetan friends do that.
2, 3 and 4. Sila (Virtue), Dhyana (Meditation) and Prajna (Wisdom)
Closely related to the first condition, the second condition is for all or most Tibetans to become diligent and inspiring practitioners of Dharma, and embodiment of wisdom. At the very least, everybody should practice some form of Shamatha (calmness meditation) everyday, and make some form of daily commitment to Sila and non-violence. In my opinion, the Tibetan culture is, at its core, a culture of heart and mind, and a culture of great peace. Hence, as long as most Tibetans practice Dharma, the culture will never die and it will eventually spread. If not enough Tibetans practice Dharma, the culture will wither away over time.
5. Upaya (Skillful Means)
The next condition is the full compatibility with and integration into world culture. We need to arrive at the understanding that Tibetan culture is not mutually exclusive with modern culture. For example, a young Tibetan American doesn't have to choose between his Tibetan roots or the American life, he can choose both at the same time and let each identity enrich the other. This is important because to achieve the Seven Billion Tibetans dream, it means that the heart of Tibetan culture must be perfectly compatible with modern culture, which I think it is, but all stakeholders need to arrive at that understanding themselves. I think this is already happening. For example, both Mingyur Rinpoche and the Karmapa are comfortable with Western culture and thoughts despite their own deep and authentic traditional training, and I'm sure there are many lay people (like Tsewang) living modern lives comfortable with Tibetan values and daily Tibetan practices.
This condition also means we have to focus primarily on bringing benefit to the world, and then think of the preservation of the Tibetan culture as a beneficial side-effect, not the other way round. (A.k.a "customer focus"). This is a lesson I learned with my own work in Google. I realized that I need to focus primarily on helping ordinary people and organizations fulfill their own self interests, with creating the conditions for world peace be a necessary and unavoidable side-effect, not the other way round, because if it was the other way round, it would never take off. This is Upaya.
Think of what value we can offer to the rest of the world. The obvious examples are stress relief and brain sciences, which are already happening. But can we do more? What can we do to benefit the workplace? (Development of Emotional Intelligence, which I'm working on). What can we do to help people become better negotiators or mediators? How do we help people become better leaders? What can we contribute to world art, music, literature and fashion? What can the culture do for environmental sustainability? What is our role in the Charter for Compassion? There are many things we can do to benefit the world. Let's all think about how we can benefit others, and then from that effort, help the Tibetan culture thrive.
6 and 7. Virya (Noble Effort) and Ksanti (Noble Patience)
Once we identify what great things we can do for the world, let's put in great effort to do world-class work. I think this is already happening. For example, the Dalai Lama's and Mingyur Rinpoche's books are world-class and immensely popular. But a lot more of us can do much more, on multiple fronts, and every success creates the conditions for more future successes. A Tibetan-inspired music video worthy of a Grammy, for example. This is not just ordinary effort, this is effort to create a better world and, in the process, help the Tibetan culture to thrive. This is effort of generosity and compassion. And because it is effort arising from dana (generosity) and karuna (compassion), this is Virya, noble effort.
Finally, I think it's important to remember again that in huge efforts such as this, we cannot control outcomes. All we can do is to have our hearts in the right place (always having compassion), diligently create conditions for good outcomes, and let it happen the way it wants to happen. This is Ksanti, noble patience.
I think this is it. Seven paramitas, for creating Seven Billion Tibetans. I think that if the above conditions are created, the "how" question will eventually solve itself.