Learning how to unlearn
My father once told me that the majority of the people who seek spirituality have had some kind of bad experience or dissatisfaction in their dealings with the materialistic world. He further explained that out of this dissatisfaction, and in the hope of quenching their thirst of frustration, people embark on the search for a peace and happiness in the spiritual world which they could not find in the materialistic world. Unlike monks who start their spiritual path from childhood, it is very rare that an individual engages in spiritual path seriously, without any of such unsatisfying experiences, he added.
He might well have been describing the path I’ve taken to date. A sense of dissatisfaction and frustration with the workings of this world made me think long and hard, and prompted my search for a spiritual oasis. I feel truly fortunate to have stumbled upon RYI. The first thing that struck me about RYI is that everybody looked so happy and bright The Rinpoches, professors, members of staff, and friends all seemed to radiate contentment and happiness. To be honest, at first I found myself thinking, ‘Why would people smile all the time?’ Nothing particularly interesting or funny was taking place, but still that joy was omnipresent. I even thought that they must have been faking it. Then, it occurred to me that if I surrounded myself with happy people, I might become happy as well. When I saw that everybody was happy – even though I wasn’t fully certain why, I was assured that I had come to the right place because my main aim was to be happy and share that happiness.
The first few weeks were a bit challenging for me, because the Nepali education system that I’ve been raised in is so very different. Nonetheless, teachers and friends were really supportive and constantly raised my spirit to help me get through. The assignments that seemed to be always due all at once were scary, and the mid-terms and final exams were even scarier.
However, when I look back now and try to recall the things that I have learned in the past semester, I find that I can easily remember the papers that I wrote and research that I did with the help of my teachers and friends. So in fact, these papers had me engaged for a longer period of time and I realize that the longer I engage and contemplate, the easier and more clearly the recollections come. It’s a case of the learning embedding itself in your heart, rather than just being material that you’ve had to memorise for a subject you never had a deep interest in.
Among the subjects that I signed up for, Buddhist Philosophy is what I like the most. The more I learn and contemplate the teachings by the lopon, the more I understand that my earlier conditioning hasn’t served me as well as it should. It’s the wrong concepts and ideas that I’ve accumulated since my childhood that lay at the root of my inability to be happy. I noticed that I had been searching for the causes of happiness outside of myself while the real cause of happiness lay within.
Gradually, everything was making sense, I began to understand that people were not faking happiness but were genuinely happy from inside out. I figured out that the more I loosened the chains of these mental concepts, the happier I would become. I was confident that I would totally nail this because forgetting has been my core expertise since childhood. I’ve forgotten the number of times I forgot to do homework, bring my book, and memorize quizzes.
To my astonishment, it was easier said than done; it was more difficult to actually forget wrong habits and concepts than to understand something new. I see now how all these habits and concepts had almost become an integral part of me. However, it’s a relief to know that the Buddha had shared 84000 ways to unlearn and purify our mind. The greatest thing I’ve learned so far is that our true nature is love and happiness but it is these man-made, socially-constructed concepts that are obstructing us from our basic nature of happiness. The more I unlearn, the happier I become, the clearer I see. Hopefully, someday I’ll completely unlearn and free myself from the shackles of mental poisons and bring other beings to the same state.
I would like to use this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to H.H Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, for showering the world with his limitless love and compassion and also to RYI professors, teachers, members of staff, and friends for this invaluable experience.
~ Raj from Nepal