“Before, the city center was marked by the cathedral. Now, down-town is identified as the place where the banks are”, said Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche as he sat down, removed his shoes, crossed his legs, and commenced his lecture at a major school of economics in Helsinki. I do not think any leader ever sat on that stage without shoes, cross-legged. Or without a suit.
“If nobody wears shoes in Africa, does it mean there is no business for selling shoes, or that there is a great opportunity to ensure that everybody does wear shoes?” asked Rinpoche. “Is your mind closed, or is it open?” The mind does play funny tricks on us, because it is never a thought or a thing that is right or wrong – only our perception of it is.
He spoke of conflicts, and about how tolerance is actually space inside. “All conflicts, whether they are between people, countries, or religions, are conflicts of identity. We can never be one because we are different people. Any negotiation is about viewpoints, or rather, our differing identities.” And I realized that only if we are better with dealing with our own identities, can we become tolerant. And only if we create space inside for another person’s discomfort, pain, or differing opinion, can we became open enough to be tolerant.
He told us stories. He made us laugh. He made us feel good about ourselves, and foolish. But in the end, he made us aware of the compassion we have for each other, deep inside. And how much easier it is to accept those things that pick on and irritate us when we are open and appreciative of each other.
And I could not help but think that while Rinpoche is Tibetan Bön-buddhist, the Hindus have the most suitable expression for his message of loving-kindness to each other: “namaste”. The divinity in me greets the divinity in you. And how could we not tolerate that which is a part of us?
(Helsinki, Finland; May 2016)