‘To free yourself from mental afflictions, you must study your mind’

Born in the remote village of Samagaun in Gorkha, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is one of the most renowned meditation teachers of his generation. His first book, ‘The joy of living’, was on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Since then, he has written six more books. Recently Mingyur Rinpoche launched “Jiunuko Majja”, a Nepali translation of his widely acclaimed book “The Joy of Life”.

Rinpoche started practicing meditation at the age of nine, and at the age of 13 he went to India to study Tibetan Buddhism. He now runs the Kathmandu-based company Tergar Osel Ling Monastery and has spent the past 30 years teaching Buddhism and meditation not only in Nepal but all over the world.

In this interview with the Post Tsering Ngodup LamaMingyur Rinpoche spoke about the growing interest in meditation among the Nepalese and how this has made it launch ‘Jiunuko Majja’, the importance of practicing meditation in today’s world, and why he has spoken so much about the impact of climate change and food insecurity in his home village. Extracts.

“Jiunuko Majja” is the latest Nepali translation of your New York Times bestseller “The Joy of Living”, which was first published in 2007. Why did you feel the need to publish another translation in Nepalese of “The joy of living”?

I was seven or eight years old when I started having panic attacks. I was too young to understand what panic attacks were. When I started practicing meditation at the age of nine, I found myself better equipped to understand and manage my panic attacks. “The Joy of Living” talks about how meditation has benefited me throughout my life and the many discussions I’ve had over the years about the interconnectedness between Buddhism and modern science.

A few years ago someone translated “The Joy of Living” into Nepali, but many told me that the jargon in the book made it very difficult to read. Over the past few years, I have seen a growing interest among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike in learning Buddhism and meditation, and that is why we decided to re-translate the book into Nepali and offered “Jiunuko Maya”.

The mental health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has renewed interest in meditation and mindfulness. What do you think of this development?

This is a positive development and something that today’s world desperately needs. So many people have lost loved ones to the pandemic, which has also caused so much economic uncertainty. In these uncertain times, being more aware of your emotions and thoughts helps a lot. For over 2,000 years, many people have relied on the meditation techniques taught by Buddha to train themselves to become more aware of their thoughts and emotions. Even though the techniques may have been developed centuries ago, they are still relevant today, and in the 30 years that I have taught meditation, I have seen people who practice meditation diligently transform . What is essential for people to understand is that qualities such as awareness, love and compassion are innate in us. But our minds are so used to being cluttered with egocentric and selfish thoughts that these noble qualities are obscured. Meditation allows us to become more in touch with these qualities.

Communities in the country’s remote mountains have been disproportionately affected by climate change, and it’s something you’ve talked about a lot. What kind of impact of climate change do you see in your village of Samagaun?

When I was little, we could reach the glaciers by walking just two hours from our village. But now we have to walk eight hours from our village to reach the nearest glacier. Places once covered in snow all year round are now barren rocks. Another concern is the unpredictable weather, which has become the norm in our village. We now have spring snowfall, something we never heard of when I was growing up. We are seeing long periods of drought for months when we should have rain. This year we received unprecedented heavy rains which destroyed many crops. Due to the heavy downpour, people were unable to harvest yarsagumba [ophiocordyceps sinensis]which is one of the main sources of cash income for our people, in the amount they once had.

The erratic weather pattern has also made it difficult for the farmers in our village. Natural disasters are also becoming more frequent. This year we saw the first flood in our village in 30 years.

Another problem we witnessed in our village is deforestation. Since 2008, 35% of the native forests around Samagaun have been deforested. To green the arid land again, we are supporting a local project that has already planted 30,000 pines. Our organization, Tergar Charity Nepal, planted 1,000 goji berry seedlings on deforested land. Goji berries are very nutritious fruits and are also native to the region. This planting project will help re-green arid lands and provide villagers with an additional source of income. If all goes well, we will plant between 50,000 and 100,000 goji berry plants.

Very little grows in many remote mountainous villages in Nepal, making many communities in the region food insecure. Tell us how critical food insecurity is in your village?

The topography and climatic conditions of our village are not ideal for agriculture. That’s why most of what our villagers eat daily comes from the nearest town, which is about a six to seven day walk away. A vegetable that costs Rs 100 kg in town costs Rs 700 to Rs 800 by the time they arrive in our village.

In 2020, when Nepal went into lockdown, it disrupted our village’s food supply chain and people suddenly had no access to many food items. It made us realize the importance of food security and reducing our dependence on external food supplies. That same year, Tergar Charity Nepal selected the 15 most economically vulnerable families in our village and builds greenhouses for them to grow vegetables and herbs. This project was a huge success. These families now grow cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, carrot, tomato, cucumber, watermelon for ten months of the year. Without greenhouses, people could only grow radishes and potatoes, and that too for only five months a year. The villagers also sell vegetables, fruits and herbs to restaurants and boarding houses in the area and earn additional income.

We plan to install 30 additional greenhouses for the families of the village. Families from neighboring villages have also approached us to help them build greenhouses, and we will do so as well.

Coming back to meditation and mindfulness, what do you think of the importance that has been given to both in Nepal?

Compared to the past, more Nepalese have become interested in meditation, and it is this very growing interest that made me start ‘Jiunuko Majja’. But we need to understand that as humans, most of us tend to focus on self-exploration only when our other needs are met. The majority of Nepalese in the country are focused on meeting their basic needs, which is necessary and understandable. But unlike other countries, Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha and houses this ancient knowledge of meditation, and I think if our people can adopt it in their daily lives, it will be extremely beneficial for everyone.

You see, if you want to become a doctor, you have to go to medical school and learn anatomy, physiology, and a whole host of other things. But if you want to free yourself from your mental afflictions, you must study your mind and how it works. It will allow us to discover the innate goodness that exists within each of us, and the best method I know of that will help us discover our true potential is through meditation.