Dharamshala,India— TPI reporter Shivam Chhaparia met with Ngawang Tseten for an exclusive interview about his initiative Readers of Dalai Lama (RDL). Tseten explains how RDL has made the difference in the lives of many Tibetan youths.
Q1) How do you get the teenagers interested in your program when the technology has become a distraction for them? Social media and games like PUBG make sure that they spend most of their time on smartphones.
A1) Readers of Dalai Lama or RDL, in short, is more focused on learning and analyzing His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts and subjects. With regards to the 21st century, His Holiness has always said that that there is too much technological development going on in various fields and we are always focused on the physical development of ourselves. We are neglecting the development of heart and mind. We, at RDL, focus on external as well as internal development. Technology is focused on physical development.
Technology is being made to make profits, not for problem-solving. Smartphones have certain apps and programs which are used for profit-making like video games. In the short run, they do give relief and peace to the youngsters but in the long run, it is creating problems for them. Youngsters are very much focused on this thing. Instead of solving their problems, technology is creating hurdles for them regarding interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. They are facing various health issues due to their bad eating habits.
Through this program, we are trying to tell youngsters that too much physical development will also create problems. We need to balance it. It will take time to make youngsters realize this but we have to take steps. Someone has to. Many of my students who are involved in the program are trying to neglect these electronic gadgets because of His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not completely against this but to some extent, these do create problems.
Q2) So have you considered using technology to reach out to these youngsters to get them interested in the thoughts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
A2) At the moment not much, no. Because our program is still in its infant stage. But in a proper way if we are able to that, then we will. The social media has been really useful for us to reach out to people and connect in a faster way. We would like to do like what you said. We would like to make comics and cartoons so that through them the youngsters can understand His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts.
But these things take a lot of time and resources. Some people used to ask me if I had any idea for the future to expand this program. Surely I have thought about expanding this program even to the remotest places in the world. Where even the technology cant reach, His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts should reach, you know.
Q3) It is interesting you bring that up which brings me to my next question. Is RDL only limited to TVC schools or do you plan to expand?
A3) RDL started in one of the TVC schools, it is called TVC Suja. But now it is spreading to other schools, and monasteries too. Some of the students are also now saying that they want to start this program in their family. For example:- It can be a weekly session where all the family members gather for half an hour to discuss His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts.
This program is very simple to do. Even two friends can do it. They can take a book and discuss it over a cup of coffee, however, they like. I am also focusing it to carry it to different people because this is a program which should not be limited to the Tibetan or Buddhist community. It is for everyone and anyone interested.
Q4) You have recently expanded RDL to TVC Schools in Leh and Ladakh. Do You plan to expand to other states and include non-Tibetian communities as well then?
A4) Surely. People who are focused on this program are not only Tibetans. But there are also volunteers from all over the world, some of which are actually American authors and lecturers. There is a special class for them where they can know about what we do and about His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts. This is a program which is not related to religion.
It is just about His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts. We are not talking about the Dalai Lama's spiritual thought but the secular thought. Thoughts related to animals, social problems, education, diseases, and emotions. Even the class we have prepared for this purpose in the school, its different from the other classes. We only put the picture of His Holiness on the wall, not the other Buddhist priests and spiritual masters. We are not creating a class that is related to Buddhist spiritual things, it is open to everyone.
Q5) Do you think this program will do well in the Northeast of India where there is a comparatively larger Buddhist population than other parts of the country?
A5) That will depend, I think. People who are already Buddhists, they will participate more. It is easy to do this program where the majority of the population is Buddhist like the Himalayan region even in western countries where the people are familiar with the Buddhist way. But it is not necessary because even in places where the majority is Buddhist, it may be difficult for them to get interested.
But I think the non-Buddhist will be more interested in Dalai Lama thoughts. A non-buddhist who is interested in climate change and its problems, then, of course, he will participate in this program. This is because His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself has been very vocal about the threat of climate change.
Q6) It appears that your initiative focuses its attention on small children and teenagers studying in school. What kind of approach do you adopt to make these students more involved in the RDL initiative?
A6) In the school what we are doing is taking a single topic for discussion like Anger. We then ask them how would they stop anger from taking control over themselves. We also ask them to share one of the incidents where they became really angry, if they want. We focus on other topics too like jealousy,tolerance and compassion.
We generally meet on Sundays and we prefer to tell the students in advance that this coming Sunday we are going to discuss on a particular topic. Those who want to come can come. It's completely voluntary. We don't want to force children to come. It is an informal discussion, we don't force them to wear uniforms when they come.
They can wear shorts if they like. Even if they don't want to speak, they can listen to what others are saying. It is ideal for personality development and offers them a platform to share good and bad feelings. One of the most encouraging thing is that more and more girls are coming.
My role in this whole process is just at the beginning. I just do the introductions and start the programme. I take photos while the students discuss the topic. Sometimes the discussion gets very strong but it becomes diluted because most of them know what His Holiness the Dalai Lama thoughts are. They are challenging his thoughts but they are doing it respectfully and in a proper manner.
Readers of Dalai Lama is a voluntary group of both teachers and students who had been reading and discussing on the books of His Holiness the Dalai Lama during their free time.