Rinpoche on Harmony

On March 29, 2021, in a talk to teachers, parents, and children, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche addressed the concept of harmony, one of the eight thematic units developed by Middle Way Education and taught at the Middle Way School. Here are excerpts from that talk.

A traditional Tibetan colorful painting of a rooster on top of a rabit on top of a monkey on top of an elephant

On March 29, 2021, in a talk to teachers, parents, and children, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche addressed the concept of harmony, one of the eight thematic units developed by Middle Way Education and taught at the Middle Way School. Here are excerpts from that talk.

Is it possible to teach on the concepts of harmony and dharma?

More and more I realize that language is just so obscure and vague and it only sort of does the job that it should be doing—maybe fifty percent of what is intended. The word “harmony”  is so vague, isn’t it?

In one sense it can mean seeing the truth. There’s no better harmony than seeing the truth, and there’s no better maker of harmony than seeing the truth. Within the dharma you may find the concept of harmony, but just because things are harmonious does not necessarily mean that it’s dharma.

Dharma is a Sanskrit word. It’s such a deep and profound term that it’s almost untranslatable. I think that there are many words in certain cultures that can’t be translated. In Finnish, in Swedish, in Norwegian, beautiful, beautiful languages, words, terms, that can’t be translated, you can just sort of explain them. And “dharma” is like that. Dharma is really vast. For now, we can say that dharma is something to do with the truth, leaning toward the ultimate truth.

Now when we talk about harmony, it may not necessarily be the truth. It may be very conventional, expedient. It may be out of necessity. It may be for temporary use. It may be a means rather than an end.

How does harmony relate to the Middle Way?

This is of course difficult because we human beings are not good at being in the middle, and I guess this is what you guys are trying to do—to groom the next generation who will live the life of the Middle Way. This is a very, very big task, you know. It’s a really big job, but it’s very doable. For instance, rationalism—who doesn’t want to be rational? Especially after the renaissance and the age of reason. But how about going a step further? How about being skeptical of rationalism too? Why get so blindly  devoted to rationalism?

The key to harmony between teacher and children

I think the key here, at the Middle Way School, is the philosophy that education is done out of necessity. It’s almost like we should not be educating these young people, but we’d better, because if we don’t do it Instagram is going to do it, Facebook and Amazon are going to do it. Somebody is going to do it. So we’ll do it, but with reluctance and humility as a parent, as a teacher. That reluctance is a key to harmony between teacher and children.

Do you have any anecdotes about harmony?

I think the mundane language is “teamwork.” There’s a Buddhist anecdote, a story I think you guys are using [in the school], about the elephant, monkey, rabbit, and bird. This story is important in many ways. The  four animals are together but very different. Their sizes are different, their colors are different, birds fly, elephants don’t, and so on. This is an important piece of the story because it means that each one has their own selfishness. Each one thinks differently. They’re all different, but they all want to have the fruit, right?

These four animals are trying to pick some fruit. You know the story. Okay, elephant, you have a big body. You be the ground, you be the foundation, and then the monkey, and so on. I think that is quite a good story because we are accepting that we are all different but we can do something together. That story would not have worked if the four animals were all monkeys.. But because there are four different kinds of animals, it’s an important story.

Does harmony naturally manifest on its own?

I like the words “manifest on its own.” There is great wisdom in Taoism, and also in Vajrayana Buddhism, like Mahasandhi and Mahamudra. These traditions teach us how we should just… let it be. In fact, the words nyam shak (wyl. mnyam bzhag) are now being translated as meditation. The English word meditation doesn’t really do it justice. The Tibetan word shak has the connotation of just letting it be. The whole problem with us is not letting things be—we’re always trying to alter something, update something, convert something, educate somebody. We are compelled to fix things. We need to do things. Now, whoever asked this question, the answer is that this is the highest way to achieve harmony.

I have seen Middle Way people, including children, sitting for one minute, and during that one minute of sitting, there is already a stepping stone for letting harmony naturally manifest on its own. Hopefully we won’t stop there, just sitting. Hopefully, one day the graduates of the Middle Way School could be building a rocket or flying to Mars; and even as they do, they are letting harmony naturally manifest.

Watch the Harmony video on the Middle Way Education website.

Do prayers work?

To this question I can only say—there’s your head and there’s your heart and sometimes they contradict. Your head says this, but your heart feels something [different]. But there’s something else, the third factor. Again I’m talking as a Buddhist now. People seem to only think about head and heart, but the third thing is called karma, which is really annoying. What to do? And yes, many times there are beings, kids, adults, who seem to be innately disharmonious. As a Buddhist, all I can think of is to do prayers. This may sound superstitious and unscientific to some of you, but to me it’s actually very scientific. Prayers, longing, wishing—all of these are game changers. They create atmosphere.

I’m sure if a bunch of teachers who are facing seemingly innately disharmonious kids constantly wish for peace and the harmonious growth of those kids, that classroom will have a certain energy. I’m talking almost like a new-age person here, but you know that intention is very powerful.