Be mindful. To live happily, this is the advice given by Buddhist masters. It sounds simple enough, but what exactly does it mean?
For three days in early June, I saw it in action, right in front of me. Mindfulness presented itself in the form of a Mr. Tenzin, who is part of the security team for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
I was among the thousand-odd crowd who had gathered to attend the teachings by HH at Dharamsala. Eager, curious and ready to learn, I was like everyone else in wanting to catch a glimpse of HH, be close to him, and seize any opportunity to seek his blessings. I arrived at the Main Temple on the first day, bright-eyed at 630 am, so as to get the front row seat. Mr. Tenzin was at the door, ready for me. He asked me for my official pass, studied it, and then politely informed me that today was not my day to sit in the main hall. He pointed me towards the section that was appropriate for me and then smoothly moved on to the next participant waiting.
I nodded, slightly deflated, and made my way to my section. I didn’t feel bad, though. I was where I was expected to be, and he had guided me, nicely, to it. I made myself comfortable on the padded mattresses that had been laid out so considerately by the organizers – there were close to three hours before the session was to start. Then, I began to watch Mr. Tenzin.
Since I was sitting on the floor, his shoes came into my line of sight almost immediately. Formal, black, laced pumps, immaculately shined. Black socks. His official uniform, a grey suit, sat comfortably on his frame, tailored, it seemed, solely for him. His hair was neatly combed, fingers clean and nails short. He held his walkie-talkie firmly, in a manner that conveyed it’s only business was to be in his hand to be used.
As time passed, person after person came to the door, to enter the main hall. Some tried to slip in nonchalantly, others gave the expected “Make an exception for me, I know so-and-so”. There were also some who pleaded to the goodness of his heart. With every single person, Mr. Tenzin respectfully asked for their official pass, looked it over carefully, and directed them to their respective sections. The same drill, again and again, indistinguishable in his attentiveness, calmness of demeanor or thoroughness. The legitimate participants were allowed in, the rest were given an explanation for their denial of entry. When some returned, with their patrons in tow, Mr. Tenzin patiently explained again, to the patron this time, why the participant had been denied. He listened to the patron, and where it was sanctioned, he allowed entry. And then he turned his attention to the next supplicant.
I marveled at this. No irritation at having to repeat himself, no anger about having rank pulled on him, no frustration at having to explain his job over and over. He simply addressed the situation and then moved on.
In between, when there wasn’t anyone to attend to, he scanned the area, his eyes alert and vigilant. He never left his post. He had a local young volunteer supporting him, and he calmly instructed him as well. I didn’t see him lose his temper once, and he made himself available if the volunteer needed help. When the monks and nuns came through to distribute the Tibetan bread and tea at break time, he helped them by making way for them in the seated crowd.
This probably sounds very ordinary, like he was just doing his job. After all, this could be described as merely a security person ensuring nothing untoward happens or no unauthorized persons are allowed in. So why did he end up fascinating me and capturing my attention over the entire time?
I realized, as my observations mounted day after day, that he was practicing mindfulness. He was doing his job, but, he was doing his job in the way it was supposed to be done. Nothing was assumed. Every little task was given full attention, like it was the most important thing in the world. While waiting for the session to start, he could have sat down on his stool, played with his mobile phone or chatted with his volunteer. He didn’t do any of that. Instead, every moment was used towards fulfilling the job he had been entrusted with.
And, I had another insight: at the end of the third day, I saw that he was expressing something profound underneath it all, humility. Mr. Tenzin, in his words and actions, manifested a deeply respectful attitude towards the scores of people around him, irrespective of class, culture and community, and the hundreds of requests, big and small, coming at him. Everyone got the same treatment, every task was handled with the same gentle care.
As I’m writing this, it is dawning on me that I started out talking about mindfulness but somehow I have gone beyond this. Yes, I think Mr. Tenzin is a mindful Buddhist. In fact, he is probably the most mindful person I have encountered. And, I now want to add, he is also a compassionate Buddhist, because I think that this is the only way he could remain calm, responsive and helpful over the three days.
Perhaps mindfulness and compassion are inextricably intertwined. Watching Mr. Tenzin certainly makes me think so.