The Suffering of Change in Today’s World
Deborah Dorjee was born and lives in London. She started her working life as a dancer, went on to run a hair salon in Islington, and then qualified as a therapist via a postgraduate diploma in Psychodynamic Couple and Individual Therapy. She has worked as a therapist for many years, initially in a clinic and then in private practice. She has been a student of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche since 1989, together with her husband, Ngodrup, with whom she has two children, Chimé Metok and Jamyang.
Last month, in her capacity as an instructor at Siddhartha’s Intent, Deborah kindly hosted a session during our twenty-four hour virtual sūtra recitation. We are thrilled that Debbie took some time to sit down and talk with us about the potential for Buddhism to help build mental and emotional resilience in these uncertain times.
84000: You’ve been a long-time student of Buddhism, and you’re an instructor with Siddhartha’s Intent. What inspired you to study the Dharma, and why be a therapist?
DD: I started to be interested in Buddhism when I was in my twenties and realized I was hopelessly lost! Couldn’t seem to get the hang of life at all, so when I came across the teachings it seemed sensible to find out more. I became a therapist because I wanted to know how relationships work; how we relate to ourselves and others. Of course now I understand from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s teaching that there is only successful miscommunication or unsuccessful miscommunication, which is so useful to remember!
84000: Based on your experiences, what are the most common issues people grapple with? How have you seen the nature of such issues over the past few months given how the world has transformed?
DD: People seek help for many different reasons, but a common thread is the suffering of change and loss; be it the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of trust, a job, status, the loss of purpose, or the desperate loss of hope. Since the pandemic there is increased anxiety, depression, a sense of being out of control, an increase in nightmares and bewilderment. We hear news of the rising number of deaths from all over the world, so much suffering, that it can be hard not to feel overwhelmed.
84000: What role do you think Buddhism or Buddhist-informed psychology can play in today’s world when some families are spending more time than ever together and others are isolated?
DD: When the world is in such turmoil and there seems to be nothing reliable to hold on to, Buddhism can provide a wonderful framework of wisdom and compassion that can be trusted, that can help to increase much needed resilience and emotional stability. The Six Pāramitās, generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom, together with the truth of impermanence, can be held on to and practiced, maybe at times through gritted teeth, when families are forced into situations of trying to balance working from home, while simultaneously home schooling children without the usual support network of extended family and friends, due to the lockdown. Children can struggle with having parents who are physically present but emotionally absent due to demands of work. And there are those who don’t have any family or live alone, who have lost their job, income, they have at times uncontrollable fear for the future, isolation and loneliness. So at those times even one or two paragraphs from the wisdom of the teachings and sūtras can offer solace and relief.
But there is a more positive aspect to the lockdown, an opportunity to use the time to retreat, do more practice etc., that many are able to enjoy.
84000: When we speak of Buddhism in the West, we often hear about mindfulness and meditation. These can be very helpful, but isn’t there a worry that if taken out of context, these practices lose potency? How much contextual shedding has occurred, do you think, due to a dearth of English-language source texts?
DD: As you say, the popularity of mindfulness and meditation, used for relaxation and stress relief, can be helpful particularly if it’s a first step in the direction of non-duality. But yes, there is worry and much debate about the appropriation of the practice. I go back and forth but often think maybe a little meditation and mindfulness is better than none, and now with the wealth of material being made available by 84000 a deeper understanding of these practices and their origins is available, straight from the source, authentic, and free. Hopefully it won’t be long before a google search for mindfulness brings up on the first page a relevant sūtra!
84000: 84000’s Sūtras for Well-Being series aims to highlight short texts from the Kangyur that have been traditionally recited for resilience and well-being, and sharing the stories behind them. What else do you think we, individually or collectively, can do to help ease anxiety in these uncertain times?
DD: What a wonderful and timely offering! Entering the 84000 website is like opening the door to a vast treasure trove and I feel absolutely confident that the legacy of 84000 will ensure the Buddha’s teachings will soar into the future like a brilliant comet for eons to come!
With regard to what we can do, I think the best we can do is follow the teachings, follow our Guru’s instructions, and keep returning to wisdom and compassion. Also it’s important to remember we are not powerless, we can even—in minute ways, but with huge aspirations—be of use, practically, emotionally, environmentally, spiritually. But most importantly, we can simply be kind. Be kind to all living beings. Be kind.
DD: A thought. Is there a 84000 App to come in the not too distant future?
84000: Interesting you ask that, Debbie…