Rinpoche paid visits to Google and Facebook last week, accompanied by Mercury News columnist Mike Cassidy. Cassidy’s article describes not the explosive culture clash he had feared, but a meeting—and opening—of minds.
To see a PDF of the article, please click: MercuryNews_opt
Because the PDF is difficult to read in some parts, we are including the full text here:
MOUNTAIN VIEW — As I drove to the Googleplex to meet Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche, I was pretty sure I was headed to that place where worlds collide.
I mean, the Rinpoche, as he’s called, was a Buddhist teacher; a lama; a man of calm, introspection, meditation and deliberation — a deep breather who lives his life searching for self-actualization and helping others in their journey toward the same. And Google (GOOG), well Google is the frenetic poster company for Silicon Valley frenzy and its relentless drive toward tomorrow; the hyper-connected, hyperkinetic corporation with its hands in a million different businesses and an outfit that never, ever, looks back.
But I can report that no heads exploded, no flames erupted, and in fact, we had a visit in the courtyard of the Googleplex that was, well, peaceful. It was no accident that the Rinpoche had come to the capital of chaos to increase his enlightenment. Silicon Valley, he explained, is incredibly influential in our everyday lives and anyone who wants to understand how we’re living today, better understand Silicon Valley.
“What I’m doing,” the Rinpoche told me, “is more of an exploration. I’m trying to explore how things are working. What does it look like? What are people thinking? What are people trying to do in this tech valley?”
Yeah, thoughtful guy. It’s kind of an occupational hazard. Trungram Gyaltrul, who was born in India of Nepalese parents, was recognized as the reincarnation of a revered teacher when he was a baby. His next stop was a monastery, the first step on an scholastic career that ended with a Harvard doctorate in Tibetan and Himalayan studies. So, in some ways he fit right in with the brainiacs at Google, who’ve been known to flirt by asking, “What’s your advanced degree?”
And as we talked, I learned that the nonstop culture of Google and Silicon Valley and the Buddhist culture that the Rinpoche is working to spread across the Western world intersected in many more ways than I had imagined. You could say the Rinpoche opened my mind.
Oh sure, he said, there is plenty that modern technology can dish up to obstruct mindfulness and awareness of the moment. “For example,” says Rinpoche, dressed in a simple maroon robe and clutching a smartphone, “if you look around you can find people sitting around tables, two people sitting together to talk to each other, but each one is holding a cellphone and actually not talking to the person next to them, but to someone else far away.”
But of course, those cellphones are also creating a connection, perhaps not as rich and real as the face-to-face connection, but who’s to say?
The Rinpoche spent five days in the valley, visiting with employees at Google and Facebook and talking to organizers at Wisdom 2.0, an organization working on creating beneficial connections through technology. Let’s just say he was something of a hit.
“He’s an interesting guy,” says Bill Duane, one of the Google employees who met with the Rinpoche. “There certainly aren’t too many Nepalese monks with Ph.D.s from Harvard floating around, who come to have lunch with Google.”
And yet it’s surprising it doesn’t happen more often. Google, you see, is mindful of more than just the bottom line. For years the company has offered an on-campus course called “Search Inside Yourself,” launched by Chade-Meng Tan, who started at Google as an engineer and whose job description now reads, “to enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.”
They think big.
Speaking of which, the Rinpoche, in one short visit, quickly grasped the valley’s mindfulness potential. He’s a man who uses a cellphone, laptop, the Internet and has a Facebook page (who doesn’t); and he doesn’t buy the notion that technology and mindfulness are diametrically opposed. He came across many valley-dwellers who enthusiastically agreed — for instance Duane, who’s a learning and development manager at the search company.
“I think about the supposed tension between the two,” Duane says of tech and mindfulness, “and I don’t see it. I frame it as, how do we have a wise relationship with our tools and with tools that have such a high potential for good?”
And wouldn’t you know it? It turns out that two of the valley’s most successful companies provide an ideal metaphor for the very foundation of Buddhist teachings — wisdom and compassion. Buddhists like to describe each as a wing, explaining that you need two wings to fly.
“At Google I found they’re more interested in wisdom. They want to search inside oneself,” the Rinpoche says. “Then I went to Facebook and their interest is related to compassion, the other important point. They’re more about social networking and friendships.”
Sounds like the makings of the perfect corporate merger — at least if you consider eternal happiness to be an acceptable return on investment.
To read the article on the Mercury News website please click here.