Lumbini in summer is not my idea of a good plan.

Nevertheless, I’d been told Buddha Jayanti celebrations in Lumbini are something special and so I went, eager to experience the place on a day when people from all over the world come to mark and appreciate its significance.

My professional life is full of conversations with people and teams in crisis- people going through a particularly difficult phase personally or organizationally. As a result, I routinely see life changing transformations as well as the crippling effects of long-term stress and hostility. How it is that some people who find themselves in a crisis begin to access new wellsprings of resilience, creativity and cooperation while others remain stuck is a question I reflect on often in my work.

It is with all this on my mind that I made my way to Lumbini that weekend. The rumours were true; Lumbini is in fact something special on Vesak- the day that marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.

Even for us who are somewhat familiar with Nepal and Buddhism, there is something so exotic and charming about seeing long lines of processions and prayers with the earthy coloured robes and ornate hats, the deep bowing and sincere offerings, the rhythmic chanting and all those prayer flags fluttering against rustling green leaves across the sacred gardens.

Despite involving great fanfare and vibrancy, everything I saw there reminded me of the patient ordinariness at the heart of the Buddhist path.

Yes, there are an array of colours, waves of deep resonant chanting and all the other exotic, dramatic elements that look great in the photos we see afterwards- but the transformative power of the Buddha’s teaching is not in that.
It is the ordinary daily moments of their lives that practitioners are urged to attend to with mindfulness, ease and a spirit of maitri (often translated as friendliness, benevolence or loving-kindness).

Not dramatic, but daily.

This took me back to the memory of all those client sessions in board rooms and prisons, classrooms and retreat centres- how many of us, when faced with a challenge, imagine the solution to be drastic and dramatic…and how often the solution is simple and available.

Easily impressed by big ideas and grandiose game plans, we forget that sometimes big changes don’t in fact need extraordinary things, but a good dose of the ordinary.

Honest reflection, sincere consideration, an exploratory question, a deep breath- in the most difficult of circumstances, these are the things transformations are made of. These potentials, realized moment to moment, produce relationships that grow, teams that thrive and individuals who demonstrate a capacity to shine in any circumstance.

Yet, as organizations and as individuals how common it is that we get into patterns of hostility instead of humour, criticism instead of cooperation and power plays instead of practical insight.

The Buddha’s advice to learn to live and work together, nourishing each other’s capacity for goodness (rather than working in a way that feeds the harsher capacities within each of us), is further reinforced during an intimate ceremony at The Lumbini Museum when a group of nuns and monks chant the Maitri Sutra to mark the beginnings of a new journey for the Museum.

“The Seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease.”

Underneath those magnificent arches, with the Maitri Sutra reverberating within its walls, I am reminded of the power of simple things to birth big shifts: attention, intention, cooperation.

It takes me back also to the transformation of Angulimala- the hardened murderer haunting the woodlands looking for his next victim who was so gripped by the fearless but kind presence of the Buddha that years of hatred melted in a moment of transformation. Such is the power of cultivated awareness and a true spirit of maitri toward all beings.

This parallel between a monk’s patient daily practice and the small ordinary moments that make a tsunami of change possible in our lives is what I am taking back with me as I return to the work of helping and healing people and organizations in crisis.


[This originally appeared as an article in The Himalayan Times on 2nd June 2019]


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