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[Eye Interview] Rinpoche sheds light on happiness in turbulent times

Frustration is now running deep in South Korea, with the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil. Furthermore, uncertainties about the country’s diplomacy and economy are also rising after Republican Donald Trump’s upset win in the US presidential election.

The unexpected developments at home and abroad are fueling public anxiety and discontent.

However, for Tibetan monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the biggest source of worry is less about the turbulent surroundings than the vast tangle of conflicts in the mind.

“Feelings of contentment, joy and a lot of appreciation that come within yourself is what I call happiness,” Rinpoche said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. He was on a weeklong visit in Seoul to hold retreats on finding meaning in life.

Rinpoche, who some call the “happiest man in the world,” highlighted the importance of taking control of one’s inner world.

“There is no need to seek happiness from the outside, if it’s all problematic, chaotic and frustrating. You can find joy from the inside through meditation,” he said.

“We all have a lot of wisdom in the brain, and love and compassion in the heart. But we are not normally content. People are interested in watching bad news because good news becomes normal,” he said.

Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche speaks about meditation at the Korean Bhiksuni Association in Seoul. (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)
Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche speaks about meditation at the Korean Bhiksuni Association in Seoul. (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)
Rinpoche, who comes from a tranquil Nepalese village near Tibet, is widely respected among many Korean Buddhists and even nonbelievers for his penetrating insights into what is truly essential in life.

In 2012, he decided to embark on a retreat and told his followers that he would not return until he gained a better understanding of the world. During this time, he slept in the streets and begged for food. He had near-death moments on his journey due to food poisoning and diarrhea.

His mission during the retreat was clear: To develop his meditation and to learn about life.

His rugged journey over four years made his mind clear as well as free of worries and anxiety, Rinpoche said.

How meditation can improve life

Now, the meditation master is traveling again to spread his message to others. He believes meditation in daily life is all it takes to achieve inner peace and appreciation of life -- what he calls a “resting mind in open awareness.”

There is some scientific evidence supporting the values of meditation. In 2002, as part of his attempt to teach meditation, Rinpoche underwent a series of MRI scans at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Research at Wisconsin University, which recorded his brain activities while meditating.

The studies found that brain waves related to perception and consciousness dramatically increased during meditation. The results suggest that meditation might alter the mind in the way that the practitioner envisions. 

But Rinpoche said theory alone is not enough to ease the anxiety and pain that stems from our daily activities and encounters. 

Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)
Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)
“What I have noticed while holding retreats here is that people are very interested in meditation. I sense that they are more than willing to understand the practice and get messages from it. But sometimes we do good things but fail to understand what that really means. Sometimes we recognize our basic goodness and potential within ourselves but are too lazy to follow the principles,” Rinpoche said.

Rinpoche said three things are important in helping people truly transform their daily lives through meditation.

“From your head comes a clear view. From your heart starts meditation. We perceive things from the brain but it is the heart that is at the core of gratitude” he said.

“I appreciate that I have breath. I appreciate that I’m alive. I appreciate that I have nice coffee. I appreciate that we are together here. So bring the view and meditation into action in everyday life. So intellect, heart and behavior -- all three together.”

The first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning is to be thankful for his surroundings.

“I appreciate that I have a bed. When I touch the ground I appreciate that I could hit the ground. Maybe you are working at a company or a businessperson, but whatever you do, start your day by trying to appreciate that you are alive,” he said.

Rinpoche’s meditation teachings have been delivered through retreats in many parts of the world, including South Korea.

Meditating is just like breathing, he told the audience during one of his retreats in Seoul.

“While you are waiting for the subway or bus, you can meditate by counting your breath … and because you breathe all the time, you can meditate anywhere at any time,” he said.

What it means to meditate

Rinpoche said meditation helps people to see their mind as it is. While meditating, people often find their mind obsessed with so many things, but this realization is a good sign.

“You don’t have to make your busy thoughts an enemy. Listen to them and give them an order. When you become the boss, you become freer,” he said.

Finding inner peace is important, however, this does not mean we can overlook external issues, Rinpoche said. 

Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)
Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)
Asked how to respond to Korea’s scandal-ridden politics and other unjust things in the nation, Rinpoche said, “We all need to foster wisdom and practice it.”

“In the face of a lot of problems -- (when it is) chaotic -- see the situation correctly based on our knowledge and practice it. But don’t just listen to others. Listen to yourself," he said. "We need balance. Challenge whatever problems are out there, but only through compassion out of our own kindness. That is very important.”

By Bak Se-hwan (

Son Ji-hyoung contributed to reporting.