YOUTH IN FOCUS: Hi Lama. I always see you on the streets helping our lost youth and addicts. I know many of the guys are not willing to change so they keep going back to old habits. How do you keep going year after year? Don’t you get tired of it all? I ask because two of my family members are addicts and they are in and out of jail. We are fed up and have given up on them. I want to know why you don’t give up. What is your secret?
Burnt out, Thimphu

Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say that I am helping anyone. People see me on the streets and so assume I must be doing something productive. In reality, I am just like a homeless dog, eating, sleeping and roaming here and there with no agenda.  Maybe I was a Thimphu street dog in my last life. HAHA
As for the addicts and so-called lost youth, I like hanging out with them and enjoy their company. Perhaps as a result of hitting rock bottom, they no longer pretend to be someone and this has made them more genuine and spontaneous. Also, I find many addicts to be creative and open-minded.
Of course, I am not in any way recommending the life-style of an addict. In reality, regularly taking drugs really messes up a person’s life and it physically, mentally and socially destroys them. It might even kill them. Also, having a son or daughter who is lost to drugs is absolutely devastating for their families.
Still, as an unintended side effect of hitting rock bottom, many addicts tend to have less obsessions than people like me who try to maintain a public image, and this makes them more authentic. You know how it is with a small child. They have not yet developed a strong sense of self and so they don’t care if you tease them. You can say, “Hey, look at this chubby, red faced child”, and they just chuckle. With many addicts who have hit rock bottom it can be like that. Actually, if they could maintain this attitude after they quit drugs and regain their lives, it would be fantastic. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Despite it being the main cause of our fears, aggression and depressions, we humans love to cling to our status and self-image.
Anyway, maybe we can consider your question from a Buddhist perspective. Basically, we tend to burn out when we do something with a dualist mind of a separate me helping a separate other. As an example, think of the organs in the body. When they recognize that they are connected to each, they naturally share their resources and never tire of working together. In contrast, if this recognition is lacking, the interaction between the organs would no longer be natural. Instead, it would be tainted by a desire for personal advantage and so the resolve to help is weak.
Here is a more concrete example. Imagine an offer of help that is made with the aim of personal gain. At the grossest level, the entire act of giving might be no more than a propaganda stunt to boost the public image and social standing of the giver. As this kind of help is totally reliant on public opinion, it is unsustainable. Basically, once the TV cameras are switched off and the reporters move to another story, the help will stop. Obviously, this is an extreme case, but it happens, especially when the helper is insecure or their social status relies on public recognition.
Basically, when there is a sense of a separate me helping a separate other, even a kind-hearted offer of help will be tainted with at least a small amount of desire, and that makes it unsustainable in the long term. As an example, imagine the scenario of offering breakfast to a homeless person every morning. We may not seek publicity or recognition, but our ego will at least require some form of pay back, if only a smile or nod of the head from the homeless guy. If this is not forthcoming and the homeless guy ignores us or responds rudely, then the breakfasts are very likely to stop. From this example, we can understand that help is very much related to personal gain.
In the same way, we may believe that our motive to help an addict is totally altruistic.  However, if we examine our minds, we will discover that it is not entirely pure, and at the very least we will expect a sense of satisfaction for our efforts – “ah, this guy is good because of me”. Obviously, this is not a gross desire, such as wanting financial reward or fame, but still it weakens our resolve to help. Basically, if we don’t get our satisfaction-kick, our help will stop.
Now, if we can offer assistance without even a little desire for personal gain, we will never give up. Basically, when our support does not rely on external factors, such as public approval or acknowledgement, our resolve to help can be unlimited. Of course, physical or financial restrictions may prevent us from offering continuous help. However, this is a practical consideration and is unrelated to tainted motivation.
Obviously, as we still have egos we cannot drop our dualist concepts and relinquish our need for payback overnight. That is an unrealistic expectation. Still, we can learn to be honest with ourselves and so when our resolve to help falters, we no longer blame the person we are helping, but instead admit that it is because we are not getting some form of personal benefit, no matter how small.
Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind that everyone naturally possesses basic goodness. Without this understanding, we may believe that a person who repeatedly relapses is beyond help and so we will give up on him.

Rehab contact details

Nazhoen Pelri Rehab Centre (YDF), Serbithang, Thimphu: admission only after attending hospital detox programme.
Sahayata Rehab, Siliguri (mostly Bhutanese clients): (+91) 9609996661,

In reality, everyone has basic goodness. This is our natural state. As a simple example, take a diamond buried in mud. No matter how thick the dirt or irrespective of how long the diamond has been buried, it is never tarnished by the mud. Once the diamond has been dug out and washed, it appears in its natural, pristine state. In this example, the diamond represents our pure mind, while the mud is the ignorance that causes us to do harmful action.
Now, if the mud could somehow enter the diamond and permanently contaminate it, then there would be no point in washing it, but this is not the case. That is why a diamond hunter seeks diamonds in soil and mud. He knows that the dirt is not part of the diamond and can be washed away.
It is the same with addicts. The addiction was not there at birth and any negative action that is being committed is a result of their addiction or related circumstances. In this respect, it is like the soil on the diamond. It is not permanent and can be cleaned away.
For real-life examples of people who did negative things but finally became good, we need to look no further than our own Buddhist tradition. Both Milarepa and Angulimala killed many people, but when ‘cleansed’ of their ignorance, they both became shining examples of human goodness.
So, to return to your original question, our resolve to help others will be strengthened when we realize that even the most confused and lost person possesses basic goodness. And, that through guidance, that goodness can shine through.
Anyway, with regard your two family members I suggest that you try to persuade them to go to rehab. Without learning a programme of how to avoid drugs and harmful company it is unlikely that they can stay out of trouble. Also, be aware of your mind and motivation when you try to help them.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.


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