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The Remote Control

Venerable Tenzin Gephel

Venerable Tenzin Gephel

Resident Namgyal Monastery Monk
Cornell University Buddhist Chaplain

Some months ago my friend Laurie led a table topic discussion on television talk shows. This topic provoked me to give a speech on the remote control to my fellow club members at the Ithaca area Toastmasters, because remote control devices, talk shows and television in general have a particularly intimate relationship.

In fact, I do not have much interest in watching talk shows or long political speeches. In spite of this, sometimes I have to watch, with others, a program that does not interest me, because I cannot change the channel. That is because the remote control is not in my hand. It is in the hand of someone seated next to me who has a tight hold on it. I can't even snatch it away.

Nevertheless, I do have some interest in a few programs on television. You probably already know that one program that interests me more than any other is "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" This program, which is quite funny, teaches me about humor in this culture and helps me improve my third language, English. More importantly, this program makes me laugh and cheers me up. On one occasion, a club member gave a wonderful speech in which she pointed out that laughing is good medicine, beneficial for our health. By watching "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" I get a good dose of humor medicine in addition to the traditional Tibetan herbal and Western medicines I might take.

Sometimes the program makes me laugh so loudly that the people downstairs, who can hear me, wonder what's going on with Gephel, alone upstairs. Some friends actually come up to check on me and ask what's happening. I try to encourage them, saying, "Oh, this program is very funny! You should watch it!" They don't show much interest. For them the program isn't at all funny. Funny people crack a lot of jokes in their short performances in this show, but to my friends it is just a jokeless joke show. However, they do sometimes watch the program with me anyway.

That's when they can't change the channel to what they want to watch, because the remote control is in my hand. Now it's my turn to hold the remote control as tightly as possible. Sometime I hide the remote behind something on the table. This is the table on which we put our plates, cups and bowls of popcorn. When I hide it, no one can see it from where they're sitting. They have no idea where that remote control is. Sometimes I just put it next to me so that I can grab it faster than anybody else in the universe.

Whenever an advertisement comes on, then my friends start looking around for the remote control, and I just pretend that I have no idea what they are looking for. Well, sometimes they are very direct and ask, " Gephel, have you seen the remote control?" Well, I know I should not tell a lie, and I don't know how to respond well without telling a lie. There must be somebody who knows how to do this, but not me. So when the program is about to finish, that's when -- surreptitiously, in a smooth move -- I slide the remote control little further out from the place where I had hidden it so that the others can see it and grab it to change the channel to one they like. I don't mind if they do.

In general there are two kinds of remotes: the inner remote control and the external remote control. The inner remote, since it serves the mind, is very important. Specifically, this inner remote controls our contentment.Many people suffer a lot, because they lack contentment in their lives. It is one of the biggest causes of suffering in people's lives, even the lives of the wealthiest. Contentment, or quiet satisfaction, is essential for our mental happiness.

The external remote control is the thing that we normally use to control our television programs or video displays. In some ways television itself, the advertisements on TV and the advertisers are the remote controllers of our selves, our mind. People often ask why there is so much advertising on TV. Well, I think the right reply is that the advertisers are smart and know that people's inner remote is not working, because they are not content. That is why people want this, that and the other. Their wanting has no limit. That's why there are a lot of ads.

Now I would like to leave you with a few words of HH the Dalai Lama, and I quote: "The true antidote to greed is contentment. If you have a strong sense of contentment, it doesn't matter whether you obtain the object of your desire or not. Either way, you are still content."