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Dear Friends,

It has been 14 years since I began working with faith leaders on environmental and climate issues. The truth is I never meant to do this work! When I initially conceived of a program at the World Wildlife Fund that built faith-based conservation partnerships with all faiths and all around the world, I imagined someone else would run it – certainly someone much more qualified than I who, at the least, had taken a Religious Studies course in school. However, working with the Tibetan Buddhist monastics in the Himalayas was so promising in its impact and so rewarding to me personally, that I felt I was being called to do this work. And, I trusted the fear I was experiencing in leaving what I knew best – field conservation management – was in itself an answer to the constant question; what can I do as an individual to reverse the environmental and climate crises? This is how I came to help establish Khoryug, create WWF Sacred Earth, and then the YETI prototype, which eventually became the Loka Initiative. 

I say all of this to center the question; the most frequent question I get asked: What can I do as an individual? We are filled with doubt whether we as individuals can make a difference given that the environmental and climate crises are systemic crises. We feel defeated before we even begin and overwhelmed by the number of things we have to take on to make an impact. However, it seems to me that we can make enormous differences in at least one of the many spheres we inhabit; our household, our family, our workplace, the groups we belong to, the communities we are part of. And, it also seems to me that we don’t need to work on every issue that is in the headlines; what we need to do is dig deep into the issues we are already committed to. Because everything is interdependent, we will sooner or later find ourselves caring about a healthy environment and a stable climate. There is so much we can do; change our banks and credit cards to divest out of fossil fuels, volunteer and organize with local community organizations, rewild abandoned and public lands, opt for solar and alternative energy wherever possible, build relationships in the community you live in knowing you are building climate resilience. There is so much! 

Lately, I have come to realize that the true value of Loka lies in its example. At its best, it is a blueprint for how bridges can be built across interdisciplinary divides, how community-based processes can be the product that we work towards, how co-creating projects with Indigenous communities is much more meaningful than pithy land acknowledgements;  and how alliances need to be forged between all of our in and out groups. And, in many ways, that is what each one of us is; an example and blueprint that others can learn from as they themselves develop. 

Coming full circle around, I am delighted to present this conversation with Khenpo Choekyi, one of the Tibetan Buddhist monastics I began working with 14 years ago, a dedicated environmentalist who coordinates all of the eco-monastic work in Nepal, and an incredible blueprint and example of what the Bodhisattva vow looks like in action! 

Dekila Chungyalpa
Director, the Loka Initiative at the Center for Healthy Minds
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Khenpo (Abbot) Chheke Gurung, Pullahari Monastery, Jagdol, Ward Kopan, Kathmandu, Nepal
Khenpo Chheke has an Acharya (Masters Degree) in higher Buddhist philosophy from Karma Shri Nalanda Institute, Sikkim, India. He has served as Abbot for Pullahari Monastery from 1992 to today. He teaches at the international programme for Tibetan language and scriptures at Rigpe Dorje Institute as well as teaching Buddhist philosophy at affiliated Dharma centres in west Asia and Africa. Khoryug is a movement with 16 active monasteries and nunneries working on preventing environmental degradation in the Himalayan region. Khenpo Chheke has served as the national coordinator for Khoryug since 2015.


What issues are you (Khoryug) working on that are the greatest priority for your organization and larger community? 

I always loved gardening and put in a lot of effort to create and manage large diverse gardens in the monasteries I helped administer. Once I became involved in the Khoryug (Environment in Tibetan) movement initiated by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, I woke up to other environmental solutions and how crucial they were for the very survival of this planet and all of us who are dependent on Mother Earth. We need clean air, clean soil, and clean water if we are to live healthy lives. It became apparent to me that garbage and pollution were major problems for us in the Himalayas; everywhere I looked, I saw that we had polluted the air, soil and water around us. If we dispose of our waste properly then automatically the water sources and natural resources become clean. If we treat our waste with disrespect then we face many difficulties along with all other beings on the land or in the oceans. Since I began coordinating the Khoryug monastic institutions in Nepal, all of the Khoryug gonpas (monasteries/nunneries) have adopted waste segregation, recycling and some form of garbage management. In addition, we also carry out reforestation activities, we grow organic vegetables in our gardens, we recycle grey water, we harvest rainwater, and we have installed solar panels for light and water heating in our kitchens. We look for practical solutions that benefit multiple problems so that our monks and nuns can thrive. In Nepal, we have multiple problems that stem from poverty and lack of resources so our solutions must combine taking care of people and the planet at the same time.
How does your faith/ spiritual beliefs influence what you do as an organization and as a leader?

As Tibetan Buddhist monastics, we take the teachings of the Buddha as meditative and practical guides for peaceful co-existence with human beings, all other species and nature. As dharma practitioners, we have the responsibility to reverse negative actions through skillful means so that there is a healthy and balanced future for all life. I have spent more than four decades of being a monk and “living” the Buddha’s teachings of compassion, wisdom and interdependence. My monastic training and everyday life is immersed in working for the benefit of all sentient beings and that includes the environmental work I do. We are fortunate to have living role models of compassion and wisdom such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa and many more, who lead by personal example. His Holiness the Karmapa, who is a vegetarian, always appeals to his followers to practice compassion and care about the climate by becoming vegetarians and all Karma Kagyu monasteries and nunneries worldwide only serve vegetarian meals as a result. 

What has been successful in your (faith) approach so far and where do you see challenges?

Because the project activities we took on for Khoryug followed Dharma-based principles that are grounded in interdependence, compassion and wisdom, we have been successful in changing the behaviors of our community members. We picked solutions that made sense to them from both spiritual and practical perspectives. Also, our exemplary spiritual leaders have been able to inspire us to carry out the aforementioned activities without concern for the limited resources at hand. The Khoryug monasteries are often told that our dedication and commitment to following the Dharma based guidance is inspiring for our surrounding lay communities and young people especially. The challenge is to spread this approach among people who believe in and propagate individualism and materialism. Young people are bombarded by unending advertisements that promote unlimited consumerism at any cost and are made to believe that materialism is success. Our biggest hurdle is to convince them that living with interdependence and compassion is the real success and necessary for all life to thrive.
If you had a message for the world’s leaders, what would it be?

The world leaders need to take the reality of the interdependent nature of our existence seriously and not simply apply lip service to it. If they did that, their policies and implementation would be grounded in compassion and would be far more effective. For example, climate change cannot be seen as a separate issue from the economy or from war; these issues are all direct causes and consequences and trying to fix one thing while engaging in the other simply means that it’s ineffective. Greed and selfishness will never end suffering or poverty or inequities. Maybe what we need is a kind of wise selfishness if we are to survive; a realization that we need other things to thrive if we want to ourselves.

What gives you the most hope?

The Buddhist belief is that all sentient beings have the potential to become Buddhas. What is required is nurturing the seed of compassion and wisdom that is in all of us and especially if we are given or we invest in proper training, we can achieve Buddhahood. The Buddha has given us more than 80,000 practical tools for developing and nurturing this potential and the solution is available to all of us and does not require huge investment. I find that this gives me great hope also because I have seen countless of people transform from angry, selfish or wounded individuals to become compassionate, generous and patient people. I know, first hand, that people innately have the ability to change and that fills me with conviction that we as a society can change. I also see so much potential in faith-based outreach. In 2006, after His Holiness the Dalai Lama made a plea to his followers to give up wearing animal furs and skins, we learned that over six hundred million yuan (£43 million at that time) worth of animal furs and skins were burned in eastern Tibet alone. I think all the tools for change are available to us and what we now require is the commitment to see it through.

 How can someone reading this newsletter support you and your work?

The Khoryug monasteries are proud of what we have achieved but we have limitations because the governmental or social conditions are sometimes lacking. For example, we are extremely concerned about waste management in Nepal and we sort and re-sell or re-purpose as much as we are capable of. However, many of the items that we use such as milk containers are not recyclable and there are no municipal recycling facilities. Not surprisingly, most households choose to burn their household wastes, which causes air pollution. We need solutions that are self-sustaining and of practical use in developing countries like ours. We need investment in these kinds of projects that benefit not just our organizations but everyone around us.

Learn more about Khoryug

Loka Initiative News and Partner Events

Loka Partner event
Collective Trauma Summit
Sept 28 - October 6, 2022

Join us September 28th through October 6th for an all NEW online event with expert presentations, talks, poetry readings, movement sessions, guided meditations, music performances, panel discussions, and more to Create a Global Healing Movement. The Summit is hosted by Thomas Hübl, the author of Healing Collective Trauma, an international teacher, and the founder of the Academy of Inner Science.

Follow this link to get a sneak peek of Dekila's talk: Filling Our Wells of Resilience: Contemplative Solutions to Eco-Anxiety and Climate Crisis

Check out the Summit Agenda and register for free today.
Register Now
Loka Partner - New Offering
Insights Project
Mind and Life Institute

Since its founding in 1987, Mind & Life has hosted dozens of dialogues with leading thinkers and funded cutting-edge research to better understand the human mind. Their work to seed and grow the field of contemplative science has inspired valuable insights with profound relevance for our world today.

Please take the time to explore their new site to learn how we can transform our minds, the wisdom that lies in the body, why attention matters and how to cultivate it, and the use of mindfulness to promote mental health, help break the cycle of addiction, overcome othering, and more. 

Read Dekila Chungyalpa’s essay, Mother Wisdom: Learning to Embody Interdependence  and Richie Davidson’s article, Well-being is a Skill along with a collection of other poignant stories at the links provided.

Explore the site

Loka Partner Launch


Festival of Hope

International Baccalaureate
Sept 2022 - Feb 2023

We are excited to share the launch of Festival of Hope! An online convening platform, created by the International Baccalaureate, is bringing together diverse voices and experiences from across the globe – hosting interviews, workshops and opportunities for action.

The festival is about creating spaces where millions of young people can come to speak their truth and feel heard. To come together to turn complex challenges into positivity and hope. It is a growing community of young people, educators, global thinkers, artists, government leaders, and everyone else who feels the urge to be the change. They are creating moments for big ideas, exchanging diverse views, and inspiring action. With opportunities to engage virtually and in person, the first season of events will begin in November and run until February 2023.

Sign up for their newsletter to stay tuned for updates as their inaugural festival year kicks off this fall!

Learn More

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Loka is an interdisciplinary collaboration among different programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It is housed in the Center for Healthy Minds in collaboration with:

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