Even though I was raised Catholic, I have never been a particularly religious person. My father was Buddhist and growing up in the Buddhist country of Thailand, I’ve only heard of Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha in stories and myths. In my mind it was a magical place that was portrayed in the many paintings inside the Buddhist temples in Thailand and it wasn’t a “real” place. So when I had this opportunity to pilgrimage to Lumbini (although I know didn’t actually set off with that intention), I found myself very humbled by the journey.
Dusty roads under construction blew sand in my face as I rode in the backseat of a bus with air conditioning that wasn’t working. The heat was oppressive. I was not in the best of moods. Yet, I was inspired to show up at my best. Donning a beautiful white Indian style jacket that I had gotten made from a sari I bought in Kerala, I wanted to pay my respects as best I could. I felt like I was visiting my long lost relative. When I got to Lumbini gardens, something came over me. A wave of emotion where I could not help but be moved by the energy emanating from this place.
I had no idea I was religious… but coming here, I connected immediately and I realized that my personal belief system is closest to Buddha’s teachings.
The word Buddha means The Awakened One, coming from the Sanskrit root budh – 'to wake'. He is a man who has woken fully, as if from a deep sleep, to discover that suffering, like a dream, is over. The historical Buddha was however a man like any other, but an exceptional one; what he rediscovered was a way that anyone can walk, providing that they are so inclined.
The teaching of Buddha that I really connected to was this - nothing in the world is fixed or permanent. Living as we do, then, as shifting beings upon shifting sands, it is not possible for us to find lasting security. I try to keep this in mind in my daily life - that nothing is permanent or guaranteed so take advantage and be gracious for each and every moment. It is a blessing to be alive. Life is a blessing.
The whole idea of 'I' is in fact a basically false one that tries to set itself up in an unstable and temporary collection of elements.
Suffering is caused by this deeply-rooted sense of 'I' that we all have. Because of this we are always struggling to get things that are pleasurable and avoid things that are painful to find ease and security, and generally to manipulate people and situations to be the way 'I' want them. And because the rest of the world does not necessarily fit in with what I want, we often find ourselves cutting against the general flow of things, and getting hurt and disappointed in the process. Suffering may be therefore brought to an end by transcending this strong sense of 'I' so that we come into greater harmony with things in general.
When you attach yourself to a certain expectation and outcome, you get disappointed when things don’t go your way. When you attach yourself to a person, you suffer when that person goes away. When you attach yourself to money, you suffer when there isn’t enough.
This suffering is temporary and so is your life and everything around you, so you need to show up, play and be the best version of yourself that you can be in the present moment.
As I watched two young monks pray, I was inspired and humbled by their devotion to a peaceful existence. And this inspired me to search for mine. What values was I devoted to? What am I searching for? What am I seeking? What does a meaningful life look like to me?
I watched a family pray together and I missed mine. I missed my mother in particular. I knew she would love this experience and I hope that she will one day have the chance to come here.
Your path is ultimately about unlearning rather than learning. It’s about unlearning what isn’t you and remembering that you are more than your physical body and the material possessions that you have. This is all temporary. This moment is temporary and nothing lasts forever so we should not be attached to the past or the future, just be in the present. One way that Buddhists do this is a formal practice called meditation.
In the most basic form of Buddhist meditation, we sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor or upright in a chair. Then we quietly watch the rise and fall of our breath. If thoughts, emotions or impulses arise, we just observe them come up and go like clouds in a blue sky, without rejecting them on the one hand or being carried away into daydreaming or restlessness on the other. It should be learnt under the guidance of a teacher until you are comfortable doing it on your own.
Next Blog Post - How I Used Meditation to Calm Myself Down when I lost $1000 in Nepal
If you feel compelled to do so, as I did, I encourage you to travel to Nepal, on a pilgrimage or whatever - either with me, with a group or by yourself, I want to help you do it. Let my wisdom be your guide. Reach out to me in the form below to start a conversation. I’m waiting to hear your story.