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October 25, 2010

A few years ago I did an amazing around-the world study abroad program. While in Vietnam one of my friends got to visit a monastery in Cambodia. He told me a story about something that happened there. The monks asked the students what they wanted in life. Most replied what job they wanted. Some explained how they wanted to captains of industry and wanted to make million. A few explained that they wanted to do something with life and be doctors to help people or go into areas of science where they could create things that would advance society. They all had impressive stories. One student turned the tables and asked the monks what they wanted. One replied that he wanted to do one thing at a time. Another said do less. Yet another said be mindful. There were opposing views on life. The students were a bit shocked and many walked away thinking that the monks were lazy. It was the people like the students who make progress happen!

Later my friend was talking to one of the monks.  The monk brought up what happened earlier believing that the students missed the point of the conversation. He talked about simplifying life. That we surround ourselves in so many unnecessary things that we miss out on the day-to-day activities in life. The simple act of eating or bathing. Finding the day-to-day pleasure in life and not in things. And that the monks spend time-serving people in their community. It is a way to stay humble and not life a selfish life not just to have a feather in their cap.

I’ve sat on this story for almost exactly six years. I had no real reason to share this story or use it to make a point about something. The only reason I decided to bring it up here is because it is something that I’ve been reflecting on lately. I’ve been reevaluating things and starting to find myself less attached to my possessions than before. I attribute that to my daughter. My priorities have changed and there are now things that I am more determined to do, but this story had effected how I plan on doing it.

Have you had something like this happen to you? Have you ever met someone or was told something that you had change your prospective?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. bombaybeauty permalink
    October 25, 2010 11:14 am

    A few comments. The first sign of truly being an adult is learning to listen to those older than you, and understand their perspective. They aren’t always right or wrong; there is something to be learned from them, but it takes time, patience, and one’s own thoughts. The ideas the monks espoused are ancient ideas, filtered from Hinduism, to Buddhism, and then to the world. One of the difficulties of this stage in life – which requires us to be worldly – is that our minds are fragmented, and this has become truer than any Hindu or Buddhist sages could have imagined. So I think this is a truly spiritual goal: by doing one thing, and doing it well, to find the unity of nature and spirit.

    My own story is exactly about remembering my own reactions when I was young to someone older. The older in this case was just my cousin’s husbands, perhaps 40 when I was 20. He began by saying the goal of life is happiness. As an idealist I disagreed: there are many goals I want to achieve, and I am willing to sacrifice happiness to achieve them, I told him. I had in mind not money or fame, but artistic or intellectual goals, but it doesn’t matter. Though we never agreed that day, I realized as an adult whose goals are a constantly shifting horizon rather than the specific deadlines we faced when young that being happy is now one of my goals. I’m not yet at the stage where happiness can come at the expense of worldly success, but I’m past the stage where I would want my goals to come at the expense of happiness.

    Whether we believe in the afterlife or not (Hindus do, Buddhists tend not to), something that ancient Hindus did really grasp was the evanescence of life. We are caught up in the turmoil of living, but we lose sight of the days trickling away. Look ahead to yourself in 20 years and imagine looking back to now. I don’t want to think that I was chasing mirages or that I was creating conflicts where none had to exist.


    • October 25, 2010 11:52 am

      Thank you for sharing your story.
      As for sacrificing happiness for success I think came at it from a similar place. I also associated success with happiness and when I started to find that successful path my happiness severally diminished. The advice of imagining looking back at yourself 20 years from now is something that I’m going have to give real thought to especially at my more conflicted times.

  2. October 25, 2010 12:21 pm

    This is a great story — and so true!

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