YOUTH IN FOCUS: I’m on winter vacation from college. I want to travel and at the same time do something cool, meaningful and even spiritual (but not a pilgrimage). I’ve saved a little money from doing part time jobs, but I don’t have money to fly to far places. I’m thinking of backpacking. Can lama offer some advice? 

ST, Thimphu

Well, a backpackers’ journey is more about exploring and opening minds than relaxing. Basically, the journey itself is the goal.

To transform your travel into something meaningful, cool and spiritual, I suggest you consider the words of HH Dalai Lama:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

If we take this advice to heart, we will not just be another traveller waiting to board a flight or train, but instead be a person with human dignity, compassion and courage.

Practically, how do we fuse this advice with our activities? As an example, imagine that you are waiting at a crowded railway station. You feel dull and bored, then you recall the advice of the Dalai Lama, “Have kind thoughts towards others”. Inspired by these words, you become mindful of the people around you, and so no longer see them as just a mass of strangers but as individuals with feelings just like you. As a result, you begin to treat those you meet with respect and may even feel moved to offer food or clothing to a homeless person or drug user.

While such action will not change the world, it will change our mind-set. And, it is the mind that creates the world. Think about it. Even the Great Wall of China began as a thought in one person’s mind. Later, as others shared the vision it gained momentum and finally became a reality. Therefore, never underestimate the power of the mind. Done with a pure motivation, even a small gesture of kindness is a strong stimulus for positive change.

As we travel, we further consider the Dalai Lama’s advice: “do not get angry or think badly of others, but to benefit them as much as we can”.

Actually, we all possess basic goodness, but due to ignorance it is often hidden. Basically, we mistakenly create an idea of an ego – an entity that is independent from the world around us – and anger is just a means to protect it. Therefore, to avoid anger or negative thoughts, we need to investigate what we are protecting, not just instinctively lash out and blame others.

As for “achieving enlightenment for the benefit of others”, the Dalai Lama is not expecting us to rush off and meditate under the Bodi Tree but urging us to plant the seeds of enlightenment in our daily lives.

To do this, we can begin each day by making a mental vow to benefit others. Later, we can observe that like the scenery we see from the train window, everything passes quickly and disappears. Finally, at the end of a journey, we dedicate the benefit of any positive deeds to all sentient beings: “May all beings be free of suffering and its causes.”

To create a strong foundation upon which to construct and maintain all these ideas, we can contemplate the opening line of HH Dalai Lama’s verse: “Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive”.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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