* In this post, the Khenchen and I used the word, God, several times. Please refer to the term, God, as whatever God you pray to or believe in whether it's Allah, Buddha, Shiva, the Universe, etc.
I felt like I won the lottery when I got the rare opportunity to ask a Khenchen questions about life over breakfast at my friend Sonam’s house. A Khenchen is a respectful title given to a great monk, which is like higher than a doctorate degree. The day before when I met the Khenchen, I had no idea who he was and he looked like an ordinary monk or lama. However, his presence felt so heavenly that I knew there was something very unique about him; he gives off the most magical vibes without doing or saying anything. I was completely drawn to his vortex of powerful, loving energy. I wanted to dive into it and learn all that I could from this wise soul. Therefore, I am beyond thrilled to be able to spread the wealth of his wisdom to my friends and family as well as others all across the world.
Filled with excitement I sat across from the Khenchen on the floor by the burning bhukari while we waited for breakfast. I wanted to find out about what it was like being a Khenchen. So I started to say, “Sonam told me that your title is a Khenchen…” Then he stopped me in the middle of my sentence as he gently shook his head, and with such sincerity he said that a Khenchen was just a name or title, which meant nothing. At first, I was a little confused by his response, but then I remembered his advice from the previous day about one of the most important qualities a person must posses was HUMBLENESS. It was obvious that he didn’t want to bloat about having such a respectful title, so that was the end of my question about what it’s like to be a Khenchen. Ironically, I got my answer: To be a Khenchen, is to be humble.
His humble and kind personality made me intensely interested in how he viewed the world. I wanted to ask him a million questions about all the problems of the world as well as spiritual questions about life. However, I held back a little trying not to be too inquisitive so early in the morning. Nevertheless, we had great conversations about the littering problem in Bhutan, mindless consumption and the importance of laws and rules. He even told me about his exciting experience visiting America and riding a roller coaster for the first time. The two of us sat together like we were old friends and we talked and talked, then laughed and laughed.
After a massive breakfast, the Khenchen announced that he should start his drive home. Panic struck me because I didn’t get to record any of his profound wisdom on film and I wanted to ask him one more question. So before he left, I asked him if I could film him giving me some more advice about life and if I could share it with my American friends as well as anybody else around the world that were interested in viewing it. He said that would be great and I promised that it would be fun. And it was…
Now for the question! I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to ask him out of the infinite choices. I had already bombarded him with some “serious” questions and since the Khenchen and I liked to laugh, I thought that I would ask him something playful, entertaining, yet very useful. I decided to ask him a personal question about something that I had recently started to worry about more than ever and sometimes struggled accepting. I also thought that some of my friends, family, and others around the world might also be struggling with this particular thought at times. Therefore, I perceived this as a universal issue that many people could benefit from getting a Khenchen’s advice on.
So with lots of laughter and dramatization I explained to him that I was going to be turning THIRTY in a few months and I was struggling with the idea of getting older, which made me feel sad at times. I confessed that I didn’t want to leave my 20s because 30 felt like such a big number. I also exaggerated that each month that got closer to my birthday felt like a knife entering my heart; for the first time in my life, I wasn’t looking forward to celebrating my birthday. As a result, I asked him if he could please give me some advice so that I wouldn’t have an early “midlife crisis” on my birthday. I also told him that the advice would be a gift for any of my friends who were dreading turning 30 as well as for anyone else who were struggling turning 30, 40, 50, 60… or any age.
The Khenchen empathetically listened to me while nodding that he understood my agony. Then he started off by saying, “At any age, I am 8 years old. People look at me and I am like a child. When I saw you, I thought you were like a student and I never thought you were (old enough to be) a teacher. So you don’t think about your year. You don’t think about being old or young. This is useless! This is nothing! This is my advice!
At first, I thought, what in the world am I going to do with this advice? How can I just forget about getting older? My friends and I are not going to be able to do this. I don’t understand! Then I blurted out, “SO JUST FORGET IT?”
“Ya! Just forget it. It’s useless,” he said reinforcing his wisdom, which I couldn’t quite grasp at that moment.
“So forget the number?” I asked once again in a confused and shocked voice trying to dig deeper into his insight.
He further stumped me when he asked, “Why do you think about the number?”
I didn’t have a quick answer for him and I thought, “Hmmm, why do I think about the number?”
Then slowly he started to unravel why one should forget about the number. Slowly his wisdom poured into me. Slowly it all started to make sense. Slowly I felt like this was the question I was supposed to ask him.
First, he explained that we were blessed with the human body. He pointed to his eye and said that this was a very expensive eye; the most beautiful gift from the God or ones good merit. He continued to give more examples of precious gifts, such as your teeth, nose, intelligence and body. Thus, he declared that we were like the King of the world, which was a very precious thing as well as wonderful.
Next he led me into the unexpected and grand finale of where this whole conversation was going. He summed up that since we got the human body from the God, then we should be thinking about others. He said, “Try to save the world, try to help others. This is our job! Therefore, the God made a beautiful eye, beautiful nose, beautiful teeth…you think always that! Don’t think, oh my age 30, 40… That is useless!”
Finally, I understood his point: I should be grateful for being a human being with precious body parts to experience the world because it’s all a special gift from the God. I shouldn’t waste my time worrying about useless thoughts of getting older, especially when I have two “expensive” eyes to see the world, two working legs to walk with, two arms to hug people… so many things to appreciate. Since I have these amazing gifts from the God, I should be showing gratitude for them by being of service. For instance, instead of stressing about nonsense stuff like my 30th birthday, I should be more concern with how I can teach kindness to my students and how I can contribute to saving the planet.
I couldn’t have agreed with him more. In fact, deep down inside of me I had already known this to be true ever since I was a small child, but it was as though I had forgotten this internal wisdom. Now I sat next to him remembering this profound truth and feeling a little guilty that I had wasted so much time entertaining such “useless” thoughts. I started wondering how did so many others and I forget this? How can my friends and I internalize his advice while we live in a society that advocates looking younger? How could I get back to this place of honoring/appreciating the body and focusing more on helping others?
What the Khenchen told me next, I could have never foreseen. To be continued...