Thursday, April 23, 2015

They burned her father alive and raped her mother, and she taught me something amazing

I had had the great fortune of meeting some of the greatest human beings alive in the world, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  I have been moved by every one of them, but none of them had moved me to tears.  This week, someone I met almost did.  Her name is Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her life's work in promoting human rights.  When I met her, I found her to be exactly what you'd expect of a stereotypical Nobel Peace Prize winner: she was wise, kind and joyful.  She was friendly to everyone and treated all with kindness.  She gave people a huge smile and warm hugs.  She was bursting with joy.  And if you asked her a question about life, she'd reward you with words of wisdom delivered with lightness and humor.

Right beneath the surface, however, there is a huge reservoir of pain.  Her father was burned alive.  Her mother was raped and tortured before she died.  Her brother was murdered.  She lost her youngest son.  She watched many thousands of her people oppressed, tortured and murdered.

When I realized the amount of pain she had to hold, and is still holding, I was almost moved to tears.  One of the signs of true greatness is the ability to hold a huge amount of pain, not just with courage and equanimity, but more importantly, with kindness, compassion and joy.  Rigoberta has shown me, and the world, what greatness looks like.  I was deeply moved.

I asked her on stage where that greatness comes from.  Is it something she was born with, or is it something she grew into?  She said it comes from deep spiritual practice, and in her case, practices from her own Mayan tradition.  Off stage, while we were taking a walk, she said to me, "You know, my Mayan spirituality, not so different from your Buddhist spirituality."  We both laughed.

The meeting with Rigoberta had led me to two important insights relating to my own practice.  The first insight concerns the relationship between joy and pain.  I realized that joy and pain are mutually insoluble.  In other words, joy and pain do not dissolve each other, they can exist solidly side-by-side.  There had been periods in my life where I had suffered tremendous emotional pain, and at the same time, thanks to my meditative practice, I had been able to bring up genuine joy intermittently in the midst of the pain.  Sometimes, those two things, the pain that was so unbearable that I wanted to die, and the elated joy that filled up my entire mind, appeared just minutes apart from each other.  It made no sense to me at all.  The question I had for myself was, if I was so accomplished at bringing up joy, why did the joy not dissolve away the pain?  Conversely, if the pain was so bad, why did it not dissolve away the joy?  I thought I was going crazy (more than usual, I mean).

Rigoberta's example had answered my question.  She showed me that joy does not dissolve away the pain, instead, it is a skillful container for the pain.  Her immense pain is still there, but she holds it gently with her joy.  Ultimately, the only true solution with regards to pain is to develop the ability to experience pain without suffering, and the only way to do that is with the combination of (mental) stillness, wisdom and compassion.  Joy and kindness form the skillful container for the pain to allow that process to unfold.

The mutual insolubility of joy and pain has another important consequence, which my dear friend and 15-times Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dawn Engle, puts very nicely, "Just because you're in pain doesn't mean you cannot be joyful."

The second insight I have gained from Rigoberta concerns forgiveness.  I realized that forgiveness is not just about the past, but involves all three timescales: the past, the present and the future.  People think that forgiveness is just about letting go of the past, but no, it's much more than that.  Letting go of the past is hard, but I think what makes forgiveness even harder are two things: continued aggravation in the present, and fear of more suffering in the future.  For example, if somebody does something horrible to you, it's hard to forgive, but if she also continues to aggravate you and cause you pain in the present, and it appears likely that she will continue to cause you pain in the future, then it is even harder to forgive, much harder.  Therefore, successful forgiveness must work on all three timescales, and in doing that, Rigoberta demonstrates great skillfulness.  Despite of her still-present pain, she is willing to let go of the past.  In addition, she deals with the present by making sure that those who perpetrated great evil atone for their sins.  And she deals with the future by creating the conditions so that those evil things do not happen in the future.

I am profoundly grateful that great souls like Rigoberta exist in this world.

Rigoberta with all three co-chairs of One Billion Acts of Peace,
Dawn, Ivan and Meng.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

His Holiness the Karmapa at Google

On 16 March 2015, I had the great honor of hosting His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa at Google.  It was the first day of the Karmapa's 2-month official visit to the US, and he chose to spend it visiting Google.  We spent a few hours together, much of it in private conversation.

I found His Holiness to be very authentic.  He is the same person in private as he is in public.  He is shy, but very kind and sincere.  He carries a huge burden of responsibility at a very young age, but he carries it with calmness, faith and dignity.  He has a deep spiritual practice, but outwardly, wears his mastery lightly and humbly.  I predict that many many years from now, history will regard His Holiness as one of the great historical figures of our time, and I have no doubt he is worthy of his role.

Here is a video of the fireside chat (minus the fire) between His Holiness and yours truly.  To me, the most memorable part of the conversation happened right after 34:20 when I slipped and referred to him as "my friend" instead of "Your Holiness", as I was supposed to do in public per protocol.  He then joked about himself and called himself "Your Loneliness".  He touched me with his authenticity, humility and humor.

Shakespeare said, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."  His Holiness the 17th Karmapa is all three.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Powerful testimonial

Earlier today, I received this testimonial from Omar, a 17-year-old who lives in Cairo, Egypt, on how Search Inside Yourself changed his life.  He came across the book in a store when he was going through a rough time.  This one is so powerful it makes me want to cry.  It brings home to me the profound gravity of our work.  My friends, thank you so much for all the support you have given to me.  And, thank you, Omar, for sharing this.
"This book drastically changed my life and helped me get over the stubborn problem of anger management. It made me realize that anger and negative energy are pretty much just feelings that rise inside of one's mind or body.

I still use meditation to this very day. Whenever I feel something that I don't really understand in my body I just go by myself into a room, put on some calm music and just meditate for 15-20 minutes and it really makes the difference.

It is such a powerful exercise. Back then [before I read the book] I was standing on the right side of the spectrum of religion and ideology. Reading this book made me think of people from other religions as other people who are fully deserving to live and are just like me.  Now I can fully accept everyone regardless of their religion or sexuality or color and that makes me feel good every day."

[Also thanks to Kelly Vicars and Harry Spitzer for collecting these testimonials.]

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ajahn Brahm at Google

My dear friend and honored teacher, Ajahn Brahm, spoke at Google a few weeks ago.  He is so funny there is no better day to post this than April Fools' Day.  For the best shit, literally **, watch the story starting around 31:00.

(** He actually said, "I've never ever in my whole life seen such a beautiful piece of shit.")

Help, my Internet access is too fast

Your Internet access is too fast, you need help.  I hear you.  I'm honored to be part of the team in Google to bring you the solution.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

We're nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize!

What better way to start the new year than to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?  :)

I have exciting news to share with you, my friends.  One Billion Acts of Peace (, a campaign which I have the honor of co-chairing with Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff, has just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by 6 Nobel Peace Laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  One Billion Acts of Peace is a global campaign that works together with 13 Nobel Peace Laureates to try to inspire one billion acts of peace worldwide, in 5 years.

I received the news on Monday evening, my first workday of the year.  At first, I was a little shell-shocked (in a good way).  Then I was over the moon.  After that, the weight of the responsibility sunk in.  Wow.  I work with a wonderful team of more than 100 committed individuals doing amazing, Nobel-Prize-worthy work, and I get to pretend to be their leader.  I'm immensely humbled by the team.  I will try my best not to mess this one up (more than usual, I mean).

One Billion Acts of Peace needs you, my friends.  At this time, our biggest need is for corporate partners.  If you would like to consider being one of our corporate partners, we'll so love to hear from you.  You may email my fellow co-chair Dawn (who has been personally nominated 14 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, probably a world record of some sort) at dawn @

And here is the nomination letter signed by 6 Nobel Peace Laureates.  I'm told that this counts as being nominated 6 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, which I'm guessing is 6 times cooler than being nominated only once, assuming that coolness scales linearly.

(Update 2014/01/13: I've just been informed that Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams joined in the nomination, so that makes 7!)


Norwegian Nobel Committee            
December 30, 2014
Oslo, Norway

"Dear Members of the Committee;

I am very happy to be writing to you today, to nominate PeaceJam Foundation Co-Founders Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff, and their "One Billion Acts of Peace" Campaign, for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.  And I am very pleased that five of my sister and brother Nobel Peace Laureates are joining me in making this nomination.

When I first met Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff, they had what seemed to be a crazy idea.  They wanted to create a program called PeaceJam, and they wanted to ask only Nobel Peace Laureates to serve as members of their board. Everyone must have told them that they were completely crazy to try to attempt something so unprecedented.

But here we are, twenty years later, and the PeaceJam Foundation now has 13 Nobel Peace Prize winners who are members of its Board, and PeaceJam has truly become our international educational outreach program to the youth of the world -- Nobels mentoring youth to change the world.  More than one million young people, from 39 different countries, have participated in the PeaceJam program, and these young people have created over two million projects designed to solve the most pressing problems in their own communities.  PeaceJam has carried out more than 200 Peace Congresses for Youth, where budding young leaders work side by side with Nobel Peace Laureates, and it is one of the most transformational programs for young people that I have ever seen.

Now Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjeff have come up with an even more ambitious idea -- a campaign to inspire people all over the world to work together to create One Billion Acts of Peace by the end of the year 2019.  They want to inspire global citizens to create high quality projects which are designed to tackle the toughest issues facing humanity.  There are ten core focus areas for this campaign:  Advancing Women and Children; Access to Water and Natural Resources;  Education and Community Development; Global Health and Wellness; Environmental Sustainability; Conflict Resolution; Ending Racism and Hate; Human Rights for All; Alleviating Extreme Poverty; and Controlling Weapons Access and Proliferation.

They have worked with leaders in the technology industry to create a cutting edge campaign that will empower average people all over the world to become effective agents of change.  People will be able to use the latest in technology to collaborate together to solve the world's toughest problems, under the leadership and guidance of Nobel Peace Laureates.  Non profit organizations, businesses, and institutions around the world are already joining in to become a part of the campaign.  PeaceJam launched its audaciously ambitious "One Billion Acts of Peace" campaign at the Social Innovation Summit at the United Nations last summer, and they are working on such a grand scale in order to be able to truly change the course of the future for all of humanity.  Their goal is to create one of the most powerful global citizen's campaigns that the world has ever seen.

In the thirty years that have transpired since I was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I have found that it is this sort of big thinking and courageous craziness that can truly make things happen.  I am nominating them and their "One Billion Acts of Peace" campaign for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, because I want to encourage this kind of audacity, and to support this effort to unleash the goodness and greatness of the people of the world.  Together, we truly can create a world where everyone has access to clean water, a decent place to live, enough to eat, a good education; and social justice and human rights -- the kind world that God wants to see for all of us.  We do indeed have the power to create this world, in our own hands.  The "One Billion Acts of Peace" campaign will bring so very many of us together, to dream this dream together, and to begin to make it so.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

President Oscar Arias

Leymah Gbowee

Adolfo Perez Esquivel

Betty Williams

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It is time to abandon wisdom

Meng with the Zen Master Subul Sunim

The great Korean Zen Master Subul Sunim recently gave me this advice: "To acquire wisdom is hard, but to abandon it is even harder.  You have accumulated a lot of wisdom, and your wisdom has brought you to this point, but to advance further, you need to abandon that wisdom."

Upon hearing that, I was half unstuck.

A few days later, my dear friend, Zen teacher Soryu Forall made it more specific.  He said, "In your meditation, you have been observing yourself from a high ground.  It has gotten you this far.  It is now time to stop observing and just be in experience fully.  Fully.  Fully!"

There and then, I understood how to abandon my wisdom.

And I was unstuck.

The wise man walks to the door.  The fool walks in.

Friday, September 26, 2014

An act of peace: Making a stand against child slavery

Last Sunday, on the International Day of Peace, my dearest friends and fellow Co-chairs of One Billion Acts of Peace, Dawn and Ivan (each of whom has been nominated 8 times for the Nobel Peace Prize), challenged me to perform or commit to performing a substantial act of peace within 7 days.

I accept your challenge, Dawn and Ivan!  On 25th October 2014 (Make a Difference Day), Vivianne Harr and I will work together to launch a 30-day stand against child slavery.  We aim to raise US$25,000 to benefit Free the Slaves.  Watch out for our announcement.

[Update: I told a few friends and we already received a commitment of US$10,000 from an anonymous donor.  Yay!  Keep doing that and we will be forced to raise our donation target even before our 30-day campaign begins.  Make me do it, I dare you.]

I like to dedicate this act of peace in honor of two very inspiring people I befriended recently, Vivienne Harr and Congressman John Lewis.

Vivienne is a heroine who, at the age of eight, decided that she wanted to end child slavery worldwide and, by age ten, already raised more than US$100,000 towards that goal.  John is a widely-revered hero who spent his life upholding everybody's civil rights.  The contrast between them is beautiful.  One a young, idealistic, white lady, the other an elderly, dignified black gentleman.   It goes to show that heroes and heroines can be found everywhere, in every social segment, at every age.  Thank you, Vivienne and John, for inspiring all of us with your goodness.

I hereby challenge three of my friends to each perform (or commit to performing) an act of peace within the next 7 days: Arianna Huffington, Biz Stone and Congressman John Lewis.  Remember to also challenge three other people to each perform an act of peace!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When I grow up, I want to be worthy of being in the Buddha's shadow

Prince Siddhartha left home to seek enlightenment shortly after his son, Rahula, was born.  After six years of intense struggle, Prince Siddhartha gained full enlightenment and became the Buddha.  By the time he came home to visit his family, Rahula was already seven years old.

As the Buddha approached the palace, Rahula's mother, Princess Yasodhara, pointed to the Buddha in the distance and instructed her son, "That man is your father, go to him and ask for your inheritance."

Rahula ran towards the Buddha and then walked alongside him.  According to one interpretation of the story, it was presumably a hot day and Rahlua kept himself shaded in the Buddha's shadow.  After a while, Rahula looked up to the Buddha with a smile and said, "It is so pleasant to be in your shadow."

When I read that account, that last sentence resonated with me to my core.  It felt like the perfect metaphor for me.  All I really want to do is to be in the shadow of the Buddha.

So these days, whenever somebody asks me what I want to be when I grow up, I say that when I grow up, I want to be worthy of being in the Buddha's shadow.  That is all.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Seven Lotus 七朵莲花

This song is too beautiful to be left untranslated.  Translation is done by yours truly.

Seven Lotus

In a beautiful sea, lotus flowers blossom in seven colors
The lovely Guru Rinpoche walks towards me
He asks me whether there is true love in my heart
I say that there is love in my heart like seven open lotus flowers

I long for lotus flowers opening in everybody's heart
I long for love appearing everywhere between heaven and earth
I long for fresh flowers of peace blooming everywhere in the human realm
I long for no more suffering and no more sorrow

(Guru Rinpoche's Heart Mantra) Om Ah Hung Ben za Guru Péma Siddhi Hung

I see lotus flowers opening in everybody's heart
I see love appearing everywhere between heaven and earth
I see fresh flowers of peace blooming everywhere in the human realm
I see no more suffering and no more sorrow

(Guru Rinpoche's Heart Mantra) Om Ah Hung Ben za Guru Péma Siddhi Hung




(莲花生大师心咒) Om Ah Hung Ben za Guru Péma Siddhi Hung


(莲花生大师心咒) Om Ah Hung Ben za Guru Péma Siddhi Hung

Monday, June 30, 2014

Plastic currencies

Angel and I were talking about countries with plastic currencies.

Me: Singapore has plastic bills.
Angel: AND, Canada has plastic bills.
Me: AND, plastic ducks have plastic bills.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

SIY wins Axiom Business Book Award

Search Inside Yourself has just been named a Gold Medal winner at the 7th Annual Axiom Business Book Awards honoring the year's best business books and their authors and publishers.

I am deeply honored and humbled.  Thank you for all your support, my friends.

[Announcement at:]

Saturday, March 29, 2014

This calmness is our natural birthright

In his first sermon after his enlightenment, the Buddha identified the cause of suffering as tanha, which literally means "thirst" but is often inadequately translated as "craving" **.  Specifically, the Buddha identified 3 forms of tanha: the thirst for sense pleasure (kama-tanha), the thirst for existence (bhava-tanha), and the thirst for non-existence (vibhava-tanha). 

I chanced upon a beautiful commentary on tanha by Eknath Easwaran in his translation of The Dhammapada (he uses the Sanskrit equivalent of tanha, "trishna"): Buddhist psychology, each desire is an isolated moment of mental activity - a dharma, in the Buddhist technical vocabulary - rising up in the mind.  It can be ignored, or one can choose to yield to it.  If one yields, the next wave of desire will have greater power to compel attention, and the mental agitation it causes will be more intense.  On the other hand, if one chooses to defy a strong desire, the pain can be considerable.  “Know me to be the power called Thirst,” Trishna demands of the Buddha on the eve of his enlightenment, “and give me my due of worship. Otherwise I will squeeze you with all my might and wring out the last of your life!”  However, if one succeeds in not giving in to selfish desires as they arise, the mind gradually quiets down, leaving a longer and longer interval between waves of desire in which the mind is calm.  This calmness is our natural birthright, a state beyond the suffering entangled with desire.  All the Buddha’s teachings come round to this one practical point: to find permanent joy, we have to learn how not to yield to selfish desire.

(** It get worse.  Apparently, the Chinese translation for tanha is 愛, which literally means "love".  Whoever made THAT translation deserves to be slapped.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Search Inside Yourself in 13 Languages and Counting

As of January 2014, Search Inside Yourself is published in English and 12 other languages.  Here is the entire set, including the 5 English-language editions (the US hardcover edition, 2 UK editions and 2 international editions).

Collect the whole set!

Update (2014/01/27): Cathy from HarperCollins says, "SIY has been licensed to 24 foreign publishers so far – you should have a few more editions to add to the collection soon!"