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Dhamma Talks of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Ajahn Brahm: Finding Meaning in Life 1

Since I was last here on Friday a week ago, we finished off teaching a retreat and then also went off to Singapore on Tuesday to give a series of talks and finished off last night, a very late night for a monk, because the group in Singapore, the Buddhist fellowship had their annual gala dinner. So even though I didn't have anything to eat, which was torture, seeing all that beautiful food on the plate to my left and the plate to the right, I had to give a little talk. And they asked me, ”Can you please give a talk” to the about a thousand members who were there for this annual event, “a little talk on putting meaning into your life, giving your life meaning”. And I thought this is a wonderful little topic and I wanted to do the same again today, to give a talk on putting meaning into your life.

And it was especially apt because Ajahn Brahmali showed me a copy of today's Western Australian and there was one of my favourites, I always try to read the comics first of all, that's the most interesting part of a newspaper, and one of my favourite comic strips is Calvin and Hobbes and if you saw that one today, and you know that comic strip, there is always a great deal of not just human but philosophy in that, and in this particular comic strip that Calvin is in bed with his tiger next to him and saying just about “What is the meaning of life? Why are we put on this earth and what are we here for?” And this little pet tiger says “tiger food”,… which from a tiger's point of view that's what human beings are there for. But I'm sure there's much more meaning to life than being tiger food or right now in Western Australia, just there's opportunities for flies in the forest to go and explore, because now is the fly season, at least it was when I left, and of course those of you who live out in the bush in the forest at this time of the year, these flies they are just like coming and being kind to you, at least that's what happened in Serpentine, probably the same in Dhammasara, because the flies in the monastery are all Buddhist flies and so they are more compassionate than other flies, so they come up and come up close and personal as they say.

But when it comes to giving your life meaning, I mentioned last night just some of the stories of my life and just how I wanted to give my life meaning. Many of you know the sort of some of my biography and, coming from a poor family, but through scholarships you know going to a very good school in West London and from that good school going to Cambridge, and it was at that time I remember just being at a great university and having all these opportunities open for me in life and wondering which opportunity, which path should I take, and of course the meaning of life, and giving your life meaning, was an important consideration, in fact it was the main consideration which drove me along this path of being a monk.

Because when I was at the age of about nineteen or twenty, when you are looking at what career, what path are you going to follow in life, I sort of thought very deeply, and I decided that whatever path, whatever career which I was going to follow in life had to fulfil two purposes. I just tried to boil it down just to something simple which I could understand and which could guide my life in the future, and those two purposes were: it had to be, life, a career had to be something which gave me personal fulfilment. You can't deny just personal happiness is important to you. So I had to find something which would actually give me some inner happiness in my life. But the second part was also very very important. I also had to find a career which could be of service to others, which could affect other people and make their life less painful, less confusing and less difficult. Somehow in my life I had to balance what I thought was my own search for happiness with my desire to actually to serve other people and to see just how a career, a path in life, could fulfil those two meanings of life: service to others and the pursuit of one's own happiness. And of course I, you know that I found that wonderful combination of doing both at the same time in the path of a monk where, not only do you get that enormous inner happiness for yourself, and especially just when you go and do some meditation, you get incredible peace and immense bliss and those of you who've been on retreat with me, you know you know why monks are celibate is not because we're weird, the reason why monks are celibate is because basically we've got a happiness which is better than sex, you know, the deep happiness is a meditation and look it… to those people who have experienced those states will just say what actually what I say, it's much better you know than sex and also you don't have the complications of babies and diseases and stuff like that. So that's why I really like the happiness of deep meditation.

But, it's not just that happiness which one goes for, you know I'm not a hermit; sometimes I love to be a hermit, and sometimes you know I think, for those of you were following this Bhikkuni thing, it would be wonderful if I get excommunicated from everything and then I can really be a hermit, actually that's my that's my really real plan…no, I'm only joking. But you know I like being alone, I like meditating alone, so you got this sort of resource of happiness there, but there's something else which really motivates me and gives my life meaning and that is actually being able to effectively be of service and being of help to other people, and of course that you know because there's so many people coming here and so many people listen to the talks on their iPods and I just do get invited to go to places like Singapore where on Tuesday night Wednesday nights probably about three thousand people on every night listen to the talks, so this huge number of people listen to these talks and I can imagine what it's like for being me and being able to talk and really help in a big way people's lives, to be able to serve in such a way the problems which other people can't fix do get fixed.

For those of you who purchased a copy of “Open the Door of Your Heart”, you know the new version you know with a picture of a bird on the front rather than a bodhi leaf, you may have noticed that the preface to that edition was relating to a story which happened about a year ago over in Bodhinyana monastery in Serpentine, just now in the morning lunch period, you know people coming up to offer the lunch. That day there was a new person who had come, I had never seen her before, she was maybe an elderly lady, maybe fifty or sixty, I shouldn't have said elderly, I'm really, made a big ‘blue' (?) there, I got to be more careful to my audience, but anyway, she's about fifty-sixty years of age and I've never seen her, and then she and I asked her who she was and she said she was from Switzerland, she was from the city of Berne. And then she said if I wouldn't mind signing her book for her, you know the “Open the Door of Your Heart” book, and I said certainly I can sign that, and when I … she handed me the copy of her book, it was dog-eared, it had obviously been really well used and I was very pleased with that, and I said I'm very happy to sign your book and then she said the reason I wanted you to sign this book and the reason I came her was because back in Switzerland I had a terminal cancer, I had anxiety attacks, depression, I was a mess, both medically and psychologically and my doctors, my psychologist and psychiatrist they were putting me on all kinds of pills and medication, but nothing was working, I was getting worse and worse, I was a medical mess. And one of my psychologists gave me a copy of your book and three months later I don't need any more medication, my psychologists say “You don't need it anymore”, the cancer has gone, I've got my life back. She said she'd flown all the way from Switzerland to Perth, Western Australia, not to see the Bell Tower, but to see Ajahn Brahm, just to come and say thank you. And that's an accurate true story, so you can imagine what I felt like when I was signing it and she was crying, tears streaming down her cheeks out of gratitude, thank you for doing something, and I think when I... the reason why I mention that story is because it shows you what the meaning of life is and how we can put that meaning into our lives. It's a sense of worth of value, that's what meaning actually is, the worth and value which we put into our lives. And that worth and value is something which you don't get when you get your pay check at the end of the month or when you get it transferred into your account, that worth and that value is not measured in your material gains. It's measured in something which you might call one's spiritual wealth and that meaning you always see where it comes from, in your ability to serve, to be kind, to be generous, to help in the biggest way possible. And it's important that we recognize this because otherwise when people don't have any meaning, they don't put that meaning in their life, this is why people get depressed, why they have lack of self-esteem, why they get lonely and why they have this inner pain of “what am I supposed to be doing in this world?” It's not just being tiger food, it's much more than that and you can understand what it is when, number one, you understand what that meaning is, and number two, you actually put that meaning into your life.

And again, so I always love giving stories and the stories they have to be from my life because I am the only life which I know, I don't know your lives. But my life, and again, going back to the time when I was a student at college. You know I was the only Buddhist I knew for many years before I went to college and even when I went to university, there was only a couple of Buddhists and there was no one else in you know my college I knew who was a Buddhist, but you hang around with your friends, you go to parties and you go chasing girls, all that sort of stuff which you do as a young man. But, one of my friends, he was a Christian; he was a very devout Christian. We used to have wonderful arguments together, but not arguments trying to put another person down or to be superior to them, but these nice philosophical arguments we just wanted to find out the truth and we had our friendship was strong enough that you could argue and argue with a person and you'd realize a friendship was more than strong enough to withstand any argument and we'd end up as friendly as we was when we started.

It's a wonderful thing with friendship because it gives us that trust and with that trust it gives us the space to actually to say what we are thinking because we know we are not going to offend the other person and it's so important to have that trust with another person. We can just open up our minds open up our hearts and then open up our mouths, knowing that the other person understands what we are saying. And it's nothing personal, we just want to find out the truth and we can challenge one another.

And you know that recently that when we've been having all these dialogues, especially with the Benedictine monks in New Norcia, it's wonderful that we have got this trust there with these monks so we can have arguments and we can actually have a nice cup of tea and a bit of chocolate afterwards and we are still the best of friends. I think that's a great thing about human beings, when we value the friendship more than anything else. We can ask the tough questions; when we ask the tough questions we realize we are not offending the other person because our friendship is stronger. And of course, hopefully you feel that with the monks and the nuns here that our friendship towards you is so strong that you can ask the most offensive questions and I will not get upset at you. So try that at the end of this talk.

So you know what the most difficult questions which I was ever asked, I remember, many years ago, twenty years ago, I went to one of these, one of these schools and that's always you got to be really on your toes when you go to give a talk at a West Australian high school, especially if it's a government school, because if it's a public… a private school, they can keep the kids out, but the public schools, they just have to sort of allow people to be there. So when it came I gave a nice talk about Buddhism, you know about sort of kindness and compassion, but that just didn't do anything, because when it came to question time, “Any question kids?”, there is one girl, maybe about fourteen or fifteen, she put up her hands and said, “Ajahn Brahm, you're a monk, do girls turn you on still?”

You know what kids are like. They really try to sort of you know wind you up… And you, you know what I said? I didn't need to, because one of the other girls there said, “Ah don't listen to her, she's always embarrassing us.” But the nice thing is you can laugh, you don't get offended when people ask you tough questions and so because of that we have this beautiful openness of you know questioning and debate not to get offended.

And I think it's very important that we can have that questioning to find out what the meaning is of life and I think you do question and you do ask and you do find that those meanings of life you know are just as spiritual qualities of kindness and giving and in this particular case my friend, you know, the Christian when I was arguing one day said “Ah yeah you know Buddhism is selfish,” he said as a Christian, sort of “we help people, you know, we go around sort of hospitals and poor people and elderly people's homes to try and help and serve.” And he just happened to mention that he was going to this hospital for those people who are mentally disabled, who are institutionalised, and him with a couple of fellow Christians were going once a week to help out do OT work, occupational therapy work, for some kids with Down syndrome. And when I heard that he was doing that and that was what Christians were doing, I thought I'm going to stand up for Buddhism and said if you can do it, I can do it as well. So I volunteered as well, and I must say it was no noble intentions in me volunteereing, it was strictly keeping up with the Joneses. It was just ego, absolutely, and I admit that.

So I went along with the Christians and we helped out with these Down syndrome kids, and this is no exaggeration, you know, my friends they dropped out after three or four weeks, but I kept on going for two years. I kept on going every week I was up there in college, I think on a Wednesday afternoon, just going out to this hospital, Fulbourn Hospital, if anyone knows Cambridge, and just going into these groups of kids, institutionalised with Down syndrome, and just doing stuff with them. And that was part of my week, which I valued, and I wouldn't give that up for anything, and in fact, it was the end of the two years when, you know, I was talking to everybody, they knew what I was up to, I was just about to do my final examinations and just leave the college and go into life wherever that would leave me.

I remember one session, one afternoon, because I was very skilled and they had administration to do, they gave me the whole sort of fifteen or sixteen kids to look after and then we had tea and then they gave me the other fifteen or sixteen kids to look after. And I was doing it by myself, and afterwards they put all the kids together, because what had happened was, the fifteen or sixteen kids I was looking after, the other ones, the OT people were getting them to make cards for me, because this was going to be my last day. And when I was looking after them, they kept quiet, then the other kids were making the cards, and afterwards they gave me the presentation of all these cards from these Down syndrome children, because they said I was by far the longest volunteer they had ever had. And they gave me all these cards and made me cry. You know how I learned how to cry? From those Down syndrome children; they taught me what I call these days emotional language. If ever you are talking with me and I can connect with you it's not because of what I learned in the lecture halls of Cambridge, it's because of what I learned in that hospital. These were people who could not talk in an intellectual way. Their ability to string words together in meaningful sentences wasn't that hot, but my goodness, they could look at me and know I was in a bad mood or if I was in a happy mood, they could pick me up straight away. And they taught me that language, a language which doesn't think about a person, but feels them, and is so sensitive to their emotional connection with another person that they were geniuses in emotional language. That's what I learned from them. And that's why I was just so touched at their emotional thank you in these little cards that I cried. And then after the presentation I remember just asking them, with tears in my eyes, begging them, saying my exams are not for another ten days, can I please come next week. So I did an extra week, more than was asked. And I often look back, why did I enjoy that, and of course, it gave me meaning, much more meaning than learning about the secrets of the universe in theoretical physics. That was interesting, but it really didn't give meaning in my life. That's where I've started to understand the selfless giving, the service, the just the kindness which you give out into this world, that is the currency of meaning. And to this day, when people come up and say they have a problem, and especially kids, that they have a drug problem or they have a relationship problem, or especially they are depressed or they're angry: one of the great solutions which I have tried, works, and share with other people if you are feeling depressed, at a loss not knowing what to do in this world. For goodness' sake, go and do some service. Find a group, find an old people's home, find a place like where my mother is with dementia, find a place where you can serve and just go out, spend the time and give and you'll find that, however much you give, as everybody who has done service knows, you get ten, hundred, thousand times more back in return, and you'll find your meaning is not in what you accumulate, but how much you can let go and give to others. That becomes the meaning of your life, and how it grows and grows and grows.

And so by doing that little bit of service, the reason I loved going there was I was learning so much and getting so much happiness, just being with kids who would never argue with me about philosophy or religion, they would just give me a hug when they knew I needed one and that was a hard thing for a straight boy to be hugged by another boy, to be able to do that and be able to receive just their warmth was something which, I hope you'll understand, has added to my ability to be a monk and a teacher today, so thank you to all those kids at Fulbourn hospital for teaching me how to be a monk.



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Since I was last here on Friday a week ago, we finished off teaching a retreat and then also went off to Singapore on Tuesday to give a series of talks and finished off last night, a very late night for a monk, because the group in Singapore, the Buddhist fellowship had their annual gala dinner. So even though I didn't have anything to eat, which was torture, seeing all that beautiful food on the plate to my left and the plate to the right, I had to give a little talk. And they asked me, ”Can you please give a talk” to the about a thousand members who were there for this annual event, “a little talk on putting meaning into your life, giving your life meaning”. And I thought this is a wonderful little topic and I wanted to do the same again today, to give a talk on putting meaning into your life.

And it was especially apt because Ajahn Brahmali showed me a copy of today's Western Australian and there was one of my favourites, I always try to read the comics first of all, that's the most interesting part of a newspaper, and one of my favourite comic strips is Calvin and Hobbes and if you saw that one today, and you know that comic strip, there is always a great deal of not just human but philosophy in that, and in this particular comic strip that Calvin is in bed with his tiger next to him and saying just about “What is the meaning of life? Why are we put on this earth and what are we here for?” And this little pet tiger says “tiger food”,… which from a tiger's point of view that's what human beings are there for. But I'm sure there's much more meaning to life than being tiger food or right now in Western Australia, just there's opportunities for flies in the forest to go and explore, because now is the fly season, at least it was when I left, and of course those of you who live out in the bush in the forest at this time of the year, these flies they are just like coming and being kind to you, at least that's what happened in Serpentine, probably the same in Dhammasara, because the flies in the monastery are all Buddhist flies and so they are more compassionate than other flies, so they come up and come up close and personal as they say.

But when it comes to giving your life meaning, I mentioned last night just some of the stories of my life and just how I wanted to give my life meaning. Many of you know the sort of some of my biography and, coming from a poor family, but through scholarships you know going to a very good school in West London and from that good school going to Cambridge, and it was at that time I remember just being at a great university and having all these opportunities open for me in life and wondering which opportunity, which path should I take, and of course the meaning of life, and giving your life meaning, was an important consideration, in fact it was the main consideration which drove me along this path of being a monk.

Because when I was at the age of about nineteen or twenty, when you are looking at what career, what path are you going to follow in life, I sort of thought very deeply, and I decided that whatever path, whatever career which I was going to follow in life had to fulfil two purposes. I just tried to boil it down just to something simple which I could understand and which could guide my life in the future, and those two purposes were: it had to be, life, a career had to be something which gave me personal fulfilment. You can't deny just personal happiness is important to you. So I had to find something which would actually give me some inner happiness in my life. But the second part was also very very important. I also had to find a career which could be of service to others, which could affect other people and make their life less painful, less confusing and less difficult. Somehow in my life I had to balance what I thought was my own search for happiness with my desire to actually to serve other people and to see just how a career, a path in life, could fulfil those two meanings of life: service to others and the pursuit of one's own happiness. And of course I, you know that I found that wonderful combination of doing both at the same time in the path of a monk where, not only do you get that enormous inner happiness for yourself, and especially just when you go and do some meditation, you get incredible peace and immense bliss and those of you who've been on retreat with me, you know you know why monks are celibate is not because we're weird, the reason why monks are celibate is because basically we've got a happiness which is better than sex, you know, the deep happiness is a meditation and look it… to those people who have experienced those states will just say what actually what I say, it's much better you know than sex and also you don't have the complications of babies and diseases and stuff like that. So that's why I really like the happiness of deep meditation.

But, it's not just that happiness which one goes for, you know I'm not a hermit; sometimes I love to be a hermit, and sometimes you know I think, for those of you were following this Bhikkuni thing, it would be wonderful if I get excommunicated from everything and then I can really be a hermit, actually that's my that's my really real plan…no, I'm only joking. But you know I like being alone, I like meditating alone, so you got this sort of resource of happiness there, but there's something else which really motivates me and gives my life meaning and that is actually being able to effectively be of service and being of help to other people, and of course that you know because there's so many people coming here and so many people listen to the talks on their iPods and I just do get invited to go to places like Singapore where on Tuesday night Wednesday nights probably about three thousand people on every night listen to the talks, so this huge number of people listen to these talks and I can imagine what it's like for being me and being able to talk and really help in a big way people's lives, to be able to serve in such a way the problems which other people can't fix do get fixed.

For those of you who purchased a copy of “Open the Door of Your Heart”, you know the new version you know with a picture of a bird on the front rather than a bodhi leaf, you may have noticed that the preface to that edition was relating to a story which happened about a year ago over in Bodhinyana monastery in Serpentine, just now in the morning lunch period, you know people coming up to offer the lunch. That day there was a new person who had come, I had never seen her before, she was maybe an elderly lady, maybe fifty or sixty, I shouldn't have said elderly, I'm really, made a big ‘blue' (?) there, I got to be more careful to my audience, but anyway, she's about fifty-sixty years of age and I've never seen her, and then she and I asked her who she was and she said she was from Switzerland, she was from the city of Berne. And then she said if I wouldn't mind signing her book for her, you know the “Open the Door of Your Heart” book, and I said certainly I can sign that, and when I … she handed me the copy of her book, it was dog-eared, it had obviously been really well used and I was very pleased with that, and I said I'm very happy to sign your book and then she said the reason I wanted you to sign this book and the reason I came her was because back in Switzerland I had a terminal cancer, I had anxiety attacks, depression, I was a mess, both medically and psychologically and my doctors, my psychologist and psychiatrist they were putting me on all kinds of pills and medication, but nothing was working, I was getting worse and worse, I was a medical mess. And one of my psychologists gave me a copy of your book and three months later I don't need any more medication, my psychologists say “You don't need it anymore”, the cancer has gone, I've got my life back. She said she'd flown all the way from Switzerland to Perth, Western Australia, not to see the Bell Tower, but to see Ajahn Brahm, just to come and say thank you. And that's an accurate true story, so you can imagine what I felt like when I was signing it and she was crying, tears streaming down her cheeks out of gratitude, thank you for doing something, and I think when I... the reason why I mention that story is because it shows you what the meaning of life is and how we can put that meaning into our lives. It's a sense of worth of value, that's what meaning actually is, the worth and value which we put into our lives. And that worth and value is something which you don't get when you get your pay check at the end of the month or when you get it transferred into your account, that worth and that value is not measured in your material gains. It's measured in something which you might call one's spiritual wealth and that meaning you always see where it comes from, in your ability to serve, to be kind, to be generous, to help in the biggest way possible. And it's important that we recognize this because otherwise when people don't have any meaning, they don't put that meaning in their life, this is why people get depressed, why they have lack of self-esteem, why they get lonely and why they have this inner pain of “what am I supposed to be doing in this world?” It's not just being tiger food, it's much more than that and you can understand what it is when, number one, you understand what that meaning is, and number two, you actually put that meaning into your life.

And again, so I always love giving stories and the stories they have to be from my life because I am the only life which I know, I don't know your lives. But my life, and again, going back to the time when I was a student at college. You know I was the only Buddhist I knew for many years before I went to college and even when I went to university, there was only a couple of Buddhists and there was no one else in you know my college I knew who was a Buddhist, but you hang around with your friends, you go to parties and you go chasing girls, all that sort of stuff which you do as a young man. But, one of my friends, he was a Christian; he was a very devout Christian. We used to have wonderful arguments together, but not arguments trying to put another person down or to be superior to them, but these nice philosophical arguments we just wanted to find out the truth and we had our friendship was strong enough that you could argue and argue with a person and you'd realize a friendship was more than strong enough to withstand any argument and we'd end up as friendly as we was when we started.

It's a wonderful thing with friendship because it gives us that trust and with that trust it gives us the space to actually to say what we are thinking because we know we are not going to offend the other person and it's so important to have that trust with another person. We can just open up our minds open up our hearts and then open up our mouths, knowing that the other person understands what we are saying. And it's nothing personal, we just want to find out the truth and we can challenge one another.

And you know that recently that when we've been having all these dialogues, especially with the Benedictine monks in New Norcia, it's wonderful that we have got this trust there with these monks so we can have arguments and we can actually have a nice cup of tea and a bit of chocolate afterwards and we are still the best of friends. I think that's a great thing about human beings, when we value the friendship more than anything else. We can ask the tough questions; when we ask the tough questions we realize we are not offending the other person because our friendship is stronger. And of course, hopefully you feel that with the monks and the nuns here that our friendship towards you is so strong that you can ask the most offensive questions and I will not get upset at you. So try that at the end of this talk.

So you know what the most difficult questions which I was ever asked, I remember, many years ago, twenty years ago, I went to one of these, one of these schools and that's always you got to be really on your toes when you go to give a talk at a West Australian high school, especially if it's a government school, because if it's a public… a private school, they can keep the kids out, but the public schools, they just have to sort of allow people to be there. So when it came I gave a nice talk about Buddhism, you know about sort of kindness and compassion, but that just didn't do anything, because when it came to question time, “Any question kids?”, there is one girl, maybe about fourteen or fifteen, she put up her hands and said, “Ajahn Brahm, you're a monk, do girls turn you on still?”

You know what kids are like. They really try to sort of you know wind you up… And you, you know what I said? I didn't need to, because one of the other girls there said, “Ah don't listen to her, she's always embarrassing us.” But the nice thing is you can laugh, you don't get offended when people ask you tough questions and so because of that we have this beautiful openness of you know questioning and debate not to get offended.

And I think it's very important that we can have that questioning to find out what the meaning is of life and I think you do question and you do ask and you do find that those meanings of life you know are just as spiritual qualities of kindness and giving and in this particular case my friend, you know, the Christian when I was arguing one day said “Ah yeah you know Buddhism is selfish,” he said as a Christian, sort of “we help people, you know, we go around sort of hospitals and poor people and elderly people's homes to try and help and serve.” And he just happened to mention that he was going to this hospital for those people who are mentally disabled, who are institutionalised, and him with a couple of fellow Christians were going once a week to help out do OT work, occupational therapy work, for some kids with Down syndrome. And when I heard that he was doing that and that was what Christians were doing, I thought I'm going to stand up for Buddhism and said if you can do it, I can do it as well. So I volunteered as well, and I must say it was no noble intentions in me volunteereing, it was strictly keeping up with the Joneses. It was just ego, absolutely, and I admit that.

So I went along with the Christians and we helped out with these Down syndrome kids, and this is no exaggeration, you know, my friends they dropped out after three or four weeks, but I kept on going for two years. I kept on going every week I was up there in college, I think on a Wednesday afternoon, just going out to this hospital, Fulbourn Hospital, if anyone knows Cambridge, and just going into these groups of kids, institutionalised with Down syndrome, and just doing stuff with them. And that was part of my week, which I valued, and I wouldn't give that up for anything, and in fact, it was the end of the two years when, you know, I was talking to everybody, they knew what I was up to, I was just about to do my final examinations and just leave the college and go into life wherever that would leave me.

I remember one session, one afternoon, because I was very skilled and they had administration to do, they gave me the whole sort of fifteen or sixteen kids to look after and then we had tea and then they gave me the other fifteen or sixteen kids to look after. And I was doing it by myself, and afterwards they put all the kids together, because what had happened was, the fifteen or sixteen kids I was looking after, the other ones, the OT people were getting them to make cards for me, because this was going to be my last day. And when I was looking after them, they kept quiet, then the other kids were making the cards, and afterwards they gave me the presentation of all these cards from these Down syndrome children, because they said I was by far the longest volunteer they had ever had. And they gave me all these cards and made me cry. You know how I learned how to cry? From those Down syndrome children; they taught me what I call these days emotional language. If ever you are talking with me and I can connect with you it's not because of what I learned in the lecture halls of Cambridge, it's because of what I learned in that hospital. These were people who could not talk in an intellectual way. Their ability to string words together in meaningful sentences wasn't that hot, but my goodness, they could look at me and know I was in a bad mood or if I was in a happy mood, they could pick me up straight away. And they taught me that language, a language which doesn't think about a person, but feels them, and is so sensitive to their emotional connection with another person that they were geniuses in emotional language. That's what I learned from them. And that's why I was just so touched at their emotional thank you in these little cards that I cried. And then after the presentation I remember just asking them, with tears in my eyes, begging them, saying my exams are not for another ten days, can I please come next week. So I did an extra week, more than was asked. And I often look back, why did I enjoy that, and of course, it gave me meaning, much more meaning than learning about the secrets of the universe in theoretical physics. That was interesting, but it really didn't give meaning in my life. That's where I've started to understand the selfless giving, the service, the just the kindness which you give out into this world, that is the currency of meaning. And to this day, when people come up and say they have a problem, and especially kids, that they have a drug problem or they have a relationship problem, or especially they are depressed or they're angry: one of the great solutions which I have tried, works, and share with other people if you are feeling depressed, at a loss not knowing what to do in this world. For goodness' sake, go and do some service. Find a group, find an old people's home, find a place like where my mother is with dementia, find a place where you can serve and just go out, spend the time and give and you'll find that, however much you give, as everybody who has done service knows, you get ten, hundred, thousand times more back in return, and you'll find your meaning is not in what you accumulate, but how much you can let go and give to others. That becomes the meaning of your life, and how it grows and grows and grows.

And so by doing that little bit of service, the reason I loved going there was I was learning so much and getting so much happiness, just being with kids who would never argue with me about philosophy or religion, they would just give me a hug when they knew I needed one and that was a hard thing for a straight boy to be hugged by another boy, to be able to do that and be able to receive just their warmth was something which, I hope you'll understand, has added to my ability to be a monk and a teacher today, so thank you to all those kids at Fulbourn hospital for teaching me how to be a monk.


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