By Janae Jean and Spencer Schluter
Bhante Sujatha is a Theravada Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka. He has made it his life’s work to share the teachings of the Buddha and the message of healing through loving kindness. This mission has taken him around the world. When he was only 10 years old, he told his parents he would throw himself off the bridge in his hometown of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, if they did not let him become a monk. Since that time, he has remained certain and determined to live a life dedicated to adding more love to the world and helping people heal their wounded minds.
Bhante has always known he was born to serve humanity and he wakes up every day committed to this cause, teaching meditation and helping people access deeper parts of themselves so they can feel radiant joy and peaceful happiness. With a single robe and some leftover food, Bhante left his home country and eventually found his way to America, where he learned a new language and culture and discovered the aching desire people have for a more meaningful life.
Bhante’s book, Empty, Empty. Happy, Happy, written with Tyler Lewke, is available at www.emptyemptyhappyhappy.com. His biography, My Wish: The Story of a Man Who Brought Happiness to America: The Life Story of Bhante Sujatha by Mary Gustafson, is now available on Amazon. You can learn more about Bhante at www.bhantesujatha.org and find out more about the Blue Lotus Temple at www.bluelotustemple.org. Bhante is also a frequent contributor to The Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple Podcast.
The following is only a small part of our in-depth conversation with Bhante. To hear the rest of our conversation, download or stream the episode. Don’t forget to subscribe, like, review and share the Conscious Community Podcast on your preferred podcatcher app.
Janae Jean: Was coming to America and living with an American family your first time experiencing American holidays?
Bhante: Yeah, actually, I enjoyed Halloween with those two children because I almost became a babysitter. Also, those two children were my first English teachers. That’s how I learned how to speak English. Every holiday, we celebrated. The pumpkin carving, Easter egg hunting, and all that. We really enjoyed Christmas together as a family. Because of that experience I had with them every year, I’m making the Christmas tree here in the temple. We call it “Buddhistmas.” [All laugh.]
Spencer: Is there a festival or holiday in Buddhist tradition every year at this time?
BS: Yeah, we have a few holidays. Every Full Moon in Sri Lanka is a public holiday. That’s the people’s spiritual day. People go to the temple all day. Also, we have the Buddha’s birthday celebration. The three significant things, his birth, his enlightenment, and his death, we are celebrating that same day.
SS: When do you celebrate that?
BS: The Full Moon in May.
SS: One of the things we’ve talked about with several guests is that they have a Day of the Dead, Halloween, at Autumn Harvest time. In many cultures all over the world, there’s a Spring Festival, there’s a Fall Festival, there’s usually a Midwinter Festival and often a Summer Solstice Festival.
BS: Because it is based on the weather—where we live on this planet. But, in our country, we have rainy season retreat for the month. We have rain or hot. That’s it.
SS: Aha, so you don’t have seasons.
BS: We don’t have seasons. We have hot or rain. Monsoons.
JJ: So hot rain?
BS: Right, hot rain. That’s it, we have different holidays independently, but those are the major holidays.
JJ: You do the Loving Kindness Meditation here. Would you explain how someone can incorporate this in their life when they’re in a stressful time such as the holiday season?
BS: We have to think, why is stress coming to us? Because we exist. We all exist. As a family, as a husband, as a wife, we have some conventional guidelines in the society we have to follow. If we are not following them, we are excommunicated, separated from society. That’s what Buddha said, it’s a painful experience. But you exist. If you want to exist, those are the things you have to do. It’s okay. Now we exist in this world, so how are we going to live?
Now we live with those ideas of expectations because life is full of expectations. “Oh, the holidays are coming, I have to give all of those gifts to my family members.” Why? Now people are trying so hard to give. Then they question, “How much? How big? Is it $20 or $30?” So, it’s very confusing. People are worried. I think everything is materialistic in this society. The value is the material. That’s the problem. How much money you spent is the quality. If I give free meditation, people don’t come, because it’s not “quality.” In this society, quality means “how expensive?”
So, I think that’s not the theme of the holiday. Holiday means your heart, how you feel. Also, I think that’s the best gift I can give to somebody. Making them feel better, not giving them a big gift. And so, I go and spend time with them. You can tell, I don’t have that much money to give, but I want to spend time with you. Sometimes, some poor people have one nice meal to enjoy for the holiday, sharing their ideas and thoughts.
When the world becomes so materialistic, then people stress out, then they don’t enjoy the holiday.
JJ: How do we get out of that, how do we find real authentic joy?
BS: We have to be in the middle. The nature of our life is always our emotions pulling us in two different directions. That’s why we have imbalance. Sometimes like, sometimes dislike. That’s how from birth to now we are living our life. So, that’s really bringing us so much stress. We are always in this modern world.
Scientists, doctors, medical professionals, everyone is encouraging people to meditate. When you meditate you will learn how to balance your emotions and keep calm. We call it “The tranquil state of mind. Equal state of mind. Keep even.” That’s why meditation is important. Then we understand the nature of this life, and that everything is subject to change. Everything is impermanent. Now we have a good time in our life, just enjoy it without complaining. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but we know what is happening now. All these people are worrying about the future, “What will happen to me?” You can think about your future, but what is the nature of your future? What you plan may happen, or it may not happen. After you understand that, you can plan for your future.
Janae Jean serves as editor, social media manager, recipe columnist and podcaster for Conscious Community Magazine. She has an extensive background in new media and music education. She is also the founder of Perennial Music and Arts, an arts education and healing center based in downtown Geneva, IL. Visit www.janaejean.com and www.perennialmusicandarts.com for details about Janae’s upcoming classes, lesson information, workshops, shows, articles and projects.
Spencer Schluter is the advertising account manager, social media manager and podcaster for Conscious Community Magazine. His experience includes visual communications, advertising, social media, marketing, public relations and business development. Visit www.yggstudios.com for more information about his freelance design and consulting work. He is also a master level Reiki and traditional Chinese Qigong practitioner.