(This article originally appeared on the now-defunct website wellwellwell.com in 2019.)
Bhante Sujatha knows how stressful travel can be. The Theravada Buddhist monk, who earned the title of Chief Sangha Nayaka of North America, one of the highest honors in his branch of Buddhism, spends more than 300 days a year on the road to spread his message of loving-kindness.
Just this month alone, he’s been to his homeland of Sri Lanka to host the inaugural retreat for Sanatha Suwaya, a meditation center he co-founded; touched down for a few days in Las Vegas to teach at an annual event; then jetted back to tend to matters at the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple.
“I like traveling,” Bhante says, calling in to chat with Wellwellwell from the road. “I meet so many new, different people. And I appreciate all the opportunities to learn and share those skills with others.”
One of those skills is staying mindful — even when things don’t always go as planned. If the airline loses his luggage or a hotel misplaces his reservation, he takes a deep breath and reminds himself of the lessons he practices as part of his daily meditation:
1. Change your perspective.
There are certain hassles that even the most thought-out trip can’t avoid: TSA check-ins, long treks between terminals, schlepping luggage. But what some people consider the worst parts of travel are blessings to Bhante.
“I love switching terminals!” he says, more enthusiastically than you might imagine. “It’s my exercise time. Some people prefer the gym, but my travel routine gives me all the exercise I need. I walk between gates, lift my own luggage, and use waiting time to meditate, catch up on reading, or meet the interesting people traveling with me.”
2. Prepare for the good as well as the bad.
It’s been proven that planning a trip can boost your mood almost as much as starting out on that first day of vacation. But just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean everything’s going to run smoothly, and that means reminding yourself that there may very well be bumps in the road.
“Expecting only good sets you up for suffering,” Bhante says, touching upon the first tenet of Buddhism. According to the Buddha, suffering in its most basic form occurs because we try to hold onto impermanent, ephemeral people, possessions, and experiences. The road to enlightenment begins with learning how to accept change, which includes rough patches in a vacation. “So expect some bad,” Bhante advises. “And when something does happen, you’ll be prepared. Suffering only happens if you let it. Suffering is optional!”
3. Remember: You have the opportunity to see the world.
When 11-year-old Bhante began his studies to be a monk, he never imagined that his chosen path would allow him to travel so widely. Few people in his hometown of Peradeniya had ever gone far outside the city limits, let alone left Sri Lanka.
Decades later, the Buddhist monk holds an American passport bursting at the seams with visas and entry stamps. “We in America are so very, very lucky,” he says of his adopted homeland. “Compared to most of the rest of the world, we see so much, travel so far. We should consider ourselves fortunate that we have the opportunity to be inconvenienced by the world.”
4. Use the opportunity to be a better person.
Buddhism is a practice. Until you achieve enlightenment — whether it be in this life or in a future incarnation — every event can be viewed as a chance to learn and grow. “Stay calm, take a few breaths, and think mindfully,” Bhante says. “I remind myself, ‘I’m in the human world. These things happen.’”
Simply paying attention to the situation is a large part of mindfulness. And because you play a large role in the situation, practicing introspective awareness — how you yourself are reacting to what is happening — is part of paying attention.
Of course, nothing prevents a travel hassle as well as planning ahead. Just in case his luggage does get lost, his most important items are always in his monk bag, which acts as his carry-on. “People around the world are surviving with less than most people travel with,” Bhante says. “All I really need is my mind and my practice. So, the airline lost my bag? I still have my mind. No one can lose my mind but me. And if I lose my mind, I’m the one who’s losing everything.”