December 4, 2014

Read this Before Giving up the World to be a Dharma Bum.


Maybe it’s the circles I travel in.

Seems out of every seven people I meet, there’s always one or two who wants to uproot their life, and take it to India, Nepal or Tibet.

You know the stories of how the Tibetan master Tilopa put Naropa through hell? Tilopa told Naropa: “If I had a real disciple, he would jump off this cliff.” Naropa took the hint and jumped.

Likewise, many women and men from nations all over the world are jumping. They want to land unto the soft moon seat where Buddha taught.

In most cases, this is an example of blind faith, infused with the intoxicating scent of inspiration. After taking the leap, at some point, something unexpected happens. It’s not so soft. It’s not so peaceful.

The sensory overload is like being on double espresso ‘shrooms.

The biggest blind spot for many of us is inside our wallets. I have a phobia of looking at my bank statement. I now pay nearly $10 in fees for each foreign ATM withdrawal. And I’m unemployed.

The old Christian belief that God will provide shadowed my actions without my realizing, as I continued to spoon in additional pain and poverty to sweeten my devotion. So many ask me, what do you do for money? It’s become clear that transportable skills are necessary just as much as devotion.

What can we offer others? Healing, teaching, writing, cooking, computer work, languages—all these are the new currency. Their value exchanges into a room to sleep, food to eat, dharma texts, etc. The spiritual lives in the material.

I thought I was too clever to have blind faith; I thought I got a genuine Rolex. Actually, I saw blind faith is not the opposite of true faith. I saw I wasn’t alone. Many smart, savvy, talented, devoted people living here also gave up their worldly possessions for full-out commitment to a spiritual path.

They also believe in what they can’t always see with their eyes. In many cases, their money also ran out. Sometimes social security kicked in. Some of them have new trades. Some are in full-time retreat. The question is, how OK can any of us be when the money is gone?

All I’m saying is, know your maras. Money is just one example—many other landmines lurk on the path. I have a friend who drove a van from France to Kalimpong, through Afghanistan and surrounding areas, as a single mom, in the ‘80s. She got herself in many dangerous situations, and always came out unscathed. Why? She did her homework. She studied the terrain before she leapt.

So if you’re still determined to kiss Western civilization goodbye, if you don’t mind risking the rest of your days shaking a virtual tincup via crowdfunding to support your practice, then here are some bullet points to hopefully unfog your faith. Just don’t underestimate the power of the samsaric emperor.

1. Consider learning Tibetan. A handful of top quality learning centers located in Dharamsala, Darjeeling and Kathmandu are churning out superlative scholars. The demand for good translators is huge now, and there’s funding for this. For more info, check out the Khyentse Foundation or the Tsadra Foundation.

2. Arm yourself with a strong gut. Depending where you are in India, medical attention can be woefully zip. Before you come, load up on probiotics, get healthy. Bring lots of Huang Lian Su, a Chinese natural remedy that’s a particularly effective form of goldenseal root and rids the body of parasites, bacterial infection, dysentery, etc.

3. Get ready to look like Darth Vader. Before you leave home, invest in a high quality face mask filter. Air pollution in India, Nepal, China and Bangladesh is rated the worst in the world. They burn coal, plastic, diesel and dead bodies here—so protect your lungs. Here’s a good one.

4. Drop your expectations. This seems obvious, in theory. I know a guy who searched through four Asian countries for the perfect meditation place, each site seeming noisier than the next.

5. Beware of overly friendly hungry ghosts with hidden agendas. A number of people are out to con you here. They take any form. They could be mothers with babies who just want you to buy milk (“No money, just milk!”), train conductors who want a tip for their trouble, taxis and touts who claim the Foreign Tourist Bureau office has relocated. Sometimes they even wear monk’s robes. Stay alert and mindful, even while tired and overwhelmed.

6. It’s not as cheap as it used to be. The cost of living is rising in Kathmandu and Delhi, while the quality of life is decreasing. Why? Overdevelopment at the speed and finesse of a jackhammer. Plus, dharma is expensive. In Kathmandu and Delhi, room rentals seem to increase by 25%-50% each year. Prices are bit more stable outside the major cities. Here’s a helpful site showing cost of living and prices of stuff, anywhere in the world.

7. Take lung imbalance seriously. The winds in our channels are subject to imbalance, nowhere more so than when we uproot our lives and practice like there’s no tomorrow. Left unchecked, it can become dangerous and lead to a psychotic episode. If you have trouble sleeping or suffer from anxiety, please see a Tibetan doctor. They’re experts on this type of thing.

8, Keep a clear motivation. Finally, the most important thing is this: Recall why you’re doing all this. If you can stretch your view beyond your own present life, and see how whatever you do can improve the lives of others, you’ll always be on the right track.


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Author: Cece Anna Lee

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikipedia



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