Outbound Collective logo

An Indian Adventure: Wisdom from the Dalai Lama

Like all good stories, there are ups and downs, triumphs and challenges, and, most importantly, a good plot. In other words, the main character must have a purpose. Without a purpose, there is no storyline; without a storyline there is no story, just a bunch of jumbled pieces and parts that lead nowhere.

By: Maggie Donohoo + Save to a List

For this adventure, I felt the best way to begin would be with a story. I am someone who learns best through visuals, so as you read, I encourage you to try to paint a picture in your mind and guess what the overarching themes might be.

Once, there was an old man. He was in his 80's, his body was tired and worn, and his youthful spirit had faded. He had been a carpenter in his youth and resented the toll it took on his body. It made him grumpy. Every day, the old man would follow the same routine, breakfast at 6, read at 9, go for a walk outside at 1, dinner at 4 and bed at 6. 12 hours awake and 12 hours asleep; perfect balance, perfect harmony.

One day, a bird came to the man during his walk outside. The bird was beautiful, green with vibrant orange feathers, and sang a pleasant tune that was as gentle as the breeze. The man liked the bird's beautiful coat; it was nice. He liked the bird's pleasant tune; it was also nice. The man sat peacefully, watching and listening for many hours until it was time for dinner, promising the bird he would come back again tomorrow.

The next day, the old man returned to the same spot, the bird did too. This time, however, the bird's green coat was matted, and his orange feathers were dull and stringy. The bird, despite his weathered appearance, began to sing his pleasant tune, but the old man was unsatisfied. He didn't like how the bird looked; it was not so nice. The man decided that the solution was to close his eyes. With his eyes closed, he could still hear the sweet music and could imagine the bird of yesterday, a prettier version than the one he saw.

On the third day, the man and the bird met again at the same spot. This time, however, the bird's voice matched his tattered appearance; it was sharp and unpleasant. The man didn't like how the bird looked or sounded; they were both not so nice. So, the man decided that the solution was to close his eyes and cover his ears. With his eyes closed, he could imagine a prettier bird. With his ears covered, he could imagine a prettier tune.

On the fourth day, the bird didn't come at all. Perhaps the old thing has finally died, thought the man. He smiled. Now I don't have to cover my eyes and ears from its ugliness. Just then, the breeze picked up and became violent. The old man fell off the bench he had been resting on and hit his head on the pavement.

Several hours later, the man woke up in a hospital, alone. He didn't have anyone to visit him. His wife was dead, and his children lived far away. The old man became very lonely, until one day the nurse decided to open the window. Perhaps the warm breeze will bring him happiness, she thought.

The man stared out into the world. He realized then that karma had come for him. I've thought terrible things about my only friend and now I am alone. Just then, the bird flew in through the window and landed on the old man's foot.

"Old friend," the man proclaimed with tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry for wishing bad things upon you."

The bird turned his head to the side and appeared to be smiling at the old man. Suddenly, the bird's faded feathers became clean and vibrant again, he began to sing his sweet tune. The old man had been forgiven and his goodness had restored the birds' youthful spirit.

Last year, shortly after completing my undergraduate degree, I traveled to India with the intention of exploring Buddhist principles, creating new relationships and learning about a vastly different culture than my own. I have been on a personal quest these past couple of years to find what it is that makes me happy. I am a strong believer that every 20-something must go through this ‘transformation' of sorts, not so much a transformation in the eyes of others, but rather in our own eyes. What I mean by this is that we must decide what it is that matters to us, who we want to be and what we want to spend our lives doing.

So, I packed my bags, secured my airline ticket and readied myself for a new adventure. My plane landed in Delhi, home to the capital of India and over 16-million people. The dense city life was quite interesting to witness firsthand. Rickshaws, three-wheeled, small-motor vehicles, clanked and thumped along the dusty roads. Street vendors shouted bargains, pushing their products, handmade clothing and shoes, into my hands, insisting they had the best prices in all of India. Buy here beautiful woman they would say with smiles and friendly gestures.

Despite my intrigue and desire to explore more of the city, Delhi was experiencing a major heat wave. The temperature was well over one-hundred and climbing, so I followed the Ganges River north to Rishikesh, one of India's holiest cities. Located at the base of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is known around the world for its' outstanding yoga and meditation classes. It was here that I would make my first few local friends, adapt to the Indian culture, cuisine, and customs, and begin to uncover the secret to happiness.

The course I enrolled in was called Introduction to Yoga. I figured that having no prior experience, this would be the perfect place to begin. My guru, a term that means the one that dispels the darkness and takes towards the light, would be my spiritual teacher for the week, teaching me the basics of yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. She was a middle-aged woman, petite and uplifting. She moved with a certain grace, placing each foot carefully in front of her as if it was meant to be there, like it had a divine purpose. It was one of those rare instances where I witnessed someone who just breathes life into the world.

Ms. Guru covered topics such as being present and hyperaware of your emotions, releasing stress and anxiety, and practicing proper posture and breathing techniques. Prior to this experience, I was unaware of how all-inclusive yoga is, with equal attention placed on your outer body and inner mind. Yoga and meditation are enlightening experiences that I encourage everyone to try at least once. These are simple ways to refocus your attention on what matters most, clear your mind and move your body.

After a week in Rishikesh, I continued on to Dharamshala. Located in the northernmost region of India, it is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. To explain, up until 1949, Tibet was an independent Buddhist nation in the Himalayas. In 1950, communist China invaded, destroying thousands of monasteries and causing the death of over 1.2 million natives. Today, those that remain have been stripped of their freedom and many are forced into labor camps. Those that have managed to escape have sought refuge in Dharamshala, making it one of the few places in the world that you can still experience the beautiful Tibetan culture and their unique teachings.

I spent a week living with a Tibetan non-profit whose mission is to provide a platform for education, raise cultural awareness and impart Tibetan values on the world by inspiring people to practice peace, harmony and, most importantly, compassion. Along with the traditional meditation and language classes, there were dance and musical offerings, which drew a variety of visitors from around the world. My favorite part of the trip, however, was my visit to Tsuglag Khang, the Dalai Lama’s main temple known for its’ ornamental prayer halls and breathtaking mountaintop locale.

I wrote the short story above to demonstrate one of the main lessons I learned from the monks who lived there: all of the happiness one finds in the world comes from wishing happiness for others. This proverb is essentially saying that the key to happiness is to put positivity into the world and be kind to others. The old man in the story represents the outcome of facing many hardships in life, how they can take a toll on your mind, body, and spirit. If you are not mindful and at peace with your situation, it is easy to become bitter and angry. It can seem challenging to choose happiness sometimes, especially if you are facing disappointment, failure or loss, but the key is to find your purpose in life.

Being a writer, I like to visualize my own life as a story with many chapters, footnotes, side notes, and even things written between the lines. Like all good stories, there are ups and downs, triumphs and challenges, and, most importantly, a good plot. In other words, the main character must have a purpose. Without a purpose, there is no storyline; without a storyline there is no story, just a bunch of jumbled pieces and parts that lead nowhere. For most of us, our purpose might change as we grow and mature, that’s okay. What is important is making each moment count, showing kindness to others and being the best you, you can be. So, I will leave you with a question.

What kind of story are you going to write?

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


Big Bend Bound: Crafting Your 3-Day Adventure

Erin Newman-Mitchell

Outdoor-Inspired Cocktails for Every Season

Noël Russell

A golden happy hour on the California coast

Hannah Sibley

Lake Tahoe's trifecta: 3 Days of adventure at Zephyr Cove

Ranz Navarro

10 Ways to make camping in Yosemite National Park even better

Meghan White