Today marks the UN International Youth Day, and in just a few days, on 15th August, is India's Independence Day. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to speak directly to the young people of India, who have not only an important role to play in directing the future of their nation, but in the future of our world. Here is the message:
You are part of the world's largest youth population. There are over 356 million of you in India who are between 10-24 years of age. India is fortunate to have you, for you are a great source of Inner Wealth, and a wonderful resource for this great nation.
I am still learning the ways of the world, and don't have much to offer, but nevertheless through studying, learning, contemplating and drawing from my spiritual background, I have come to understand key elements in life. As a spiritual leader, I haven't had the opportunity to learn directly and gain experience like many of you, but through this spirituality I have come to understand that the teachings of Buddha, like all of the great beings that have existed in the world, have so much to offer. This is timeless advice that really works - it worked 2550 years ago, and it continues to work today. Therefore, I feel very confident that the thoughts that I share will be of benefit to you.
The world is looking to you
From my own background in Tibet, the great thinkers, philosophers and leaders were all individuals who were older than you or me. When we think of leaders, we tend to think of elderly individuals. But now, when we look at our 21st Century era, more and more responsibility has somehow fallen on your young shoulders. This is a big challenge. Believe it or not, the whole world is looking to you, the youth. They are expecting a great deal from you, that you will bring a lot of positive effects to society, whether it is for solutions to climate change, poverty or other global issues. They are counting on you to make a lot of positive outcomes. Fortunately, in India, there is great hope.
In the age of information that we are living in, you have an abundant source of knowledge, which will be essential for you to become responsible and provide what your fellow Indians and the world needs from you. You have a great luxury of opportunity. Now it is up to you to choose what you do with it.
A wealth of compassion and wisdom
I feel that the teachings of Buddha can help in this regard - in particular the teachings about accumulating and cultivating a certain type of wealth: Inner Wealth. Inner Wealth is a term used to describe your innate values of compassion and wisdom. Compassion and wisdom might seem to belong to spirituality and have nothing to do with wealth. However, we are so used to connecting wealth to material resources that we have lost sight of its relevance for other things like loving kindness and other non-material values. As a result, such values can become neglected.
The term 'wealth' is not really used in Buddhism, but I think that by connecting Buddhist philosophy with your everyday needs and ideas, it could be of great benefit.
Drawing from Buddhist teachings, we can see a bigger picture of wealth and how to cultivate, maintain, sustain and share it.
The confusion around Material Wealth
In today's era, there seems to be a great focus on Material Wealth, that is financial and other material resources, and in many cases there is confusion about what is really of value in life. Perhaps this is something you can relate to?
For you, the immediate impression you might have of wealth is related to Material Wealth, simply because, with a rising population, there is a greater need for material resources. Therefore, your mind focuses on Material Wealth, starting from basic survival needs, getting the air, food, water and shelter that you need. But once your basic survival needs are met, the idea of wealth becomes broader - you might focus on what you 'want,' rather than what you 'need.' Because of this, and the widespread emphasis on material resources in society, there is a risk that you become confused, and lose sight of the other types of wealth that exist, and what their purpose is.
Having food but still feeling hungry
You might try to extract what you can from material wealth to fulfil the general wishes of society, but somehow you may still feel unfulfilled, unsatisfied, sometimes even confused that this does not bring lasting happiness. This is completely natural, because everything in the material world is temporary by nature, lacking in some way - so there will always be this feeling of being unfulfilled if you solely focus on material resources.
So, you may have the conditions to live, there might be food on the table, but you might still feel hungry, unfulfilled. Therefore, there is more and more unrest. Without compassion and wisdom, you could have an abundance of Material Wealth but there will always be this risk that we feel unfulfilled, which can lead to more confusion, agitation and can disturb the mind.
Of course, I live in a material world, but I am not an expert on material matters - others will be able to better explain these issues. In any case, I do feel that compassion and wisdom are essential. Inner Wealth is a crucial type of wealth that is needed in this life - that is, if you wish to feel fulfilled, if you wish to feel whole.
Inner Wealth is needed to survive
There is a great need to have an awareness and understanding of Inner Wealth, and then to practice it.
Inner Wealth is not something foreign to you - from the moment of birth, the experience of compassion and wisdom has always been there, from the first moments in your life, from your relationships with parents, guardians or friends - these are the first things that you faced. If there is no compassion and wisdom, there is no life. You cannot survive without love. In this way, Inner Wealth is a basic human need, just like air, food, water and shelter.
If you think about what it would be like to live with no compassion and wisdom, or in simpler terms, no care and understanding, the will to live would slowly reduce to a point where it is very difficult to survive. When there is more and more care and understanding, even in the face of material poverty, we can see many cases where people living in these circumstances are able to live, continue, and go on in their life. This is because, when there is Inner Wealth, when there is still care and understanding, wisdom and compassion, you can live on and make the best use of this precious human life. As I said, when there is Material Wealth alone, you may feel lonely and lacking, and you may not have the same will to live on.
My experiences of Inner Wealth in Tibet
In my childhood back in Tibet, the majority of people lived in material poverty. But I remember that the hermits and farmers lived a very content life - they were able to make the best use of whatever life had to offer, and to be content with it. They were, through the influence of Buddhism and other factors, able to tap into their innate qualities such as compassion and wisdom. Somehow, they were able to cultivate this - even in the face of material poverty, they could live a peaceful life. They still toiled hard and went through everyday challenges, as you no doubt will as well. But while they were materially poor, they were non-materially wealthy.
The key to contentment
Inner Wealth is within each and every one of you. In my few years of travel around the world, and the people I have met, I can see that year by year there is a growing unrest due to a lack of Material Wealth. But I have also seen instances of happiness, joy in the face of material poverty, even when people cannot feed their own children. How is this possible? Why are they still able to express contentment? When I ask myself this question 'why?', I can see that it is because of their spiritual practice or due to their cultivation of compassion and wisdom. In some ways, it becomes their hero, their saviour. I believe your Inner Wealth can become your hero too.
Care and compassion are not nice-to-haves. They are essential. The practice of compassion and wisdom is at the core of Buddhist thought, but I feel that these are of great benefit for all of you, regardless of your background or beliefs.
Take some time out
If you take some time out of your busy days to focus on what Buddha has taught, you will see that the ideas seem very familiar. Of course, Buddha gave birth to Buddhism in India, and his teachings have thrived for many centuries. Buddhism is a part of Indian culture, and you will see many similarities to the great philosophers of India. So please, take a bit of time, maybe once or twice a week to begin with, and think about what Buddha was saying, how he lived his life back then. You don't have to shave your head and wear a robe! Just focus on how he came to be and how his teachings flourished to various nations around the world. Focus on the 'why?'
The future is yours - be an example of contentment
So, stay curious. Think bigger than Material Wealth alone. There are great riches inside of you. If you can invest in your Inner Wealth, I think it could really help you lead by example, and live up to the responsibility that has been placed on your shoulders. The future of the nation, and in many ways, the future of the world is influenced by the choices that you make now.
India is a large nation, a great nation, and a wonderful example to others around the world. On this UN International Youth Day, and as we approach India's Independence Day, may you set an example of how to live with contentment. May you fulfil your responsibility. May you reflect on the timeless teachings of Buddha, and cultivate your own and each other's Inner Wealth.