A Buddhist monk in the city of London

Let me start with a narration. It will take a while, so please do pause for a while and focus on reading till end. Otherwise come back another time. You will learn something valuable in this post.


I remember when I was a young Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka, we novices used to go to city malls once a month to get items like flip flops, notebooks, etc. By the way, they were not Harrods or Westfield.


In those shopping malls, besides going to the Chinese restaurants for a meal, we would also persuade our Shi Fu (master) to go to movie stores to get us some DVDs.


Because we were young monks and I guess like any young people in the world, we were fond of watching movies too. By the way, watching movies did not stop us from our meditations and studies.


One of those movies were “Kiss of Dragon” starring Jet Li. We would then debate over who is better – Jet Li or Jackie Chan. We even formed gangs supporting one or the other. Silly moments, but they were little, everyday, and stupid things that filled our fleeting days in the monasteries.


Time flew by. I went to Thailand to do my degree in the university. One of the lecturers introduced this term called “KISS”, meaning “Keep It Simple and Stupid”. I thought it was an interesting term – with a simple message.


Okay why am I sharing this story with you?


Because I believe we can apply the same KISS principle in our Mindfulness practice too. How? Carry on reading.


Mindfulness, by definition, means “paying attention, being aware or conscious of, remembering and discerning.” The original term in Sanskrit is “Smriti” or in Pali “Sati”. Mindfulness, as philosophy and praxis, has it’s origin in the Buddhist monasteries and circles.


Yes – I admit it can be technical, but it also has a simplicity to it. Simplicity is the guiding theme in the whole Mindfulness practice. Life in the monastery was very simple. We were easily satisfied with whatever there was. No anxieties, no tensions. Well, apart from watching those martial arts films.


As a principle, Mindfulness became apparent to my chimpanzee brain – not in one go – but at several occasions while training as monk. Consciously or subconsciously, there were these little messages to “be mindful”. And my chimpanzee brain would resist it and would not get the meaning of it. Yes, I would get the technical meanings from the texts, but not the experiential knowledge. The master would repeat the message whenever I made a mistake or forgotten. That was my punishment in the form of reminder.


I did not realise for a long time that I was being trained in Mindfulness until I came to London to my degree. “Be mindful” was my Master’s last word, as I was leaving.


Like Tai Lung in that movie ‘Kung Fu Panda’, I was left to experience it for myself. It was up to me to find out the real meaning of Mindfulness.


I threw myself into the pits of lions, cheetahs, hyenas and wandering zebras in the chaotic jungle of London. A city that barely sleeps. With people walking over you on the tube stations. With zombie-like gatherings in pubs. With crowds of Arsenal Football fans murmuring slogans – “if you hate Tottenham hotspur clap yer hands”.


“Who am I? Where am I? What shall I do?” were my slogans in the middle of these. I even made a short film called “Freedom”. Here is it:



Then a gentle voice shimmering from deep within came to me and said “be mindful, be mindful of yourself and your visions.”


As I pondered over weeks, months, and years, the notion of Mindfulness became more and more apparent and became wonderfully relevant to my daily life.


I finished my Masters degree in Buddhist Studies. I volunteered in hospitals, schools and universities. I began to teach meditation and mindfulness. Started my own private practice. Went to a film school to explore my movie-making skills. Worked as supporting artist in blockbusters like Johny English 2 alongside Rowan Atkinson and 47 Ronin alongside Keanu Reeves.


I pretty much went for everything. Didn’t look back. I knew deep inside of me that I needed this breakthrough to come out from my own cocoon of ignorance. I realise that most of us suffer from not knowing and accepting the way things are. We are too busy being safe, being right, being good boy or girl, but deep inside of us we know there is an urge of exploring the world like a child we once were. Don’t you?


I began to accept the harshness of hyenas in the city and let go of the softness of monasteries in my head. Put my own rubber boots to protect the feet from getting injured from pebble. Open up to the challenges of the enemies (my own ignorance). I knew if I don’t do it myself, nobody will.


Now that I have come such a long way, I feel Mindfulness training was ‘the’ turning point. I now live each moment and day with such joy and freedom. I want to share this with rest of the world. That’s why I teach courses, workshops, retreats and work as a chaplain and Buddhist Faith-Advisor at Imperial College London. Part of what I do is investing in peoples’ success, helping people to help themselves and reach a state of balanced personal and professional life-style. My clients come from all walks of life: multi-millionaire business owners to doctors, nurses, consultants, therapist, film-makers, designers, engineers and so on. I feel extremely rewarded to be doing all these. Not in a selfish way, but to be able to contribute to the world in my little ways. And all of these positive changes in my personal and professional life took place in a way, because I followed this inner voice saying ‘be mindful, focus on your skills, and not my chimpanzee brain.’ And that’s so true.


So here’s what I want to share with you, folk.


It is not that difficult. You just need to believe in yourself. Find ways to work with your chimpanzee brain. Manage your emotions better. Meditate. Invest in your personal growth. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Get up when you fall. Take up new challenges. Go out there and do what you love doing most. Help others. Your life will change forever.


Of course, this will take sometime to manifest. It is – therefore – a life-time journey and investment. Keep moving forward and you will only get better at mastering life.


You may then ask. ‘But Karuna, how?’. Well, here’s a simple formula I used and still use: KISS principle.


K = Keep


No matter what you go through in life, keep faith in you, believe in yourself. Never lose sight of yourself, no matter what happened in the past, what went wrong. It doesn’t matter, because it is gone. Only you can save yourself, no one will. You are your own master. Keep it in your heart dearly, sacredly. Keep it wherever you go – at all times.


I = It


It represents your attention/focus. If your attention is on all the things that went wrong, then you are not valuing your gift. The gift of attention is given to all. I don’t have more gift of attention than you or anyone. We all equally have this by birth. Each one of us have this power. It’s just a matter of cultivating it and keeping it.


S = Simple


Simple is the best. Every great creations come from a simple concept. Great people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther king, Nelson Mandela and so on had a simple philosophy: to live for what you truly believe in and die helping others, making the world a better place. We can be inspired by their amazing legacy. However, there are everyday simple heroes too. You mum, dad, brother, sister, friend, a writer, scientist and so on. Sometime they can be your biggest source of inspiration. Keep it simple. Don’t look around outside to find that ‘out-of-touch’ hero. If you can’t find anybody, find that in yourself. Imagine a time when you overcame a difficult challenge in life and came out victorious. You can be your best hero. So, have a simple philosophy of your own.


S = Stupid


Fear, guilt and lack of confidence. Where do all these originate? It’s from the fear of looking stupid in front of others. That’s why we try so hard to look, speak, think perfect. But there is no such a thing as perfect. It’s rather proper to say ‘there is balance or proportionate.’ Why disappointment, anger, loneliness and depression arise? It’s because we are disproportionate to the natural way of being. We have fogotten to be natural anymore. Everyone dress, eat, drink, talk and act like the same. Looking perfect is a disease. We only have to look at WWII to remind ourselves what being perfect can harm to humanity. If you can’t handle being perfect, don’t do it. Look stupid and be true to yourself. People get to smile and have a jolly time. You don’t at least harm anyone. Most of the inspiring figures in my life such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, they are not perfect beings. But they are extremely humble. The reasons they are so transformational is because they talk very simple, silly, stupid and day-to-day things. You will be surprised how many people you can touch by just you being stupid, by being ego-less. Of course you are not being stupid in the sense that you are not intelligent. Of course you are much intelligent. It just means that you are humble enough to admit the truth and be normal human like anyone else. That frees the pressure and enjoy the fleeting moments that we have in this world.


Okay folks, I have written quite a lot today. You don’t have to believe or accept what I wrote. But if you find it useful, take it. Otherwise, throw it away.


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Keep It Simple and Stupid. No matter what you go through in life, keep faith in you, believe in yourself. Never lose sight of yourself, no matter what happened in the past, what went wrong. It doesn’t matter, because it is gone. Only you can save yourself, no one will. You are your own master. Keep it in your heart dearly, sacredly. Keep it wherever you go – at all times.

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