Barney Tong
Oct 28, 2015 · 3 min read

Indian Travels

At first it was an euphoric feeling. The wave of dopamine floods your ‘free’ mind, able to convince yourself that everything you do has a purpose. Then, the high puts you in a closed off emotional state, in your own little world, looking through rose tinted glasses, oblivious to the outside world.

That feeling pretty summed up my first year experience of university at UBC. A deceivingly positive state of living that was evidently toxic and harmful.

The break I took away from the academic world in 2009 was a much needed breather for me. For 15 years since the first day of nursery, I’ve been mindlessly attending school because I was told to. Following through the motions, climbing up the academic ladder year over year have only exhausted my inspiration and motivation. I needed to rediscover the purpose of the things I do on a daily basis that occupies a large chunk of my life. My mother recently went on a vacation to Himachal Pradesh, a northern India state near the foothills of the Himalayas. Perfect. This is my chance to hop out of the endless cycle of conformal educational to discover the world and more importantly, myself.

The experiences in India brought me back to earth. The cultural shock of travelling to a developing country opened my eyes to everything. To bluntly paint the picture, it is the first time where I saw a Bentley drive past a family who cannot even afford to purchase clothing. It made me question why things are the way they are. It reignited the fire of curiosity I once had as a little child. Till this day 6 years later in 2016, I still see that very same fire burn ferociously.

In the first month of the trip, we travelled to Dharamsala, a remote town that’s a 10 hour bus ride north of New Delhi. It is a town that is populated with Tibetan refugees who fled in 1959 during the cultural revolution. I was lucky enough to have met the 17th Karmapa (2nd spiritual leader in line after the Dalai Lama) during a private audience meeting at Gyuto, his home monastery. Initially, I wanted to seek wisdom and advice regarding my realisations of the “wrong path” I was taking with my university career, and ultimately, with my life. I came out of the private audience that lasted 20 minutes and was offered a position to help with the graphic designs for an upcoming annual Buddhist gathering named Monlam. It was a privilege to work on a graphics that was distributed and seen by more than 10,000 people.

What an experience it was. I ended up staying in India for 8 months while working on the Monlam project. I got to travel across the country and experienced a wide range of the Indian culture. From hikes in the Himalayas, to the casual strolls along the Gages River, my perspective on the world has broaden my knowledge horizon many folds. Monlam took place in Bihar, an eastern state that is the home of the Bodhi tree Buddha attained enlightenment 2600 years ago. The historical significance helped me discover my sense of place. It helped me gain a perspective of the roots and bred my sense of cultural identity. Imagining how the times were like a couple thousand years ago allowed me to trace back time in a linear fashion and see the progression of society in a holistic view.

Monlam taught me to trust the journey of self realisation. It taught me to gather the courage to take a path that may not be often taken because the results are unknown. You will only know the unknown if you face the dim lit future with conviction. I took these lessons and brought it back to the North American society and attempted to integrate the new fond motivation and inspiration I procured. Till this day, it requires concious effort to mindfully reflect on my education in India, since our immediate surrounding influence us to loose grip of our experiences. But nevertheless, during the successful moments of contemplation, the fire inside me that was rekindled in India brings meaning and purpose to the work I choose to do.


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Barney Tong

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