Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life on a Spiritual Path
A watershed moment in my journey took place while I was sitting in a biology class during my science degree. Looking through a microscope, I was struck by the order of everything in nature, even the smallest cells. I concluded that life could not happen by chance, but had to be by design. I tried to find out who this creator was.
I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people about different ways of living. It was finally by reading the Bible that I understood that the Christian god was my creator. Seeking evidence for the first time persuaded me that Jesus was God in the flesh.
At this point in my life, I always wanted to do things my way. Therefore, my life remained a mess. I was depressed and even though I tried to live my life on my terms, I couldn’t achieve fulfillment
I longed for.
There is a verse in the book of Jeremiah that says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future. Ultimately, surrendering to the truth by faith changed my life.
It opened up opportunities for me to start a business, do humanitarian work, mentor young businesswomen, foster children and, in my 40s, take on my best role yet – becoming a mother. I was confirmed in my church in 2008. In a way, I see this relationship with Jesus as a marriage, and I wanted to make public vows of faith in front of my family and friends. On one of my trips to serve in orphanages in Africa, my mother gave me a card that said, “To my daughter, who never wanted to be a stupid Christian.
However, life is not always easy. I face a lot of struggles. I nearly went bankrupt, had my heart broken, and lost loved ones. But when I go through difficult times, it’s wonderful to know that God is there to guide me.
“I thought the life of a nun would be ideal”
Ayya Yeshe, 44, is the founder of Bodhicitta Dakini Monastery in Tasmania. She became a Buddhist nun at the age of 23 and set out to live the monastic life on her own terms.
“I was born in the Snowy Mountains into a Catholic family. I was only 14 when my father died, and it diminished my faith in God. I looked at the world and asked, “What is God doing? A year later, I left home and became a street kid, couchsurfing in hippie communities and hanging out with spiritual seekers. In 1994, I went to Nepal with a group of friends and that’s how I discovered Buddhism.
The teachings made sense to me and I ended up living in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for a year, learning meditation. This period gave me great insight into how I could live a life without suffering.
When I came back to Sydney I decided I had to be responsible and got a job with an insurance company. Simultaneously, I helped a lama run his Buddhist center and volunteered as a counselor at Kings Cross Wayside Chapel. After four years, I realized that being of service to others made me happier than any materialistic gain.
At 23, inspired to embody Buddhist teachings, I was ordained a Buddhist nun. I thought life as a nun would be ideal, but soon after, I had a rude awakening. As a nun, I received less support than monks, had less access to resources, and was responsible for living in the temple, while Tibetans stayed for free. As a Westerner, I found this unacceptable and decided to go my own way as a nun.
Cut off from my tradition and its support, I slept with friends and in my car, and was sometimes homeless. Yet, I volunteered and taught meditation in prisons, rehabilitation centers and schools, and this service made me realize that my personal suffering was small in comparison.
Five years later I traveled to India for further education and in 2009 I settled in Nagpur in central India where I met an amazing group of Buddhists. There I became involved with the Dalits, the lowest social caste in Hindu culture. In response to their needs and social justice, I created the Bodhicitta Foundation which, for 10 years, has been helping 2000 people a year to get out of poverty and inequality. We provide job training for women, a girls’ home supporting education and a haven from child marriage, sponsor 55 children in school and prepare 6,000 meals a year for undernourished children.
To raise funds for the charity and support myself, I lived as a wandering monk with my alms bowl, depending on the generosity of others for offerings of food and money. This way, I was invited by apparent strangers, now friends, to teach or attend a fundraising dinner, which worked out surprisingly well.
For me, commitment to justice is what love looks like in public, and inner peace and contemplation is how it is maintained. I find this well-being through the silence in nature. After saving for 20 years, I recently purchased land in a World Heritage forest in Tasmania and started my monastery for western monks and lay people to come and reconnect with the simplicity and sacredness of nature.
This life is hard and wonderful in equal measure. I felt quite lonely and lived on less than minimum wage, but the reward is that I wake up and feel peace and joy and know that I have lived according to my highest ideal : Compassion.
“It was radical and I lost a lot of friends”
Lila Elizabeth Knights, 44, is a yoga teacher from Sydney who transitioned from a conservative Christian background to a Hare Krishna nun.
“When I discovered Buddhism in college in my early twenties, I became a vegetarian and started meditating. I took my first yoga class at 26 while living in a resort town. Isolated skiing in Canada simply because there wasn’t much else to do in the summer, I was hooked very quickly.
Two years later, back in Sydney, my yoga teacher introduced me to a man who simply asked, “Are you happy?” Even though I had everything I needed to be happy, deep down I didn’t.
Overnight, I gave up drugs, alcohol, and men, moved into the Govinda Valley Yoga Ashram, and became a Hare Krishna Vedic nun. It was drastic and I lost a lot of friends, even family members. For three years I barely saw my dad and sister, but my mom loved it and volunteered every weekend.
Becoming a nun was unintentional. It happened without my realizing it. These years were peaceful and I received wonderful advice from the teachers. Life at the ashram involved early mornings, starting at 4:30 a.m. with four hours of yoga, meditation, chanting, and scripture study before breakfast. There wasn’t a day off or a chance to sleep in. Spiritual work is never easy, but I loved it. I also completed yoga teacher training.
I still remember my first Kirtan, a kind of call and response song. Standing in a temple with a group of Indians chanting in ancient Sanskrit, my conservative upbringing should have rebelled, but it didn’t. I felt at home.
As a nun, I never intended to own property, get married or have children. However, three years later, suffering from glandular fever, I received a call from my yoga teacher trainer, who invited me to Byron Bay to rest. After two weeks, he offered me a job. I felt it was time to reenter the world and make some money, so I agreed.
The first day I was there I met a man named Mal, and although I was still very attached to being a nun, he pursued me with great determination and we slowly started to see us. We finally moved in together, and after five years he proposed. I said no because I had no desire to go through with a wedding, but we compromised by getting engaged. We bought a house and had two children, my daughter Tahlia when I was 35 and my son Taj when I was 40. Unfortunately, Mal and I weren’t a couple forever.
Now I’m obsessed with everything baby. I teach prenatal yoga and lead fertility empowerment classes to break the taboo around menstruation. I found my dharma, or life purpose, later in life, but had to go through some strange experiences for it to become clear.
To know more about Sunday life magazine, Click here.
Get the most out of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Receive it in your mailbox every Monday.