Bridget Fitzpatrick has written a dissertation titled “Diversity in Practice: Place making among Sinhalese and Americans at the Washington Buddhist Vihara.” She is a writer living is Arlington, Virginia. She can be contacted at b.fitzpatrick@erols.com

It is fitting that in a world of mobile phones, portable computers, and other devices designed for living-on-the-go, a teacher who calls himself “the wandering monk” has emerged as an inspiring guide for many around the globe. Bhante Y. Wimala travels the world, going to places where people are suffering, to teach and practice ‘compassion in action.’ Through his travels, he has come to recognize the universality of spiritual longing and discovered shared insights into the causes of life’s dilemmas. His teachings are based on Buddhist principles but, as the Dalai Lama observes in the forward to Wimala’s book, “he presents the teachings the Buddha gave over 2,500 years ago as if they had been given to address the needs of people today.” In Lessons of the Lotus: Practical Spiritual Teachings of a Traveling Buddhist Monk, Bhante Wimala offers practical methods for dealing with problems of daily life, recognizing that inner suffering is linked to global suffering in the form of poverty, violence, and environmental degradation, to bring peace to the world, he suggests, each of us has to change.

Wimala’s lessons in ‘practical spirituality’ include seemingly simple advice: Make a conscious choice each morning to enjoy the blessings of the day. Set aside time to rest your mind to make your life less chaotic, become aware of the simplest steps you can take to become more comfortable, and to increase the comfort of those around you, given the circumstances in which you find yourself. And practice meditation-focus on the breath to calm yourself, then pay attention to the mind and observe how unconscious, mechanical reactions cause you to suffer. Instead, cultivate awareness and understanding, as the mind becomes less mechanical and more reflective, he explains, you can begin to act in ways that are less harmful, less selfish, more humble, and more compassionate.

Each year dozens of community groups and religious organizations (many of which are non-Buddhist) from around the world invite Bhante Wimala to speak on meditation, world peace, Buddhism, and ‘evolutionary consciousness.’ Through the Center for Conscious Evolution (established in 1988), Wimala leads a network of people dedicated to building a better world by building better individuals. Him main activity, however, is traveling. At the age of twenty-two, this Theravada monk completing his training at the Bhikkhu Training Center, Maharagama, Sri Lanka left his motherland, inspired by curiosity in other religions, and traveled for two years as a ‘seeker’ in India and Nepal. Since then he has traveled to such far-reaching places as Mongolia, Mozambique, Peru, and Czech Republic. With funding from students and friends, he helps bring health care and education to those in need, especially women and children. On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, he set up scholarships for fifty children who had lost fathers in the war, and provided prostheses for victims of land mines.

The suffering of the world can often seem daunting, Wimala acknowledged in recent issue of “the Center for Conscious Evolution Newsletter:”

We are easily overwhelmed and even become numb, unable to take in the magnitude of the problem. But if we are to be concerned citizens of the world we have to find ways to think positively in the face of such tragedy. We must search for ways to be of help. Sometimes that can be accomplished if one can find even a single read person to reach out to. It keeps the problem real, more personal and prevents being hopelessly confounded by the enormity of the problem (“Compassion in Action,” Volume 10, Summer 2000).

 Bhante Wimala believes that suffering and injustice are result of the fact that we are not in touch with what is happening in the world, and says, “we should all feel a bit responsible.” In an earlier issue of the “conscious Evolution Newsletter,” Wimala recalled how in October 1998 he was informed of a project to build an infant day care center at the Walikada Prison in Sri Lanka, to prison Welfare Committee lacked the funds to complete the project, so infants of female prisoners (many of whom had been convicted of minor infractions or simply lacked the money to pay fines or legal fees) continued to face the same conditions as convicted criminals. Upon witnessing nearly 500 women and children crowded into a facility designed for 150 women, Bhante recalled, ‘my heart went out to those infants and young children innocently caught up in this degrading situation.” As their awful plight began to sink in, he became indignant. “no child deserves to be subjected to this,” he thought. That night he slept fitfully and awoke determined to take whatever action was necessary, he cashed in his travelers, checks and borrowed money from his sister, confident that if he could restart the project additional funds would follow. He spent the day meeting with prison officials and legal advisors. Eventually he met with the Prison Welfare Committee and offered to fund the project on condition it be completed in a timely manner. By early 2000, the children and their mothers were living together is a safe, sanitary facility at the prison.

How often do we allow ourselves to be moved by the suffering of others, to feel a bit responsible? How often do we long for peace, but feel frustrated and powerless to change anything? Bhante Wimala suggests we take a lesson from the lotus, a beautiful blossom that grows in the murky waters of a marsh. Like the lotus, he says, we each have within us the power of transformation-the power to become a source of pure love and compassion, cultivated within but reaching beyond a world of pain and suffering. This is Wimala’s message and his mission: Change yourself and you just might change the world.