When I ran away from home nearly 15 years ago, I never would have imagined I would be creating Buddhism inspired children’s books. To be honest, I always hoped I would be working as side kick to Indiana Jones or James Bond.
Looking back though, it all somehow makes sense. So many of my experiences have perfectly prepared me to be doing what I’m doing now. So many of the hardships I’ve overcome have empowered me to create a brand and products with the intent of empowering others.
Although it’s pretty difficult to find the positive when being forced into labor at a run down bus side hotel in Jordan, the result may just be an “8 Fold Path” inspired interactive coloring book for kids.
How Did All This Start?
To understand the origins of Backpack Buddha and Buddha Bear, we have to go back, way back.
When I was younger, I often hung out at my Great Uncle Bonchan’s house. Every weekend he would host dozens of Soka Gakkai practitioners. We would chant, Namyohorengekyo, over and over. Afterwards, Bonchan, in his Japanese accented English, would depart his always wise words of Buddhist wisdom. While I often couldn’t truly appreciate or understand what he was talking about, these powerful Buddhist concepts became ingrained within me.
Servitude In Amman, Jordan
Cut to July, 2004. After a failed attempt to snatch my passport back, and leave the hotel without paying, I found myself in the managers office with a police officer. There, I was sentenced to 1 month of unpaid work for my crime, a sentence that felt more like 1 year at age 16.
At first, the only thing on my mind was getting my passport back and escaping. The first night I tried to pick the lock to the safe behind reception. For a week this continued. But each time that blinding god awful fluorescent hospital light would flicker on and catch me. I resigned myself to my sentence.
It was over the next few weeks that I adopted a monk like mindset. I realized I had two choices. I could either choose to suffer or choose to thrive. I chose the latter. I cleaned each room and toilet to perfection, and in doing so cleansed and concentrated my mind. I carried bags to the bus station with great care and efficiency, and garnered reputation as well as good tips. I ate hummus and pita 3 times a day with gratitude, and gained an appreciation for all food that wasn’t hummus and pita. Despite the constant food poisoning induced diarrhea, I kept my chin up, and my Buddhist ideals close to heart.
Through this experience and many others like it during my year on the run without money, I unexpectedly comprehended and adopted many of the Buddhist lessons imparted by my Great Uncle Bonchan.
Buddha Bear’s Enlightenment Coloring Book
With the success of my Everyday Enlightenment journal, I knew I wanted to make some kind of kids version. One day I noticed that celebrated author and cartoonist Guy Gilchrist had tagged my company, Backpack Buddha, in an Instagram post. I was thrilled that he liked my products, and decided to message him.
I told him I wanted to create a character that like me, learned and harnessed Buddhist concepts as they traversed the world. I wanted to create something that would, like my Uncle Bonchan for me, positively influence the emotional and spiritual growth of children and young adults. In no time, Guy sketched out a rough drawing of Buddha Bear, and some of Buddha Bear’s potential friends.
With decades of experience, Guy decided that the best way to test a new children’s book series was by starting with a coloring book. Alas, Buddha Bear’s Enlightenment Coloring Book was born.
As it turns out, writing any book for kids isn’t easy. Trying to incorporated concepts from Buddha’s 8 Fold Path into language that kids would comprehend, was even harder. But thanks to the writing expertise of Guy, we made it happen. Today, Buddha Bear’s Enlightenment Coloring Book is beginning to pop up in small book shops around the country.
I’m exceptionally proud of this endeavor, and grateful to Guy, my printing team in Nepal, and everyone who helped bring Buddha Bear to life.
The Lesson Learned
Whether you find yourself in a terrible job or cleaning toilets at a hotel in Jordan, your experiences now may have the potential to translate into a future you would never expect.
Whether that future is as a children’s book creator, or as a sanitation worker is up to you.
Fortunately, we all have the power to choose how we emotionally and spiritually manage and respond to hardship.
Take the bad and the good, and even the diarrhea, and choose to experience it all will gratitude, cause life is short, and possibilities endless.
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