Ep 1: Balancing Contentment & Ambition (Ft Tan Chade Meng)

Published on Mar 4, 2022

Kai Xin 0:05

Contentment and ambition.

When you hear these two words, they don’t quite go very well together. Can a person who is truly contented, be ambitious at the same time? And can an ambitious person be contented?

This is a topic that is very interesting for us to explore. Because I personally know of many people with this dilemma, you might resonate with this too. On one hand, you feel like you’re not striving enough for material success. On another hand, you also note that that’s going to bring you a lot of stress. And maybe you should just accept things as they are. But would that make you a complacent person? Does it mean that you’re not achieving your fullest potential? How can we find that sweet spot between striving and letting go?

I’m your host Kai Xin. And you’re listening to the handful of leaves podcasts where we bring you practical wisdom for a happier life.

Today, we are privileged to have a chat with Tan Chade Meng, one of the most ambitious person I know on the planet, and he will be sharing with us on the topic. You’ll listen to a lot of anecdotes from his time at Google to how he led the creation of the groundbreaking Mindfulness-Based emotional intelligence course at Google called Search Inside Yourself. Yes, you might have heard of this book. He is the author.

He is also an award winning engineer, movie producer and a philanthropist. Meng is known for his relentless effort in spreading kindness. He has delivered a TED talk on compassion at the United Nations, spoke about the development of kindness at the White House, and let mindfulness practice at the Vatican. A fun fact: The Dalai Lama gave him a hug for his 40th birthday. How cool is that? And President Carter once gave him a standing ovation. More impressively, he was nominated by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and seven others for the Nobel Peace Prize. And we are just scratching the surface, the list of accolades, achievements and track records for him is really long. And that goes to show that he is a very determined person with a lot of ambitions. So let’s hear from him.

Hi, good to see you, Brother Meng!

Chade Meng 2:28
Thanks for having me on the show.

Kai Xin 2:30
Likewise, we’re very thankful for you as well and very privileged to have you as our advisor and to be here for our very first episode of the podcast, programming. I know you as a very ambitious person, and also know you as somebody who evangelises mindfulness and meditation. And, you know, a very big part of meditation and mindfulness practice is to be contented, to see things as they are, and be at peace with it.

So I’m wondering, you know, in the fast-paced life, especially in Singapore, and all cities, people around us are always constantly striving for more. It is like this never an end to the rat race. And sometimes I myself would wonder, to what end do I need to strive hard in life to be successful, to accumulate wealth. And also on the other hand, knowing that if I’m contented, I might easily fall into complacency or become a blob. If I don’t plan for my future, I have no goals at all, and if I’m not determined to strive hard for anything, I might lead a very aimless and meaningless life. I’m personally curious to hear from you whether you think that contentment and ambition are on two opposite ends of the spectrum. How would you reconcile these two?

Chade Meng 3:49
Right. I understand a lot of people think they’re opposites. But I have the contrarian point of view. I think that they are not at odds with each other. They can be practised together. Contentment can be used as a source of power.

So let’s start by saying something about contentment.

First, contentment is not a behaviour. It is a state of mind. Meaning, that contentment does not mean doing nothing. Doing nothing is a behaviour instead it is a state of mind, which means that you’re contented whether you’re doing a lot or whether you’re doing nothing. You have the same state of mind. So keep that clear.

So, there are two questions actually for us to think about. One question is can contentment help ambition? The other question on the flip side is if you’re ambitious, does that hurt your spiritual practice?

So first answer is no. But again, not just ‘no’. Again, my view is contrarian, maybe. My view is that your ambition actually helps spirituality, not hinders. Helps.

Let me give you an example. The example is this person called Siddhartha. Siddhartha eventually became the Buddha. And this Siddhartha was very ambitious, right? He learned, for example, he learned from this the top teachers of his generation. Every time he does, he exceeds or equals his teachers, the teachers offered him the leadership of the community, he said, “no, I want to do better than that.”. And then when he exceeded both of his teachers, he wants to do the best he could do, in whatever he knew. Everybody assumes was working at that time, which was torturing yourself, which of course didn’t work. But he didn’t know at that time.

So, he practised and again, he did to his best. Everything he did, he did to his best, and because he wanted to achieve full enlightenment. That much ambition.

After he became the Buddha, same thing, the ambition didn’t hurt. Again, very ambitious. Before he died, he said he wants to form all four communities: communities of monks, nuns, male disciples, male lay disciples, and female lay disciples. And he wanted the Dharma to be solidly established around. And he sent his initial five monks, he sent in five different directions. They spread, and so on. Very ambitious.

Kai Xin 6:26
It’s interesting that you pointed the Buddha as an example, because I wouldn’t naturally associate him with an ambitious person. And he is very, very ambitious. Indeed, beyond the five ascetics, he also went around to many different cities and kingdoms to teach, and many people got enlightened. And it’s exactly because he was so ambitious and relentless in his efforts in teaching, and also his great compassion, that we have got beautiful teachings up to today.

Chade Meng 6:56
There’s something also surprising even to me, modern teachers, they always give you this, this same teaching. Or at least the teachers that I have, always say, have no ambition. Have no goals. Just sit. If you have a goal, if you have ambition. If you have desire, you don’t get Samadhi.

To write my most recent book, I read through all the suttas, the entire Pali canon. And in the Pali canon, there is a sutta the title is Chanda Samadhi sutta. It is the discourse on Samadhi due to desire. And the Buddha says, desire gets you to Samadhi. Like, what?

Kai Xin 7:43
Yeah, that goes against a lot of what modern teachers teach.

By the way, for listeners who are not familiar with the term Samadhi, it is a Pali term that is sometimes translated as one-pointedness or concentration. There isn’t really a best way to translate it, but if we have to simplify it, you can just think of undivided attention or a deep state of meditation.

Bro Meng, can you unpack for us, how does desire help us in meditation at all?

Chade Meng 8:13
There is a different word for desire and craving in Buddhism. It is very important. The Buddha says, suffering comes from craving. The word craving is the word “Tanha” in Pali, which literally means thirst, as in thirsty. The word for desire is a different word is Chanda and Chanda can be good or bad.

In this case, the Buddha was talking about good desire. And so he said that specifically, this desire for good qualities to arise and for unskillful qualities, to not arise.

What are skillful qualities? Love, compassion, kindness, peace, generosity and so on. And then, the desire for lust, greed, hatred, delusion, to not arise. And he said this desire plus the effort you put in to fulfil that desire, if you can do that, then you get Samadhi. And the Buddha said that is Chanda Samadhi, Samadhi that arises out of desire.

Therefore, I like to say that a lot of modern people have this misconception.

And the first misconception is that, if you have ambition, if you’re ambitious, you will not grow spiritually.

The second misconception is the reverse, which is that if you only grow spiritually, you cannot be ambitious.

I think both are wrong. If you have the right kind of contentment, then you’ll be successful. It grows your ambition. If the right type of ambition, you will grow your contentment, and the right kind of contentment is contentment based on Samadhi. And the right kind of ambition is the ambition for all things wholesome. And the Pali word is Kusala. These two work together, to reinforce each other. And that’s my view based on my understanding of the Buddhist suttas, and my own practice.

Kai Xin 10:20
Do you know of anybody who managed to balance these two: contentment and ambition, and lead their life in a skilful way?

Chade Meng 10:31
Yes. And I was thinking, instead of giving you a specific example, I want to give you a class of examples. There is a book, which I talked about in one of my books. The book is called “Good To Great”. This book started as a research project, they tried to figure out what makes the most outstanding leaders. They were like trying to figure out what makes organisation go from good to great. And they found that all these organisations have one thing in common, which is they have a certain type of leader.

And this type of leaders in the research, they call them level five leaders. The research team classifies leaders into five levels.

Level four leaders are outstanding, competent CEOs. These are people who can run companies.

Level five is even better than that. Level five leaders are level four leaders with two additional qualities. One is great ambition and the second is personal humility, in the same person.

This is highly related to the topic we’ve been talking about. How do you get great ambition and personal humility in the same person? And the answer is that these people, this whole class of leaders, they are all ambitious about one thing, which is the greater good. They’re not ambitious for their own glory, they’re ambitious to do something big for this organisation, for the world, and so on, whatever is greater than themselves. And first, that’s how they can be ambitious and humble the same time. And second, more importantly, that’s why they’re so effective. Because their mindset is very inspiring. If your leader is always, not just talking talk. It is genuinely trying to do the greater good, then you want to follow him, him or her.

Kai Xin 12:36
To add on, because I’m a fan of that book as well. The beautiful part about a level five leader is that even if he or she were to leave the company, the company would still be great without their existence. And this is beautiful, because it’s like leaving a legacy. And in Buddhism, we talk about being interdependent, and the concept of non-self meaning any success cannot be attributed to one person, but it’s a collective of causes and conditions coming together. I think that really builds, and adds, to the humility of a person.

So, as we talk about being ambitious for the greater good, I’m going to play a sceptic here. What if somebody is hired, and works in a large corporation or any company. Companies are usually driven by profits so that they can stay afloat and sustain their day-to-day operations. Even the most noble industry, like the medical industry, it is still going to be a little bit fuzzy when it comes to money.

How would you tell somebody who has no direct control over the kind of impact that they can create in their work? How would you advise them on how they should view their work?

Chade Meng 13:51

First, I’ll talk about something in general, then we will go to the specific.

So in my own life, and in my own career, there is a quote that comes back to me a lot. It’s a powerful quote. This quote was by Suzuki Roshi is a famous Zen master in America. He has a great sense of humour, he is always very funny. As usual in this case, he was presenting teaching in a way that is humorous. The story was that he was looking at his student in one of his talks, and he pointed to all them, and he said, “all of you, you are perfect, just as you are. And you can use some improvements.”

This moment, but I’m doing when that is perfect, just as it is, and I can do a lot more, and I should do a lot more.

Everything I just told you earlier, this was the quote that underlies it.

Applying to what you just said, the question is if you want to do good with wholesome intention, but your company doesn’t. Again, there’s a spectrum. Not all companies are evil, and not companies are angelic. They all exist in some part of the spectrum.

What do you do? The first thing for me is to recognise the difficulty. This is a difficult situation, and this is life. Life is not all nice and everything works out. In life, these situations occur all the time. And it’s tough. The reason to acknowledge this is so that you don’t beat yourself up. It is like whatever I do, I have done my best because this was the hand I was dealt. Why? Because this is life. That’s, that’s number one: acknowledge that this is hard.

Number two, for me, is to find a way to do good and for everybody to win at the same time. This doesn’t always work, but sometimes it works spectacularly.

I can think one example to me is inspiring. It came from Larry Page, who was the founder of Google. In the early days of Google, we did not have advertising. The reason is because, Larry, to his credit, he thinks that advertising is bad for the user. All he wanted to do is to do good for the world. And he said why do we want to do advertising? It is a distraction. So, he refuses to allow it.

However, we had no business model at the time. We didn’t know how to make a living. The other executives kept trying to convince him because otherwise you do survive as a company. And he kept saying no. Finally, there was a solution. The solution came from Larry clarifying what he wanted. He said the reason he didn’t want the ads because they create negative value for the user. And so he said, as if we can make ads useful, then he’d say yes. But it has to be useful for the user—adds positive value rather than negative value.

The engineers, to their credit, they figured it out. The answer is, ads that are relevant to your search. Because you’re searching for something anyway, the ads will be useful to you. So it’s a win-win for the user and for us. Later on, we didn’t know the time, it turns out that by doing that we earn a lot of money. Because we get a lot of click-throughs. So, this is an example of finding ways to do win-win. Even if you’re a junior position, in your situation, find ways to talk to the boss or the person in the next team or whatever. “How about this? How about this? This is why important to me. I know it’s important to you how, if we do this, we do good.” For in the end, we both do well also.

If not possible, then what?

The third thing is to minimise harm.

For me, at least, in my team, I don’t do harm, because my team is all I can control. That’s the third thing.

If they’re still fails, what to do? Find a new job. However, we know this really well, not everybody can find a new job.

If that still fails, what to do? Last resort is to use this as a practice. Try to do your best, see all the suffering that you’re experiencing and experience it as a practice.

Kai Xin 18:54
Thanks for those five tips, very helpful. I think it goes to show that in the process of trying to succeed in life and be ambitious, we don’t necessarily have to do so at the expense of others. We can find opportunities to add value to create those win-win situations like you’ve mentioned.

Another question. You mentioned that contentment is a mind state. But how can one know whether he or she is contented or just being complacent? Because the line is blurry.

Chade Meng 19:32
It depends on the situation. There are two answers.

The first answer is a test yourself. There is a saying in American Buddhism—if you think you are enlightened, just go back to your family for Christmas. Then see how enlightened you are. You go to the family gathering, your cousins, and your uncle and your parents, so on. Buay Tahan! All your initial enlightenment is gone. So, test yourself. That’s one.

Second thing, I think even more important, that is related to the first. If you’re not caring about other people’s suffering, then your practice is not there, no matter how “enlightened” you are. One way to look at it, if you’re contented, staying in a cave all day, every day, how about the suffering of all the people in the world? What are you going to do about it? “Nothing, I’m just going to stay in a cave all day.” That is the test, you just failed the test. All the enlightened people I’ve met, they’re motivated by two things. They’re motivated by peace, and compassion. They’re motivated, wanting to have that peace, or happy all the time and wanting to serve the greater good. And that is why, and I think you’ve seen this yourself, all the best teachers and the teachers you admire the most, they’re always very busy. Because they’re always teaching. I mean they don’t have to teach, they can always stay in a monastery or cave all day, and don’t come out. But they’re always serving. That’s how you know the difference between complacency and contentment.

Kai Xin 21:15
What I’m hearing is that for a person who is contented, it doesn’t mean that sit back, relax and do nothing. There’s a lot of active effort to serve, the community, to relieve suffering. And from my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong, being contented is about knowing that I’ve tried my best with all these active efforts and whatever I can control, I will do it. But whatever I can control, the result, then I would accept it. Is that how you would tell the listeners about contentment?

Chade Meng 21:50
Yes, and then I’ll go a little deeper. It’s not just about I’ve done my best is about this moment is perfect, just as it is. And I can do a lot more. That is contentment. Contentment is not one or the other. It is both: this moment is perfect, and you can’t get better than this. And we can improve a lot.

The second thing is, again, I agree with you and I, the analogy that I learned from my teachers, which I find very helpful, is that analogy of the good farmer. A good farmer does everything that he needs to do—till the soil, plant the seeds, but all that and so on and so forth. And then you say I’ve done everything I can do. And now I let nature take its course. Everything I do. I try to do that, I try to say I’ve done everything humanly possible. And whatever happens is beyond my control, I let nature take over. Why? Because this moment is perfect, just as it is.

Kai Xin 23:01
Nice. It’s just now you mentioned, being contented allows you to be a better meditator, you will have more Samadhi or and more Samadhi equals to success. I suspect some listeners might think I can barely squeeze out time to sit on a cushion for even 10 minutes. How am I supposed to meditate? And do I have to be contented to meditate? Or do I have to meditate to feel contented? Or do they feed on one another? So how would you explain this?

Chade Meng 23:38
The first thing I want to say is acknowledge is very hard. It’s very hard to sit for one hour is very hard. Actually, let me correct myself. To do is not hard. The hard part is to sustain it is that whatever practice you want to commit yourself to doing. It’s not hard, one hour a day, two hours no problem. The problem is after three days, can you still sustain it?

For me, I tried doing three hours a day, I could not sustain it beyond 40 days and 40 Nights. That was my limit. I know how hard it is.

First, acknowledge to yourself that it’s hard. If you have any doubt, if what I say means anything to you, I say it is very hard. Say ‘Chade Meng say one.’.

Given, it’s very hard, the advice that I give to everybody is to start with one breath a day. Because if I say ten minutes a day you can have, you can have valid excuses. Like I got no time and tired end of the day blah, blah, blah, blah. If I say one breath, you got no excuse. Take your proper meditation posture, do one in breath, one out breath. That’s it.

If you want to commit to anything, do that one thing. Then, anything you want in addition, is bonus.

Since I’m doing one breath, since I’m sitting down already, might as well do two more, two three breaths. Since I’ve done three, might as well do ten. Since I’ve done ten, might as well do two more minutes, and so on, but it’s okay if you don’t do those it is also okay. One breath.

My guess is that one breath a day, if nothing else, you will sustain it until you’re ready to keep adding again. I will also claim that one breath a day itself is already helpful. If you do that, put your full total but gentle concentration of one in breath and one out breath, just that one per day, that alone, I would guess that it will make a difference in your life already. Try that out.

If you do two minutes a day, I won’t guess, I will guarantee you, you will feel the difference in your life. You want a difference in your life? Try two minutes, see whether what I’m saying is true or not true. That’s my second thing I say.

First thing I say is, it’s very hard. Second thing, try one breath. If you can do two minutes, because two minutes, that is where you actually begin to experience a difference in your life. I can guarantee that it will make a difference in your life. Before that one way, I can guess it, but I can guarantee it. That’s the second thing.

The third thing I will say is, I can tell you a way that I thought it was going to work, but it didn’t work. Then, I’ll tell you two ways that I can guarantee it will work.

What is the way I thought would work, but it didn’t work? I thought it was joy. Remember, earlier I told you that in Samadhi you feel joy arising and feel body and mind. So, Kai Xin we did a class together, and you know that we can do this in eight hours. In an eight-hour class, you can learn to bring up joy on demand consistently.

I was under this illusion that if I teach everybody this technique, then they will do it daily because it’s joyful. Then, I realise how stupid I was as usual, it doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work, I realised this because the joy is not as intense, or was not as addictive as the joy that comes from other things such as playing video games. This joy you get from sitting and doing nothing is not addictive enough. That didn’t work. I mean, it still a good practice, but it didn’t fulfil my goal of getting people to have a sustained practice.

Now, I’ll tell you what I know guarantee will work, but I’m guessing you can’t do it. But based on the information, you can figure it out something that might work for you.

Two things, the first thing is to have a community, preferably live in the community, that practices a fixed amount of time a day. For example, if you live in a monastery, and the monastery every morning, they wake up the first thing they do is they meditate it for two hours. And before they sleep they meditate for an hour then it’s compulsory you must join, and you live there, then you got no excuse, I guarantee you will get your practice. But of course not everybody has that type of living arrangements. You can figure it out how to do it. One way is if you’re living with a friend, you can arrange your friends, or you can arrange doing online community and so on. Let me know how that works. If you try it.

The second thing I know guarantee will work is if you had to teach this. If you have to teach meditation, then you will be forced to practise it every day. Otherwise, very lao kui your students are better than you. Lao kui, pai seh. For those of you who are a fairly advanced in your practice, and you find that you cannot sustain. I recommend this to you. I recommend that you try teaching. Then your practice have the momentum, because you’re forced to.

Kai Xin 29:25
I’m thinking some listeners might think, ‘I can barely meditate. How am I qualified enough to teach other people?’. Here’s an interesting story. A couple of weeks back, I was speaking to a friend, and she was just narrating how one of her friends brought her daughter to the meditation class. And after some time, some weeks the daughter actually led the mum to meditate, and it was the instruction was as simple as, ‘okay now watch your breath breathing in, feel relax. Breathing out, feel relax.”.

Teaching somebody doesn’t have to be intimidating it can be to your friends or family members just do something casual, and it’s really a good practice to really understand whether you have truly internalised how to meditate. I personally have grown a lot when I started guiding a small group of friends to meditate. Yeah, you should give it a try. Definitely.

You know, some people have this fear of meditating too much, because they feel that if they are too contented, and peaceful, they might lose the ability to function in a fast pace world. What’s your take on that?

Chade Meng 30:37
I think the only people who have that fear are the people who don’t have a practice at all to begin with, or not a sufficiently deep practice. Because those who practise, they know that this is not a danger. This because all the proper teachers will teach this is that you cannot just teach mindfulness, you also have to teach compassion together. And if you practice both, you would be tempted to go to a cave and not and never come out, and never do anything for anybody. But your compassion will keep nagging you. And how over or the long term, there is no way you can say, ‘I’m going to not do anything for anybody.’.

That addresses the for the spiritual space. I think your question is also about the business space.

First, people who say people in Google, debating meditation, and afterward they don’t feel working any more. I haven’t seen that happening. What I’ve seen happening, there are two outcomes. The first outcome are people who got even better at their work, they became even more motivated. Right?

So for example, I have engineers in the Search Inside Yourself class, who found that if they calm their minds down, now they have control over their minds, they could solve problems that they couldn’t solve before. And some of them got promotions out of this.

Some of them, they, they found what was holding them back, especially the engineers, is that they have the problems working with other people. And through Search Inside Yourself, they overcome that. So, they became more successful. We had a lot of these examples. They didn’t become less ambitious. I don’t know whether they became more ambitious, but I know that they became more successful.

That they just didn’t happen for their group. This group one, group two, they are people who discovered that they didn’t like the work. And so I part of this because as part of the class, we talked about, looking deep into yourself, and figuring out what is important to you, what’s really important.

And the group of people who found that what they were doing in their work was not really important to them, some of these people, they found new jobs within Google. Somebody says, ‘I really wanted to do HR’, or whatever it is, ‘I didn’t want to do engineering’. Usually they are high performing, so they get their transfers, because the other side wanted them as well.

Then there’s some percentage of them who will join non-profits and so on. In none of these cases did I see where they have no ambition. They just had their ambitions redirected. I think the outcome was good for them and for the world, right? Because now they function at the level that they’re happy with. And because they’re happy and more productive. We, as a society, we benefit.

Kai Xin 33:53
Both outcomes are great. It is like the win-win situation that you talked about.

I’m curious, do you know of individuals whom you can name, ideally, household names, who are very successful? And they are also very serious practitioners in meditation?

Chade Meng 34:11

Oh, let me see. I can only name people who already outed themselves. They are people who are somehow uncomfortable saying that they’re meditators.

I can tell you a story and that which was very funny. My book came out in French. I went to France to promote the book. And then my French publisher, he is a gay man, and a Buddhist. He told me that in his lifetime, he came out twice. First time he came out as a gay person. Second time he came out as a meditator. The second time was harder.

Kai Xin 34:52
Why was it harder?

Chade Meng 34:53
I don’t know. I just laugh. I thought it was very funny.

One of them that comes to mind is Bill Ford. He was a chairman of Ford Motor Company. One of them is Scott Kriens. Scott does this company called Juniper Networks. It was one of those good two great companies. That was a good company, then it became great. And Scott was the person who made it happen. So it’s a level five leader.

I know him personally very well. I can testify that he is every bit as good as the textbook says about him. And of course, he’s a meditator.

Those are two examples. The other example, Sergey, I know that Sergey meditates and does yoga. Sergey from Google, I don’t know who else I can out in public. But these are the those I know who already say that in public.

Kai Xin 35:46
It seems like people are hesitant to call themselves meditators. Why do you think that’s the case?

Chade Meng 35:52
I think for a very long time, meditation was seen as weird. And I don’t know why.

When I started to kind of promote mindfulness in Google, in the beginning, 2007, it was still considered as weird by 2015, or something. It was mainstream. And it happened so quickly that we forgot not that long ago, it was weird.

Kai Xin 36:21
Thanks to you, you made weird into cool. Thank you. In terms of the weirdness, do you think there are misconceptions around meditation, because I do know people who are quite hesitant to meditate.

Chade Meng 36:34
I think the misconception comes from not understanding it.

If you understand it’s actually very simple, it says training starts on a training of attention. And to training attention, you train the mind. And then the other thing is creating mental habits, for the habit of kindness. There’s a science behind this, there’s neuroscience behind them. If you break it down into what it is, and what is the science supporting it, everybody gets it.

When I created a Search Inside Yourself, the way it was formatted first, was the first lesson, was a two-hour class on the science of mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Then, the next class, which was a week later is a full day mindfulness class, mindful sitting, mindful standing, mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful bla bla bla.

So these people come to the first class, I tell them the science. I tell them next week, when we come back, it would be a whole day of meditation. And the question, I always ask myself was what is the percentage of this people will come back for a second class, knowing there is a whole day of mindfulness.

My best guess at the time was 50% — I will lose half these people, especially the engineers. That was my projection. When I’ve tried out the first time, 100% came back for a second class. I thought it must be a fluke. I tried a second time, 100% came back. There’s a person who has a family emergency and so on, but barring that person, the third time 100%.

Then, I realise it’s not a fluke, I realised that all they needed to do was the understanding. They’ll come and doesn’t take so long, just two hours, I explained to them, they get it. Before I did that, people think it is weird because they see some guy just sitting there sometime making weird noise, “om” whatever it is. And they can’t explain why they’re doing it. And the way they explain it to a normal person or to engineer is so weird.

“I’m getting in touch with the universe.”

It means something to them. For a meditator, I understand it. But for a normal person is, what is he talking about?

Because that was the default description, that’s the default, those who meditated, that is how they talked about it. It became, weird.

All I had to do is talk about it differently, truthfully, right. I don’t lie about it, talk about it truthfully, but in a way that is understandable, even to me. And if I understand it, everybody understands it. That’s it. That’s how I deal with demystified it.

Kai Xin 39:27
Definitely. I do think that understanding can make the topic a lot more relatable and less scary. For those of you listening. If you haven’t tried meditation, and you have not read up on any resources, we’ll put it in the show notes. You can have a go at it. And who knows, it can change your life just like how it has changed mine.

One more question. You know, some people they think that as they’re young, they should probably prioritise their careers and try to be very, very ambitious — strive for all this success, and only once they have it all, can they retire and do all these spiritual activities and pursuits. What are your thoughts around this?

Chade Meng 40:15
I think it’s understandable. However, this thought is, again, based on the misconception, that spirituality and success are mutually exclusive. And happily, they are not mutually exclusive. Not only that, they help each other. But at least the spiritual part will help your career. If you don’t do it, then you’re missing out on something, right?

I mean, the way I look at this is like, let’s say you have a job, and somebody comes to you and say, ‘there is this something that is almost free. And then you can become more successful, and your spirtual needs are taken care of. Do you want to do or not?’.

If you say ‘I don’t want’, then you are missing out, you lugi.

So my take is, try to understand how your spirituality works, help you become successful. Read Search Inside Yourself. Otherwise, you very lugi.

So, first understand it, and then decide. And if you understand it, and you still decide that you’d rather put all this meditation, whatever, aside first and just try to get a successful career, I’d say, ‘okay, can.’.

However, just do one thing for me, I guarantee it’s good for you. The one thing is to have a daily awareness of your mortality. This is one of the most important practices that anybody can do, that I do myself.

Every day, at least once a day, just remind yourself, someday I’m going to die. Look at your family member, your people you love and think someday, they’ll all die. That’s it, that’s the whole practice, don’t have to do anything else to validate, and so on. Why do this, if you don’t do this, you would totally neglect your spiritual needs. If you do this, you will not totally neglect. Because there is something in you that will be reminded that what is really important in life.

Kai Xin 42:08
I think that kind of very nicely summed up the topic of finding a balance between ambition and contentment. Because personally, through contemplating on death, and how fleeting life is, I would realise that there are certain things I have yet to achieve for the greater good. And that’s where the striving comes in. Right?

Every day, I try to spend my time more meaningfully. And then on the other hand, certain things that have already been done, I have tried my best I can have no regrets, no remorse.

I encourage people to do this more often, even though it can sound really morbid, but there’s a saying that we live to learn how to die. Thank you very much for coming for sharing all your insights today can be end off this episode with you giving some actionable takeaways. So if you can tell the listeners, what are some things they can do in order to lead a happier life, what would that be?

Chade Meng 43:09
Okay? For the listeners, you can do either or both. I guarantee you, they just take very little time. The first one I already talked about earlier, one breath a day in a formal meditation posture, whatever that means to you – in breath, out breath.

The other practice that I like to do literally takes no time. It is to randomly, or for once a day, look at the person you care most about — your kids, your spouse, or whoever it is. And let us think, ‘I wish for this person to be happy.’. Or and or if you are in office just choose a random co-worker, just think, ‘I wish for this person to be happy.’. And then on the way home, somebody you just meet randomly on the street or on the bus or whatever just think I wish for this person to hear. It literally takes no time. Because you’re sitting there, whatever anyway. And if you do this, you’ll wish for random people to be happy. I want to suggest do it for three people a day. If you do it, I guarantee you, your happiness will increase.

Kai Xin 44:15
In fact, we shouldn’t wait for the listeners to end this episode to do it. Can you guide us to do that one breath meditation.

Chade Meng 44:22
Sounds good. Can I do both? Okay, even better. Okay, sit in the posture that allows you to be alert and relax at the same time, whatever that means to you. And so just take one in breath, bringing total and gentle attention and one out breath this is practice one. Practice two bring to mind somebody, maybe somebody you care about and think, “I wish for this person to be happy”, you may notice that once you’ve made a wish you’re smiling. And if you want to just spend the next five seconds just paying attention to this experience of joy. Thank you for your attention, my friends.

Kai Xin 45:28
That was great. Thank you once again Brother Meng for being on this show. And may you be well, I hope to see you again.

Chade Meng 45:34
Thank you my friends. Thanks for having me on the show.

Kai Xin 45:38
Thanks, listeners, for tuning into the handful of leaves’ podcast. If you have taken away something, please leave us a review wherever you’re listening to this episode, and share with us what are your key takeaways?

In the next episode, we are going to explore deeper into this topic on contentment and ambition. And my co-host, Cheryl, will be joining us for our chit-chat session.

And if you would like us to address any questions relating to this topic, please leave a comment in our telegram channel. If you haven’t already subscribed, please follow us at Handful of Leaves. You can find the link in the description below. Also, if you want more practical Buddha’s wisdom for a happier life, you can log on to our website, www.handfulofleaves.life. We feature stories returned by ordinary folks with extraordinary wisdom on topics such as mental well-being, productivity, and work dealing with relationship and many more.

If you’re interested to share your wisdom and insights, you can also write to us to volunteer as a writer, who knows your story can transform somebody’s life. Meanwhile, stay happy and wise

Special thanks to Sopisa for helping with the transcript.

Show notes:

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Resources and useful links:

Chanda Samadhi Sutta

Learn about meditation 

30-day meditation challenge

Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute 

Colloquial terms (in Hokkien) mentioned in the Podcast: 

Buay tahan: Cannot tolerate 

Lao Kui: ashamed or embarrassed

Lugi: Lose out

More on Tan Chade Meng and his books:


Book – Joy on Demand

Book – Search Inside Yourself

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