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My friends, hello, when you first encounter Vontae, buther Akita, the wise and affable abbot of the Ugandan Buddhist center, you might be tempted to think this guy has been meditating since shortly after exiting the womb. But his story of finding the Dharma and then trying to integrate it into his life is straight up wild.
It starts with a childhood of devout Catholicism, then veers into India, a scuba diving stint in Thailand and a sojourn with a venerable Buddhist teacher in West Virginia. When he finally lands back in Africa as one of the first Buddhist monastics on that continent, he is mocked as a wizard and then nearly assassinated. In this chat, we talk about how that shooting incident that nearly took his life led to a deep dive into the treatment of trauma, how he integrates African wisdom into his Buddhist teaching and his motto, more drama, less drama.
Here we go. Banty Put Rakita. Thank you for making time for this. I'm really excited to talk to you. You're but I really want to hear your story because I've read a little bit about it, and it's fascinating.
Can you tell me how you first encountered Buddhism? Yes, the first time I encountered Buddhism is in nineteen ninety. I left Uganda in 1990 as an exchange student, eight years to the minister of foreign affairs in Uganda. I got a scholarship to study in India and I handed the government of India through Indian exchange cultural program is going to pay for me to study in India business. I was excited. I didn't know anything about Buddhism. But the only thing that maybe is connected to Buddhism is that what Gautama, because we studied history about Indian personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and go to my family, know that Gautama was even a Buddha.
So there was a good time I have ever had it faintly in my history. So when I went to India, I didn't know that division is a religion called Buddhism or philosophy or whatever. So I just went to study business in 1990. And when I arrived. Yeah, because when I arrived in India, they had this strike and then we didn't go to school. We didn't study this school immediately. So then I was put in a hostel where there were some people who looked very strange to me and amongst they had shaved head there they are putting on the ropes or in droves.
I was very curious to say hello to them. So I went there. Then I said hello to one, and he had a beaming smile, very happy. So we became friends. And in the long story short, they took me to the temple and I saw that they would ask that you then they told me about Buddhism there, that Buddhist, and they told me they don't take Dinaw, they just do lunch and breakfast. And so then they are the one who really told me that, yes, this a religion called Buddhism.
And they took me to the temple for the first time. The temple is called Ashok Vihara Ashokan Bihar in Chandigarh. And that's when I really got to know that there's even a temple. So that's how I got to know about Buddhism. But I didn't know that Buddhist people meditate and those most just wanted to be friends with me. I wanted to be friendly with them. And so they gave me food. They gave me many, many things. And slowly but slowly, they stopped telling me about what they believe in.
I remember one time I went to Premakumar is we just don't know Buddhist people, but is a meditation. They told me that they've been married and I had seen one guy was quiet all the time. In the evening. They told me, oh, I ask him, you're very calm and peaceful. Where do you go in the evening? He told me he goes to meditate. Oh, then I had the what meditation. Then I went there and meditated with Premakumar and then they have a real disconnect.
This that you focus on. You look at it and then you meditate, breathing in and breathe out. But is a commentary. All right. So it was a commentary. You saw it peaceful. You are calm. Nobody can destroy you. So when I finished that meditation, I went to the monks again. I told them that I had been meditating this day. Who told you to meditate? I told them that this is somebody who is very calm and peaceful, and he told me where I can meditate.
Then I told him what I've been doing. They told me, no, no, no, no. You should meditate what we call Vipassana meditation. And now that's the first time to get to know what's even in meditation, because the mom told me the best meditation you can do is go Vipassana meditation. So then I go to sort of meditation later on. So from Buddhism and then the monks are telling me about meditation, compassion and meditation.
I know you were raised Catholic. So here you are in a completely different country, encountering this religion for the first time, a religion you didn't even know existed. What about Buddhism and meditation? Spoke to you? Given your history, why was it so appealing, this practice in this faith? Actually, for me, it was appearing like, for instance, meditation when I went to meditate. It was normal in the evening and then I was so stressed out in India, it's always a hot country.
I was eating hot food and I was looking for change. I fail to see it every time I went to look for a child because I was a Roman Catholic. There was no charge. And finally, when I got to the church, the service was in Hindi, a language that I don't understand. So now when I went to church there, I was going to church so that God can see me back then, I believe like that. So now every time I go to church, I cannot hear the English service or to get a service.
So which is my language. I was just going to judge and hear people just talking in foreign language. And later on I said no, because these people, they have lost their religion called Hinduism. I like to do what they believe in. And then slowly, slowly, when I went to the first meditation I did was not even a Buddhist when I did a Hindu meditation that I told you. So when I sat there and meditate, I felt so much peaceful, more peaceful than when I was in the church, you know, in the church.
Sometimes they said, OK, now kneel down and you are going to pray. I know it seems so, but but that's a short time in a church, according to my upbringing. But when I was in meditation, I told you in the evening and when I came out, it was so peaceful. And that's when I rushed until the moment that when I meditate, it's so peaceful. So I think what really hooked me in meditation is the peace I got.
That's what happened with meditation. So now to really get to defend my understanding in Buddhism, it would take more time because the monks who are just reluctant to teach me everything in Buddhism, but I could follow their lifestyle, very generous, very kind and all this kind of thing. So but when it came in 1994, of course, before that, I had met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in public in India. And his presence touched me so deeply when I met him and the sheer time, and he gave me the catarrh blessing me like these.
So really, I felt that life of a monks was very, very peaceful. So one time as a layman, I went again to northern India and in 1994 and I meditated for 12 days. I meditated for two days. And along with that meditation, there was the teachings that I learned for the first time, really systematically being taught by Dr Alex Basine, who's an American who used to be an interpreter for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So he taught for 12 days and in Buddhism was outstanding.
Many, many questions I had in life, things like where you going, where you're coming from, what the purpose of life or many, many things. And also in that course, which was 12 days in 1994, actually, it was for me an eye opener because it was doing book. It was introducing me to Buddhism. And also it helped me to deepen my meditation, whereby you before you enter the door, you become aware of opening the door, that your intention to open the door and open it.
Now, finally, what did it actually as far as conviction Buddhism is? When I had a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in again in 1994, I met him at his residence and he had just seen a journalist and he entered there in his room, me and him with an interpreter. And then I talked to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his presence alone. It really inspired me so much. So then I said, wow, this is His Holiness.
The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist. I feel that I would like to belong to that kind of thing. So now, really to make it, should Buddhism answer my question that I was with for a long time as a Roman Catholic growing up in Uganda, whenever I ask a question in Uganda and said, no, no, no, don't ask, just believe. But when I went to the retreat in 1995, I was asking this question and this teacher was answering this question and he was a good scholar.
Now he lives in Berlin and Germany is called. Dr Alex Barzini is a teacher graduate from Harvard University. He is a very accomplished scholar who answered my question. That question, my first to know, that's why I came to Buddhism.
So when you were a child or a young man in Uganda and you would ask questions about, you know, big questions, existential questions. Yes. You were told, you know, don't ask questions, just fall back on your faith. I just believe. And then and then all of a sudden you got interested in Buddhism. You ask questions and people actually answered them. What were the fundamental questions you were asking?
Mostly a fundamental question is where do we go from here? We had we go from here to here, so then there was all very simple questions, or you go to hell or purgatory or heaven. But when I came to Buddhism, they told me, oh, you know, ultimate goal is nirvana, you know? So then heaven seemed to be just a stopover or just times that show me the way to ultimate goal, which is nirvana, the ultimate happiness for me, the idea of going to hell forever.
That scared me a lot. So but when I had in Buddhism that you can go to heaven, come on and continue on, I said, wow, that's great. It's not a one way ticket. You know, I have a round trip ticket. So basically that helped me a lot not to fear a lot about all the things that I did that would lead me to hell, you know, forever, you know, so so there's room for improvement, you know.
And of course, the responsibility also about karma, you know. Yeah. You know, when I was on as a Roman Catholic, we used to go for confession. You would do something and you said the father would bless you and say you're forgiven all this kind of thing so fast. It scared me when I was young. I have to go to the father to tell him all my shortcomings. I was so scared. And those fathers always were from overseas, you know, foreign priests.
You know, it just scared me a lot here. There was no somebody you go to, but then they were teaching me about karma. You are the architect of yourself. If you do good, you get good. If you do the bad, you get bad. And then there's no person sitting there judging you big eyes. That's what I used to believe. That is a big I was writing all your misdeeds and good deeds, but when I had a comma is the teaching that can really come into play in what you have to do and what you shouldn't do.
And also you get the results of your actions, whether good or bad. So for me, that was very relieving for me because I grew up with a lot of fear. That always is a big person up there seeing me, whatever I'm doing, watching me, whatever I am. But yeah, yeah, it's me. I'm responsible for my actions. So I think that was always a bit of relief. I said, yes, Buddhism is good, is great.
But also when I looked at one question about different beliefs, there's one fundamental thing that had baffled me for a long time was the person that all people who are Christians, because they believe in Jesus Christ, they go to God. When I went into India, because like any other Ugandan, most Ugandans who don't know many other religions. So now I don't know. What about Hinduism? What about Confucianism and people who believe other religion. So my question was, if all a Roman Catholic who believe in Jesus or Christian who believe in Jesus, they are the one to see.
Good. What about India, which is a population which is very big and also China has the biggest population. You know, I said, how come that those people will never go to good. So you for me to ask you how how come that is only the chosen few who believe in Jesus, the other one will go to God and the rest of the people they will never really see God, you know? So but that was sorted out when I went to India and came to Buddhism and say, OK, yes, OK.
You believe in Jesus, that's fine. But also we believe in the Dharma. We believe in the truth. Right. So for me, that was very relieving. And also another question that of made me to make a transition to Baha'i was actually the exclusion. I felt that the religion where I was born, it was excluding others. It was really excluding. What I mean is that you, a Christian like that, that time. That's how I believe that it's all Christian people.
And if there was not much interaction with different religions, you know, but when I went to India, I found out Baha'i was welcoming all religions, whether Muslim, Hindu. So in other words, before I became a Buddhist, I made a transition from Roman Catholic and I went to Baha'i then from behind the Buddhism. And the reason why I went to Baha'i is that breaking the cocoon that OK, this is a small group of people who are Roman Catholic who are going to go to heaven and they are not so much embracing other religious Muslim and others.
So that was the transition, my friend.
Thank you. It's interesting. I'm thinking as I'm listening to you, you know, we come at Buddhism from very different angles because maybe even more so than you, I never really had any I couldn't put much stock in the idea or I didn't have any faith in the idea that. There is one God in the sky somewhere writing down our misdeeds, I never really had much attraction to that. And what I liked about Buddhism was that it's non theistic.
There is no God, although in certain areas of Buddhism they'll talk about deities. But anyway, that's a whole different conversation.
You it seems I'm hearing from you.
You sort of liked the idea that karma could lead to rebirth, a cycle of rebirths, where you get another shot and then ultimately you end up in Lebanon or Nirvana. Still a concept that I don't fully understand, but none of that appeals to me. I'm much more interested in the practice as it shows up in my life right now. And let's let somebody else worry about the metaphysics. But it seems to me that you really needed to get the metaphysics sorted out before you could invest it.
Definitely time, because for me and school, I took chemistry and physics and biology. I was very interested in evicts investigation to find out myself before I get confronted with something, you know. So for me, I wanted to know the hidden detail of all this. You know, I yes, I was very interested in a lot of karma. What disease and rebirth and then and ultimately Neba, because I think for me, every person who's interested in metaphysics, you know.
Yes. And because I was bombarded with the whole idea of heaven and hell and purgatory, all those things, I started questioning them where they basically are the up and down or something. So I really wanted to know Nirvana and Rebirth and all the things. I think for me, I was really very keen on that. Yes. And by the way, I was in India back then and there was so many other philosophies bubbling because around the same time I was investigating Hinduism with that philosophy that I was going to say bye bye in Bangalore.
I think the difference is that for me, when I left Uganda as a Roman Catholic, when I arrived in India, I was bombarded with so many philosophies and I had time and I needed to do that city to really find out what's really all about that. Because, of course, Hinduism, you know, they also have karma, you know, but a different concept. They have reincarnation, a different concept from rebirth and also Nirvana. And they are what they call moksha.
So all these ideas I was reading them, you know, I think for me, I had time to really digest all this with other kind of philosophies. And so I was really a kid in a candy store. I really tried to read as much as I can, Christian, I'm old and want to talk about consciousness and all that. I think for me, I was exposed more into the world of philosophy and metaphysics that actually went deeper and got interested in that.
You went to India to study business and ended up on a spiritual quest dividend. When I look back, I think that's the reason why I went there. Precisely what I'm doing is what makes me happy and that's what makes me going there. I was, in other words, a kind of a cosmic connection to make sure that I get a scholarship. And my parents didn't have to pay money for me to study. And the government of India paid for me to study that.
And I just went there in a different time.
It's how, when and why did you become a monk? Oh, that's a long story. How and when when is easy to tell you. When is it? 2001. I was in the U.S. I went to San Jose, California, and I became a monk through, of course, the training. But later on I had to change because my teacher was going away. And then I had a few things to unfinished business. I had to do more work for my immigration in years and I didn't want to do that, Weinraub.
So what I did is to go to a monastery and put on weight. So then 2002, I became Monk again. So about 18 years. This is my 18th year as a mom. So now that's when it's very easy to the one I started. And then 2002 since then, you know. But how?
Well, it is a long story because I had to go to a retreat for three months and I was in Boston, Massachusetts. I was completely confused what life is all about. OK, I am a Buddhist, but what to do when you become a Buddhist? So I didn't know exactly what's best, what really do one's life. Actually, I was I was at a crossroads about nineteen ninety nine. I was at the crossroads. I left India and I went to Thailand.
And I worked as a scuba diving instructor and my family disowned me literally when they got to know that I'm a Buddhist and I was pretty much alone in my life. So people in Uganda, friends that you want to associate with me, they think Buddhism is just weird religion. So then I come back to Uganda. In 1997, I left Thailand after living overseas for seven years. My whole life had already totally changed. I was looked at, but I was the person who in Buddhism, much Buddhist shaved head learning yoga in the Himalayas with many yogis.
And my life had totally, completely changed, totally was changed when I arrived in Uganda in 1997. Mind, I left Uganda in 1990. Now here it's 97 until Uganda had changed a lot. And now I'm 10. I tried to fit in society in Uganda. I had to scuba dive gear because I was a better instructor in Thailand and I had many books, Buddhist books. I arrived in Uganda like that, but did a simple, not a very successful businessman with a briefcase with money.
And people are so disillusioned. My family and all the people I knew, they were disillusioned. And for me when I lived there for one month, I was so disillusioned illusion more than them, because for me I had scuba gear. But there's no air today. I had Buddhist book. There's a Buddhist teacher. So I tried to fit in society. They tried to make me a business man. OK, how much money have you come with all the seven years you stayed overseas?
You must have made a lot of money. We should invest another business. I was not interested in any business. I was interested in meditation and scuba diving. So now there's no Buddhist at all. Is not temple and all the things and everybody want to convert me at all. People ask me, what's your religion? I say Buddhism. What do you have a Bible? I said, no, I have Dharma books that I had bought from Nepal and all these countries.
So they said, please, you should ban your books, you should ban your books and get saved and became born again. So anyway, I was going. That's what people are saying. I was so frustrated in the country. I left in 1990. It was not like that. It was very peaceful and there were not many people are very overly enthusiastic about religion. But according to a law, not many people were born again and Ingenico churches were not in war on so many.
But this time they were like mushrooms everywhere. So somebody was asking me, please come and get born again. Oh, Jesus, love you. And I said, Buddha love your soul. I would I would still like that. So now I would leave Uganda in 1998 and left for South America. And I traveled with a friend of mine from England called St. John's River. So we thought for one year and I have many friends in Chile and after one year I was so frustrated with travelling for one year, I said, I want to stop and just meditate.
So then I went to Amway's in Byron, Massachusetts, and then there was what we call a three month meditation retreat. That's how I became a mom, because during the three month I figured out life in the three month, I had of course, lived a good life in Thailand. But I was at a crossroads as I was meditating for three months. I was I was asking myself what will happen after three months? I had left my job in Thailand.
I was not interested in coming in Uganda. I was not a U.S. citizen. Where am I going to go? Can you imagine? I'm frustrated with Uganda. I left Thailand because I think living in for Taslim on a resort was also really I was super saturated with the life enjoyment. Now that once and now I'm in a new country where I'm not a citizen. So every time I was meditating, I said, what would happen after meditation, after three months?
Where am I going next? So now, of course, when I left Chile, South America, and that's where I got my visa to come to the U.S., they promised me a job at opposite the American embassy. And also I got admitted to a Catholic university in Chile. So then I'm planning to go to a new country altogether. I don't speak Spanish. So every time it was on my mind what we have got to go after that, after the three month retreat and later on, halfway there, three months retreat.
I see. Yes, I should good Florida and do what my course director and become the best man down in in in in a diving, interesting industry. When you become a course director, you are at the top, so. You can get make money, you can do all the things I said, yes, I should have go to Florida and decided like that then. But when I meditated, I started reviewing all my life or my life.
I said, whoa, whatever I tried to do is not going to bring me happiness like this. Even when I become a ghost director, even when I go to Thailand, even if because I got admission to the university in Chile, I. So even if I go to Chile, I won't get the peace I'm getting in meditation. When I go to Uganda, I'll never get that peace. So with that kind of meditation for three months, that's how I became a monk, because it helped me to redefine and define the purpose of life.
So I will it was very clear what I like in my life, I like to keep on meditating, and now when I finish the three month retreat, I did a new one and then they were talking about how to become a monk in the USA. But I thought that you can become a monk in the Asian country and some of them from the airport going to meditation. Oh, you don't know anything about the country. So I didn't know that you can become a monk and use it during the retreats they are talking about.
Said openly to defend monasteries were committed in Burma, in the U.S. and in Africa. Of course, a long story short, I wasn't as tough at times as they were welcoming me, to be honest, tough. And I worked in the front office as a district manager at the Insight Meditation Society. And I got a guy who has who's planning to go today in any in San Jose. Yes, in California. So he told me you can actually be coming along.
And I said, yes, that's what I like to do in my life. I want to become more and deepen my practice in meditation and overcome suffering because I had suffered a lot in the past, especially in Thailand, though I was having a lot of joy living in a resort. But actually life was hollow inside me. It was hollow getting to eat good food and good schools, but I was not. So at the end of the day, you ask, what is that all about?
Life you? I have meditated in 1994 in India. So there was something behind that was really my mind, always saying the long meditation is the best thing to do.
But of course, forces in life always pull you. You know, I ended up becoming a scuba diver and all this kind of thing. And so but then I remember that time I said, no, the best way to leave that your one's life is to become more and overcome suffering. Because I was suffering, I was not satisfied with life. We're going to scuba dive. We are going to Thailand. Are you gonna have to travel in Brazil for one year?
So I saw that there is nothing that is going to give me happiness. That compared to what what the happiness I got from meditation in 1999, a three month retreat that's really propelled me to go and become a monk. And in San Jose in 2001 and.
You've been a monk ever since. Have you succeeded in overcoming suffering? I'm working on it. You see, that's a life project. But there's a lot of suffering that I was creating for myself, especially projecting, kind of anticipating really the suffering that I'm facing, of course. And some, like covid suffering I'm facing. How am I going to maintain this temple that I created for the next few months or years? I suffered like that. I suffered things that are common when you have a fever here.
But the suffering I'm not suffering is my what to call that I created myself. Things like, OK, this is the reality, but this is what I want things to be. All right. I was suffering a lot like that, especially in my early days as a child. And in India becoming a monk, I used to suffer that kind of thing, anticipating things, anticipating a friend to be like these, you know, relationship, you know, most of the time the suffering we create ourselves.
Right. You have a relationship. I mean, this is what you want in your relationship. And the reality is that this so the difference between what you anticipated and what you actually get is the stress that I'm no longer getting and no longer have the anticipation for something to be the way I like it. I guess what I actually get that kind of suffering. I've admitted it, eliminated it to some extent, but also the suffering that comes due to overreacting on situations like it and the fear and of course, as a monolithic greed by a big chunk of it, you know, I'm going to Firenze along and getting to their life.
And so there's some kind of suffering that I've definitely cut off by virtue of being a mom. But I'm not eliminated all of that because there are some of the some of the suffering that's beyond my control. Yes, but as for the rest of the suffering, it's a work in progress that I but I still am going to path, I think, to eliminate it. I'm not worried about it. And I know that I'm on a path to be a question of time to work through my as I I wanted to really work on my way to liberation in this lifetime.
And that's a work in progress.
More of my conversation with Banti Buther Okita right after this.
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You mentioned your overreactions to things in life, I would like to talk about your reaction to a major event in your life jumping forward in the chronology of your life a little bit after you ordained as a monk and studied for quite a while, you ultimately returned to Uganda and started the Buddhist center. And that was not an easy process, given that it was culturally very unusual, unprecedented in Uganda. And there has been a lot of pushback. And in particular, there was there was an assassination attempt.
And I'm intrigued to hear about what happened there. And then, of course, how you reacted to it, which is really interesting.
Yes, you're right, it was a long journey after becoming a monk, I said in USA and of course I went to get back to Asia and got ready really to for the big thing to go back to Uganda. I had to go to Asia fast to pay my respect to the places I had to retreat in Asia in 2003. I went to meditate for two months just to get ready emotionally and physically and spiritually for the big work and asking people, because especially monks.
I asked them how to be a missionary in Uganda. So in other words, for me, I didn't know how to go to a country like Uganda and introduce Buddhism. You know, all the time I've been in countries where they know Buddhist monk and in here I am. I'm going to Uganda for the first time. I didn't want what guess I was getting into. I remember a friend of mine from Staten Island told me, oh, you're going to Uganda, be careful.
They will kill you. You know, I said, no, it's my country. I'll go differently. So now I went to Uganda in 2005. I started the center here, the first and only Bush center in Uganda. So when I arrived, of course, through Kenya, I came with the Buddha statue and just told me exactly what would happen ahead of time because, I mean, in my future, because two people are totally, utterly confused.
When they saw me with these robes and they thought that I was going to mental hospital, they thought I was coming from a mental hospital, children who are running away. And of course, I would ask to do they say, oh, you know, you're carrying African voodoo, you know, and then they checked it in the airport. They told me, please don't sell it, don't sell this Buddhas, that you don't sell your gold here because they thought other soldiers might go the other.
So that is the African voodoo smuggling drugs and all these things. So I had a sample or what I was going to face just at the airport in Kenya. So I arrived in Uganda settling in, looking for a place where I could stay. They refused me accommodation. They told me that I'm a witch, you know, so they really start reacting, calling me names. So what hurt me not overreact is the teaching of the Buddha. It said there's a teaching of the Buddha.
We say, where do you hear something? Just become aware of hearing. Don't just say I don't like it a lot, just stop and hear it when you think all the success is, it's called mindfulness at Six Senses. So whenever those people are calling me those names. So I would just come over here. Oh, show me the master kung fu or he's going to kick you. So they were saying like that I would just be coming here.
So up to that extent, I would manage it very well because it was just ordinary things. You know, people calling you names, stopping you would say, hey, how are you? People have been kicking me.
Actually, there's one guy who kicked me thinking that I was going for my style, you know, but one time in my in my history with Monk, it was 2010 when actually there was some kind of riots here in Uganda. It was a national election coming up. And then they actually started shooting those tear gassing people. And so there was a lot of violence in his society. So then we asked a security company to actually protect us. So they used to bring a security guard to protect the temple.
Sometimes it would come with a baton and sometimes we come empty handed, sometimes on the radio, sometimes with a gun. So then this is the guy who was paid to protect the temple. One night he shot at me. That's the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life as a mom. This was a security guard hired to protect the temple. Yes. Turned around and shot at you.
It definitely does make you make it to us. I mean, if somebody was from nowhere, but this is a person who's paid to protect us. And now at one time he shot at me and the bullet passed very close to me. And then it hit the glass and shattered the glass. And it hit me up to now I have a skull. So now how I reacted to that incident, I was with, like, drawing from the Buddha's teaching, it said.
Right. First, of course, it was a very traumatic experience because the sound of that bullet, I'm telling you, is deafening and that sound is deafening. And the guy, of course, shot. And then I thought that is coming after me. I, of course, run and hide in the ceiling. And the police I call the police. The police came. I did the normal thing that one has to do, you know, and under stress, you know, the police came I was to call the police.
I was taken to hospital with you with a high pressure. The pressure was very high. And if I see the whole attitude of the high pressure would have killed me. So then they give medicine to put the pressure down and then the police start investigating. After three days, they caught the guy and the guy was actually put in the jail. But my reaction, I think, is very, very important from that point. As a meditation mom, I never expected that.
Right. I never expected that to happen to me. So what happened? Immediately, I decided to call an artist and start telling the story to the artist and then drew cartoons. And for me, I was enjoying it really, because it was well, I kind of drawn the whole incident was put into a book and that was actually therapeutic, really trying to write about it. So you made it into a cartoon? Yeah. Yes, the whole story.
We made a book and we made a book out of it. That's by my reaction to the whole event was really started to be documented using cartoons. And for me, that was a beautiful story for me.
That's such an I mean, of all the responses to make it animated, you know, you see, I had learned that if God sent you, I make one out of it there. Yeah. Those things I had in my mind, if God said you've got make an out of it. All right. So now I wanted this since it is too to tell the story to people in a very animated way. So that was my first reaction. Oh, call it a response, actually, if you like.
So now we finish this part of the pictures. But I was going to United States to to teach after six days. I was going to the United States to teach. And after that, I decided to go to Switzerland to rest for one month, to tell the story to friends and all that, but. There was a lot of. Fear that was coming to go back to Uganda. Because I didn't know why this guy showed me, so how I reacted with that is to overcome that fear and also use mindfulness of the tension, the tiredness, the thoughts that were coming all the time.
Yeah. So I think that's what I need really from a spiritual point of view. But the best thing I did to love for myself is forgiveness practice, because I agree that forgiveness to the guy who shot at me and knew that he was ignorant. So there's a way out in Buddhism, practiced forgiveness practice, you know. Yeah. If you have done something, you know, and you knowing unknowingly through Buddhist speech, your mind I forgive you like this.
I used to do forgiveness practice, but of course I had to take care of myself. When I was I was in New York. I went to what goes to magic expediency a couple of times and check with the therapist to check out where I have thrashed out everything using Buddhism. And after two sessions you told me, I've got to go, everything's OK because I wanted to expand this therapist, what I've done since that traumatic experience. And he was a meditator, actually.
So really, I managed to put everything under my stride. So I did forgiveness practice. I practiced mindfulness of thoughts and difficult emotions, especially fear and aversion towards any security guard who had the gun. I had a vision toward that person, but I was sitting lovingkindness. Whenever I saw such a guy with a similar gun that they used to shoot at me, I used to send lovingkindness, maybe will happen peaceful, maybe free from suffering that's caused.
So actually, after checking with a therapist for a couple of years, so if you felt that I was healed completely, of course me, I knew that I healed, but I wanted to have a second opinion from a western part of that. Yeah. So that's how I responded with that such an event. But forgiveness helped a lot. Let go of the emotional core emotional feeling being had only wounded. Yeah, because there's a big question that was coming.
Why me? Why now, why this is happening to me. What have I done really? Of course, the guy because I was in the United States and Switzerland is just like I didn't get a chance really to to see the Dalai Lama head of that because I never go to the bottom. Why he did it, why he shot at me. And that one time he was bailed out, bailed out. I remember I was in Egypt for a conference and I returned to Uganda and they said there's going to be a hearing.
And the guy came and told our name.
And then after fifteen minutes, he was nowhere to be seen. By the time the the called in, actually I went there, but the guy was nowhere to be seen. And that's very common in Uganda. Things happen like that. You never you know that you can't even trace such things like that. So then what I did is leave everything to the law. Come. I said that this guy was attempting to kill me. Let me come and take care of him because I had no time to follow up on that because I was a student.
Now, I was studying that time. I was studying and still got a bachelor's degree in Buddhism. And the reason I want to go to study in Senaka, I wanted to study Buddhist counseling psychology and in order to really understand counseling myself regarding that incident, that traumatic experience. So I wanted to learn more about what Buddhist counseling, psychology. So I went to select the diploma and a bachelor's degree in Buddhism. On top of that, I will study my diploma and boost counseling psychology in order to help myself to him and also to prepare myself for big work, to help others to heal from trauma.
So that's I went back to study in India after that incident. So in other words, I use that is it is to do what I like, what I love most, to go for further studying Buddhism and deepening my understanding of trauma and emotions using Buddhist counseling, psychology. So I did a lot of things with that. Is it is it helped me to do so many things, actually.
But so that's pretty, quite remarkable. As I understand it, before this incident where somebody tried to kill you, you didn't know much, if anything, about trauma and how it works. And as part of your response to this, you use this as an opportunity to dive deeply into understanding trauma, to treat it in yourself, and then to treat other people in a country where there is a lot of trauma.
Precisely. Daniel, you're right. Actually, honestly, to be very honest, I didn't know, you know, what trauma I was.
Trauma, I didn't know. And sometimes. When I'm doing my studies and it's a lot of people ask me what trauma, I'm not surprised before that, is it? I, I know the white rhino horns and what wounds, but trauma. I didn't know. So how I mean, trauma is actually directly from experience without even knowing the word itself. But that evening it was a very traumatic event. So now when I went to teach to this spirit rock, I interacted with, of course, people with teach with the talked about trauma.
Yes, people are told me about it, but I didn't have I didn't experience what it is, actually. Yes.
So that when I went to hospital and I found a book, Trauma and Transformation, and I read it. So when I read everything I was reading, I was reading, it was really speaking to me because I was talking about flashbacks. They are talking about thoughts of nightmares and all this kind of thing. Yes. So I didn't really know what trauma, but this event helped me to know about trauma. And actually, I took a train from Geneva to Paris.
I read the whole book on that train in Germany. By the time I returned to to Geneva, I had read the whole book. So it's a big book like these are now using it to teach actually now. In fact, when I was teaching in New York, I was teaching hitting interdimensional time. So from really before that, even knowing so much about I didn't know much about trauma. Now teaching it to others so that people can really understand it better.
I hear you have an expression from trauma to Dharma or Dharma. Yes, actually, yeah.
Yeah. From time to time. Yes. I think I should write a book about that.
How exactly? I mean, this is a huge topic.
But just can you just say a little bit about how does one transmute trauma into Dharma?
Well, it's really more of like knowing that trauma is the problem, but is the opportunity to heal. Would I say he said like this, there are two kinds of people you find in life. One is an wise person. When he is faced with suffering, you get deserve to become entangled with suffering and cannot live in a city without the second person is a wise person. When he is suffering and sees the way out of it is just like driving and you get lost and you cannot see the exit.
You used that dazzling glass and twisting dial because you can't stay out of it or you mistake, is it? But if you're driving, I want to bring this to my life. You know, when you're driving and you see the exits, then you may not have arrived at your destination, but, you know, you have taken the right exit or exit one to boast of nowhere. But if you really missed your exit derby, you can see and you take a wrong exit.
That's why I said that from trauma to Dummer is at that very moment that you see. Yes, there's a way out of it. There's mindfulness. There is whatever modality hitting modality and you trust in that process. Then that day you start following the unidirectional. So now there's more drama and less drama. And I like that very much. I got it from somewhere. I think France is a ticking time talked about. There is more drama, less drama.
But if you you get caught up in drama, then you have more drama, at least drama. But if you stay out of it, then you have more drama and less drama. I like that we are together on that path to hearing. Yes. Yes, we are. Yes. That is the long path, by the way, done healing from a traumatic event. It can be long, but it doesn't matter. Long shot. The key is that you're treading the path to healing just like Liberacion.
One other aspect of your teaching I want to talk about before we close here is the combination of Buddhism and African wisdom seems to be a prominent part of your teaching. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Well well, my friend done this teaching of African wisdom and and Bratman for me is I gained as a product of that came later on from my attempt to disseminate the teachings that are dear to me and Buddhist teaching, to healing and to happiness and all that. In the beginning, I was just teaching only Buddhism, especially for trauma, of just teaching Buddhism mindfulness. But when I really got into this situation in my life whereby teaching people and the signal to get it and and also the many traumatic events in their life in Africa and many people, I want to help them to heal from that trauma, which is intergenerational cancer, because we had so many wars, you know, disease.
So now I went back to the drawing board, study more educational psychology than so I went back to study my bachelor's degree. I went to study my master's philosophy, and now I'm doing my Ph.D. in Buddhist studies. So that really came as a product of my experience in teaching. You know, and I hit a wall as I was teaching people, the community, the teaching of Buddhism. And mindfulness was not thinking in that I could see as I teach, sometimes they would frown, you know.
So now I wanted to see how this teaching. Can sit very well with African sike, with African thoughts. So what I did is to during my research, I started to try to find out how I can teach with Buddhism with an African flavor, you know, and, yes, with an African flavor. So I tried to find out, is there any connection between African thought and healing and mindfulness and Buddhism, all these things I wanted to put together and see the intersection.
And once I found the intersection between Buddhism and African thought. That became to be the template I'm using, in fact, sometimes when I start my teaching or is I start with the African thought, the way we think about something with a wisdom or something like for wisdom, African thoughts like this knowledge without wisdom is like water. Inside knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand. You throw it in the sand and just go through. It doesn't seem so.
Now, when I'm teaching on wisdom from a Buddhist perspective, I just don't say, oh, the Buddha said about wisdom. Is seeing things in details like this or that kind of wisdom won from listening, one from meditation, one from this kind of thing like this.
Now I start with what African talk about wisdom. Yeah, like they say, wisdom is like a fire, you get it from another person. So there are so many ways how Africans think about wisdom. There are many ways out in Africa think about generosity, compassion, these different teachings, amazing truth, you know. Yes. So in Africa, we think that truth is wealth, you know, so now that aspects of Africa, African thinking about them, connected with what the Buddha teach and what is right.
Mindfulness, basically. We talk about road maintenance, also many African thoughts, you know, it may not be called right mindfulness, but we have some thing that speaks to that Miskelly. I would find that. So now, in order to make that relevant, I wanted to find a problem that is very rampant in Africa and that's interdimensional travel. So that became part of my my thesis, my dissertation, doctoral dissertation. And now when I teach, I'm drawing a lot from my research.
What works basically is in the teaching of African thought that leads to disengaging from problems. Is there an African thought talks about how to be free from suffering? Then I talk about that. Even the universality of suffering, according to African thought, we said that in Afghanistan it took what in other words, suffering is like some it doesn't only change one person. That means already African thought they recognized that suffering is universal and that's what we're are talking about.
So basically, I drew a lot from all indigenous wisdom, but starting with African indigenous wisdom. And I teach the intersection with right mindfulness and not just for the sake of gathering bits and pieces of information and put them together, but also tie them together so that you can apply in healing into the nation.
So that's underpins most of my teaching in Africa. And in many ways, whenever I go to teach maybe Australia and all these things, it comes out. What's the Australian thing? When I go to teach in Brazil, I just ask what Brazilian think about this. I ask them in my talks and then I try to connect to what I'm going to offer them. What I call it is like when I come to Africa, I don't want to come with a bucket of sand.
You know, when you bring a bucket of sand from Asia and dump it on Africa is just like bringing the teaching of the Buddha from Asia and dump it in Africa. But I want to bring a bucket of seeds of, you know, I only bring seeds. You bring it somewhere with the fertile soil so well prepared that it wants to dump them in Africa, they will germinate. So by really marrying the best of the worlds, the African wisdom, the indigenous wisdom for us is the best in Africa and Marita is the best of Asia, which is the tradition of ancient wisdom from Buddhism.
I put it together. This applied to heal a problem. That's my teaching and that's how I roll that. Final question for me is, can you tell me about the African concept of Ubuntu? Wow, I know you've been to Africa for a long time. Yeah, but I use it as a symbol, teaching Oblon to really, literally means like life. Basically we so boom to life, to the puzzle. So this is part of our language in Uganda, though.
This is Zulu from South Africa. So the concept of 012 is like this in its importance. And to really keep it short, because the big philosophy which talks about compassion, it talks about this in the way you behave with other people. So it goes like this. I am. Because you are. And you are because I am, I am because you are, you are because I am. Yes. Yes. So this teaching shows that we are all interconnected, interrelated.
We are not separate. And with that understanding, there's a lot that comes into play when there's such understanding, and I think that's what the Buddha was teaching many times as a philosophy was talking about institute. Tanika, he was talking about this, the Buddha, not one to actually talk to me about. The Buddha said that with this is that is when this arises, that arises when this is not that is not when these scissors that scissors does in his son, you, Tameka Buddha, talking about how different is it from.
So for me then I would use that teaching and then I would transpose it. I would really introduce a concept which is understood in many African countries for us here in Uganda. If you come and you become generous and you spoke very well, you speak very well, you you are compassionate, you are kind, you are generous. As soon as people come and see those qualities, they up. This man, Alino, want to learn literally how to translate that one.
This man has the life of people, the life of people. That's what we say in Uganda. Or you want to malam. That means this person has a human qualities, in other words. So I use that considerable tragedy to teach. And that's part of my research also with the concept of a wound to land in the African moral rules, our ethical conduct that is drawn from Egypt, philosophy, Egypt and philosophies. Yes, when you type all that that's called to whereby you have ethical conduct, you have values, human values coming with compassion.
And that will come also being compassionate, being kind and all this kind of thing. Yes, that's the teaching that we found out in Africa and in South Africa is very common because it's part of the Constitution. I think now Mandela I think Desmond Tutu popularized it, but it's not only in South Africa, because every day here people would say, but this person has Ubuntu. Yes. There they want to with you. But here we use all Ubuntu.
That's a difference in spending, but it's a very common concept. And I can draw from that as I'm teaching Buddhism, because, of course, you know, Buddhism teacher teaches about that in Buddhism, you teach about that. Everybody has been your mother and father and all these things. So we are all interconnected, basically. But I see we're coming to the end of our time.
But I'll just say in closing that I'm not a Buddhist scholar, but my understanding of how Buddhism traveled from the original historical Buddha throughout Asia and around the world has been that.
Great teachers such as yourself have figured out how to bring seeds instead of sand to the various cultures into which they're introducing the teaching. So I salute you for doing your work.
Thank you very much. And yes, in fact, they would also use the same thing, Buddha. That's a concept he used because he was coming from Brahmins. I mean, he was teaching in a society which is bohemianism. And then they had a little there was a lot of resistance to his teachings. And he used the same times they were using the Brahmins and then he would use Buddhist incense to deliver that. So actually, the Buddha laid that pave the way for us in a way, the methodology he used to convince all people against him and just use the same terms like karma.
It was already used in Indian thoughts and just give it a different meaning. In other words, he was raising those words to a higher philosophical value. Incrementalists, the words that the Indians remember anybody in India is saluting this even in remembrance. But what the Buddha would have came was so this is a beautiful forward. So they would just use and give it a higher philosophical psychological value to the same ones. That's what I mean in Africa. Thank you very much, Dan.
It's been a pleasure to meet you and to learn from you. Thank you. Likewise. Big thanks to Pontypool Takita, that was a really fun interview and I hope to stay in touch with him big thanks as well to all the people who work incredibly hard on the show. Samuel Johns is our senior producer. Marisa Schneiderman is our producer. Our sound designers are Matt Boynton. And on Koushik from Ultraviolet Audio, Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We've got a ton of wisdom from our colleagues such as Ben Rubin, Jen Point and Toby and Liz Lemon.
And finally, as always, I would be remiss if I did not send out a big, hearty thank you to my ABC News comrade's Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Friday with a bonus. Right now, at this defining moment in America, from ABC News Turning Point, a groundbreaking mudflow Nightline event to be all right late night on ABC.