When she was 17, Tibetan Buddhist nun Ayya Yeshe travelled the world in search of the meaning of life which led her to become ordained at the age of 23.
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These days she spends much of her time doing social work in the slums of Nagpur, India and looking back she said the biggest thing she learnt about on her journey was compassion.
"We're always thinking 'what's the meaning of life?' and I realised an important part of being a spiritual person is service," she said during a talk in Wellington on caring for the community.
"It's not a personal matter it's a communal matter and if you want to find yourself you have to reach out to others and serve others," she said.
She said Australia could learn a lot from India about being more community-minded.
"Just being kind to each other, simplifying life and making it less about the pursuit of pleasure running the world. A place like India is quite selfless in this sense," she said.
"I think they can learn from us too, and I'm definitely not saying development is a bad thing."
Ayya Yeshe said that in Australia depression and mental health issues were more prevalent than in India, too.
"I think in India you see a lot less depression and mental health issues because people are there for each other," she said.
"Maybe if you all just took care of one or two other people; there is no easy solution, but it is better to do what you can."
"It's certainly important to think about what you can do, not what you can't."
Ayya Yeshe also discussed her book Everyday Enlightenment and spoke about her plans to write another book on what life in the slums is like.
For now though she is kept busy with her social work in India which involves job training for women, domestic violence support, English classes for children, school sponsorship, a nourishment program and Buddhist teachings.
For $40 a month you can sponsor a child in India or you can donate to the Bodhicitta Foundation (account number 153131719, Bendigo Bank, BSB 633000) which is tax deductible if you email email@example.com with your receipt, address and name.
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