Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for December, 2010

Trip to Singapore, Shanghai notes

Photos of Bali, Singapore, and Shanghai   www.flickr.com/photos/globalyouthspeakout/
Go to sets. There’s a  focus on homes. Enjoy.

12-26 Went to the Chico airport at 5. They said the 2:30 people were still waiting for their plane, to come back at 7. I gave them my # and went to look at Christmas lights. The best were near Emma Wilson school, very colorful, with music, and moving displays. Felt I should go home, walked in the door, and got a call to get to the airport right away. Luck is going with the flow, listening to guidance. Made it in time, spent the night in SF. Going in business class saved the day, thanks to frequent flyer miles and buying all necessities on credit card that gives 2 miles for every dollar. I watched 3 movies, Eat Pray Love because it features Bali, but didn’t find it an engrossing film. Saw a Japanese film about the 1770s and an imaginary era of female shoguns; love traditional Japanese architechture, and  then saw Robin Hood. Ate traditional Japanese food. No wonder they have the world’s highest longevity, mostly fish and vegetables. So much better service than American airlines, hot towels, slippers, really attentive gracious flight attendants. Two hours to walk around in Narita, Japan. Surprised they missed the two water bottles in my back pack. Lots of high end store–Gucci, Coach, Tiffiny–didn’t see anything very beautiful, in my opinion. Then 7 more hours to Singapore. I read Sharon Promislow’s Maeing the Brain Body Connection, good review of body-based tools to deal with stress without getting short-circuited. Will use with my kid’s class on the topic starting in January. Stayed in the airport in a transit hotel, no going through customs, simple but all I wanted was a bed and shower. Met Susan and guide Anthony this morning. Sue was relieved to be here in time after spending 12 hours delayed in Beijing.

Singapore was once part of Malasia, Brit controlled. A Brit named Ruffles developed the island of Singapore, then a Chinese prime minister continued the shaping of an island state. Lot of high rise apartments, didn’t see any signs of poverty. Very strict; entry papers said drug trafficers would be killed. Our Indian tour guide, Anthony, took Susan and I on a tour of the city. We saw Hindu temples evidence of the Indian population, Muslim neighborhood with Malay influence, and a Buddhist temple with lots of Chinese devotees. We went touring with a delightful family from Chenai, India, mom dad and 14-year-old. Of course I asked her to be part of the global youth book. I asked her if her parents had a love or arranged marriage; she said both because they are distant relatives. Lots of Indian tourists here on holiday to shop and see the sights. Now my first time in a bus. class lounge. Wow, free Internet and food, shower, way cool. Fly to Dempasar tonight.

The second time in Singapore I saw more than just skycrapers and high rise apartments, some luxurious mansions, townhouses, nothing like our single-story houses because land is so scarce. They reclaim some from the sea. People complained about the cost of living, how hard everyone has to work. It’s clean and crime is low, but one man told me the saying you can die in Singapore but don’t get sick because the government doesn’t pay your health costs. They subsidize housing for some, but an apt. is still $200,000 Sing. dollars, worth about 1.4 less. You can look at most women and tell if they’re Muslim from Malaysia–wear head scarf, Tamil-speaking South Indian (wear tunic and pants, or Chinese–more stylish. Most of the school kids I heard weren’t speaking English, even though it’s the school language. Kids take another language depending on their ancestory.

Singapore claims the largest orchid collection in the world, very beautiful varieties displayed in their botanical garden. They even have a butterfly garden in the airport, will post a few beautiful photos along with the others on my flickr site. The theme of the trip for me is the incredible beauty and abundance of nature’s creativity, the fish, coral, flowers, butterflies. It’s so sad that humans are devestating this magnicent art, no different than the Taliban blowing up ancient statues of Buddha. I had more time here because I was informed that I needed a visa to get into China. For $250 I got an expedited visa, yeah! I took the bus to see a Malay village, houses similar to Bali with the pointed roofs. I had lunch, was the only woman sitting with the men. I guess Muslim women aren’t supposed to mix like that. Will get to Shanghai at 10 PM, will be met by my Chinese “nephew” who I know from the book, eager to meet him. He’s a Gemini ballroom dancer, inquisitive like auntie.

Shanghai is 23 million, high rise apartments as far as the eye can see. Climate change is in place, was told it snowed for the first time in the last three years, including the last two days I was there. Very cold! An interesting mix of modern and ancient architecture and ways of living.  I interviewed a middle-class Shanghai couple with a son 16. They live in a 3-bedroom, 2 bath apartment with his parents. He works as a technician for Volkswagen and she’s an aiya, a cook and cleaner for Americans who teach at an international school. They met at a violin factory where he was her manager, love at first sight, both attractive. He’s a Shanghai native and she isn’t. Their Taiwanese boss was married, had 3 girlfriends and wanted to add her to his harem. He stood up for her, and they both quit work. I asked the secret of their marriage success and they said mutual respect and concern for the other’s well-being. At one point his parents had a 3-story apartment, but the government tore it down and gave them a much smaller place. Some marriages are still arranged, like her brother’s son’s. At first he didn’t like his wife, although she was in love with him, but he learned to care for her over time. They have two sons and have been married 4 years.
About education, you have to have a residency card to go to the good schools here, unless you have money and can pay to get in. Migrant workers’ children may go to private inexpensive schools run as charities. They told me about a 17-year-old who applied to get a low-income scholarship but wasn’t accepted and so has never gone to school, cried a lot about it. You have to get 540 on the entrance exam to go to an academic high school. Otherwise you go to vocational school. Their son got 514 so he’s repeating a year of middle school–a student needs to get a certain score on the exam. If you’re off by one point, you don’t get in. It costs money to go to school, more for university.bGoing to a top university guarantees a good job. To work for the government, you’ll want to join the CCP.
I asked what they think of the one party system. they said the CCP established the New China, so they should be in power. They’d heard of the previous premier’s harmony policy but not of the new leader’s 8 shoulds and shouldnts. If someone is critical of the CCP, a party member will come and have tea with that person and talk with them. They don’t like the rising fuel prices or the tearing down of so many buildings which adds to the ongoing pollution problem.
The government cleaned up the pollution for the Shanghai Exhibition, shutting down factories, etc. but it all started up again after the Expo. It’s so smoggy some days they don’t want to open the windows. The Expo encouraged people to stop throwing trash and to recycle so it’s getting better.
Personal space is different, grandmother put fish on my plate with her chopsticks, people don’t respect lines or traffic lanes. It’s quite an experience to drive here.

Young People’s Spiritual Beliefs


When asked in a large survey (email questions of 17,000 people ages 16 to 29 in 17 countries) about the statement, “I believe in God,” the most devout were Americans, with 69% fully agreeing, compared to 7% of young Chinese and 18% of French and Danish respondents. [1] When I talked with two Brazilian students, they reported most of their friends believe in God, have religious statues in their home, and Catholics wear metals with saints on them around their necks, but aren’t likely to go to church. They might mix religious practices as well, as does Vini, 19, who said, “I love God, Jesus, and Mary,” but also attends Spiritist gatherings, religious traditions brought to Brazil by African slaves.

How do I spend as much time with God as possible? Emily, 10, f, California

Make rituals of thankfulness, like saying grace or prayers before each meal. It’s easiest to see God’s work in Nature, so look at the stars at night and take hikes in nature. Grow a garden, so you can enjoy seeing your plants flower and fruit. Give thanks when you pick a flower. If you don’t have a yard, use pots. If you don’t have a windowsill or balcony, find out about or start community gardens. Take regular quiet time every day, like prayers or mediation before going to sleep. Listen to sacred music. Be kind to others, especially unpopular kids at your school.

Are gods real? Madlen, 11, f, British Columbia

How was God created? Zac, 11, m, Alberta

What is God like? I’d like to get to know Him better and how loving and caring He really is because I’m Christian. Kyle, m, 14, California

I think we are just an experiment of God or something like that.

David, 14, m, New Zealand

Does God really exist? I guess this question was asked by many people in different times, because human nature needs to believe in something. And it must be some great force, which makes us live, be happy, without killing each other or doing harm to other people. Does something, which governs us and in which we believe, really exist? Galya, 15, f, Ukraine

Does God exist in relation to the world’s creation by nature (the Big Bang) or the story told in the Bible? Tal, 15, m, Israel

The book of Genesis is said to be written by Moses who died around 1400 B.C. (although scholars say this can’t be entirely true because the book discusses the death of Moses). Evolution wasn’t understood until Charles Darwin who died in 1882. He had more understanding of science, so I’d define God as the intelligence in the evolution. However, some people do believe that literally the world was created in six days. We all have a right to our beliefs as long as we don’t impose them on others.

I think everyone needs to realize that nothing is the same. God in my life is not the same as it is in someone else’s life; death isn’t the same, not even happiness, so I would just feel better if everyone would stop comparing theirs to mine because there’s a big difference. There really is. Colie, 16, f, New York

If I was to believe in a greater ‘being,’ can he/she give me proof?

Jo, 17, f, United Kingdom

Look at nature, look at the stars, and think about the incredible intelligence in a single cell. There’s a higher intelligence than us, called by many names, including Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, or God.

To stay calm when I get problems, I always remember my God because I believe he is always beside me. Riza, 17, f, Indonesia

Did God really create the world? Steph, 17, f, Britain

Does God exist and if so why does it matter? Every person laying flesh to soil is going to perish, crumbling under the weight of mortality tick-tocking towards eternity or darkness. Life ponders on its course reversing, submersing and pushing right forward; does divinity make a difference? Justine, 17, f, California

I want to believe in GOD and not in gods. Idea, 18, m, Tanzania

Why would all humans have the predisposition to believe in something? Why would there even be the idea of belief, if there were really nothing to believe in? It must have come from somewhere... perhaps it came from the source, God?

Jen, 18, f, California


I believe that everyone has their own life, God gives each one their unique life, and we should get the answer ourselves. We are all searching the answers of life–questions make life mysterious. How could someone know the answer of your own life? Even he/she tells me, I won’t believe totally: It’s my own duty to find the truth. Sometimes you really desperately need someone to guide you from the darkness. The one who guides you is your teacher. A good teacher is one who shed a light; he/she helps you find the answer yourself. I believe my spirit controls my physical condition. I am actually giving myself a medicine-free treatment for my gastric ulcer. I use meditation and hypnosis to cure myself. Yuan, 19, m, China

An acclaimed 2006 film from Taiwan, Yi Yi: A One and a Two, explores the difficulty of finding truth in a busy urban setting. The story of a year in the life of a middle-class family with a teenage girl and a boy, age 8, he asks his father, “Why is the world so different from what we think it is?” Yang-Yang also points out that we only see half the truth because we see what’s in front of us, without knowing what’s in back of us. He takes photos of the backs of people’s heads to illustrate this lack of perspective. At the end the mother concludes that she tried to make meaning too complex, it can be simpler.

How did God appear? Blessed, 19, m, Zambia

Who made God? Enos, 16, m, Sudan

In adolescence, I started questioning everything about God, worship, the hows and the whys and the whens and everything of it. I was told, ” Do you want go get into a good professional college? Do you want to be the college topper? Do you want to be safe on the roads while you are driving? Shut your eyes and pray to God. Also, do this, that and the other for this number of days and your desires will be taken care of.” God was now someone I traded my devotion with to be paid back.

Now, why do I love God? He hasn’t really taken care of my desires and difficulties! I asked him to pleeeeeeease pass me this time at least and He still has me writing this dumb exam in two weeks, for the fourth time. I asked Him for lots and lots of things and “prayed hard with my eyes shut tightly,” but to no avail. Why then should I love Him? Simple. I can’t help it.

I don’t see how one can be on a business level when dealing with someone like God! If there’s one thing that everyone on this planet agrees about God, it is that He/She is someone of the parent type. Mother, father, uncle, whatever the relation is….God is more of the parent type and we are more of the kid type. (Who said spirituality is abstract?!!!) My Gurudev says, God is our parent and we are His children. He feeds us. That’s just the way it is. Why make it so complex? Give Him a chance.[1] Krishna, 21, m, India

To respond to questions about God, the universe is not linear, so it has no end, like a circle with no beginning. Look above at the symbol for infinity, which stands for all that is. Does it have a beginning? God is like a circle with no beginning and no ending. Every inch of space in the universe is full of energy. The world is lawful, so if you drop an apple, gravity always brings it down, not up. The world has patterns, like atoms are electrons circling around a nucleus and solar systems are planets circling around a sun. This energy and these intelligent patterns can be called God who has no beginning and no end.

To respond to these questions about God, the universe is not linear, so it has no end, like a circle with no beginning. Author and environmentalist Paul Hawken explained,


The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe–exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a  “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”[i]

[i] Paul Hawken, Commencement Address to the Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009

Research scientist Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., shared his conclusions in his book The G.O.D. Experiments. He explains that the universe is ordered, the small microcosm reflecting the large macrocosm. We see so many repeating patterns, such as the spiral in the seashell and the galaxy that follows the phi ratio (the ratio between the sum of two quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger one and the smaller), that nothing is really random. GOD is the “invisible, intelligent Guiding-Organizing-Designing field process in the universe,” concludes Dr. Schwartz.

Author and environmentalist Paul Hawken explained,

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe–exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a  “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”[1]

Scientists only understand about 4% of what’s in the universe, since 96% of it is mysterious invisible dark matter and dark energy. The math of Super String Theory indicates there are multiple dimensions and universes. The invisible realm of Quantum Physics and Super String Theory of mathematicians doesn’t jive with common sense, but it’s been proven mathematically and sometimes experimentally. Clairvoyance, ESP (extra sensory perception), distant prayer healing, and remote viewing—all that kind of phenomena violates the laws of classical Newtonian physics, but not of Quantum physics.

Quantum Mechanics is the study of sub-atomic energy, which began early in the 20th Century in Germany with brilliant young physicists. Quantum physics or mechanics tells us a universal field exists that conveys information. Physicists discovered an information field connecting all that is in a sea of energy. This enables distant effects, including the mere act of observation as well as our thoughts. A principle called quantum non-locality is mind-boggling. If two electrons are paired and then separated, if you change the spin on one in a distant location, the other changes in response—immediately. This means the electrons didn’t communicate with a wave function, but instantaneously through an unknown information and energy field. Scientists don’t know how. You could call that field God; Schwartz says love is built into the field and we’re hardwired for love, so we can define God as loving intelligence.

Claude Swanson, Ph.D., gives an informative explanation in The Synchronized Universe: New Science of the Paranormal. This is a fascinating collection of evidence about research about the power of the mind. Swanson, who has a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University, observes we’re moving beyond Newtonian physics, and the Einstein and Quantum Revolution, to the “Third Scientific Revolution” that deals with consciousness and subtle forms of energy neglected by western science. He goes on to give the evidence for remote viewing of a distant site in the mind’s eye, ESP (extra-sensory perception), cell-to-cell communication, and group collective effects. He offers a theory of these phenomena based on how electrons synchronize in different systems unknown to each other in parallel universes.

Paul Hawken wrote, “Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.”


In a survey of 21,000 youth in 21 nations, a German research organization found that worldwide more than four out of five young adults (85%) are religious and almost half (44%) are deeply religious.[1] Only 13% have no interest in God or faith. In developing countries and Islamic areas, youth are as religious as their parents—and youth are more religious than their parents in Israel and the UK. This does not mean that they are members of a religious group, as 35% of youth who said they are religious don’t belong to a denomination.

European Christian youth are the least religious (7% of Protestant and 25% of Catholics are deeply religious) compared to 80% of Protestants and 68% of Catholics outside of Europe. In Eastern Europe and Russia, only 13% are deeply religious. The US is the exception in the western world, with 57% of young people saying they pray daily. A 2010 Pew Research Center report on the Millennial Generation (ages 18 to 29) in the US found they’re less religious than older Americans but as likely to pray.[1] Only 25% affiliate with a particular faith and the same number meditate on a weekly basis.  Less than half say that religion is very important in their lives (45%) but two-thirds are certain of God’s existence. They’re more accepting of homosexuality and evolution than older Americans. When asked about the most important thing in their lives, it’s family: the top response was being a good parent (52%), followed by a successful marriage (30%), helping others in need (21%), owning a home (20%), living a very religious life (15%) and having a high-paying career (15%). A majority says that the older generation is superior when it comes to moral values and work ethic. They’re mistrustful of human nature (two-thirds say “you can’t be too careful when dealing with people”).

In a 2009 survey of 15,000 young leaders, many (61%) fear religious war will be a “constant issue” in this century and 55% say religions should be a personalized set of beliefs rather than a specific system.[1] Only 61% affirm the need for separation between church and state. I was surprised that 82% agree war should never be carried out in the name of religion, which means that 18% approve.

A Search Institute study of 6,853 global youth revealed that they value spirituality, more so than organized religion.[1] In most countries surveyed, fewer than 1 in 10 youth say they didn’t believe life has a spiritual dimension. Most believe in God, only 8% don’t and 10% don’t know. They define spiritual as believing there is a life purpose, believing in God, and being true to one’s inner self. A Hindu Indian boy, 18, defines being spiritual as “knowing oneself. When you’re spiritually awake you know what’s the best you can do,” compared to religion, which is from “the outside.” A girl, 15, in South Africa, said, “Most of our religion is forced—the do’s and don’ts. Being spiritual means standing on a mountain with the wind blowing through your hair, and the feeling of being free.” Over half said they became more spiritual in the past two or three years. One-quarter believe in reincarnation or that ancestors guide and protect them.

In the large survey sample, over one third say they are both spiritual and religious, one-quarter are spiritual but not religious, and 20% don’t know. One-third of the youth view religion as “usually bad.” “The spiritual does not commit any mistakes, while the religious person does,” said a Syrian girl, age 11. Americans and Canadians, and youth in Cameroon and Thailand are likely to think of themselves as spiritual. Youth from the UK and Australia were least likely to report having spiritual experiences like inner strength in a difficult time, inner peace, joy and ecstasy, love, and experiencing God’s presence. More than half of youth said their spirituality increased over the past two or three years, but 46% said their doubts and questions about spiritual or religious matters had increased.

The respondents’ parents are the most influential teachers about religious life, but most young people don’t have frequent talks with them about the meaning of life. Three-quarters of them have discussions with friends about meaning of life and God or faith. Unfortunately, 18% of youth reported they don’t have anyone to help them. Only 14% say their religion supports them most in their spiritual life, as family and friends are the most supportive. The influences that enhance their spiritual development are being in nature, music, serving others, and being alone, as well as friends and family. Three-quarters of the youth report their spirituality is nourished (in this order) by being in nature or outside, listening to music, serving others, and being alone in a quiet place. They grow spirituality by reading books, praying or meditating alone, helping others, or attending religious worship.

More than 100 questions were asked of 1,280 Americans ages 13-24 in 2007 (by the Associated Press and MTV). Almost half said religion and spiritually are very important to them and more than half believe in a higher power. In a 2006 survey of 2,546 Americans ages 18-24, almost one-quarter had no religious preference but 40% said religion was very important in his or her life.[1] However, around the world change is a way of life, causing stress and anxiety. We experience technological change, increasing power of institutions like governments, media and corporations. Often this results in the weakening of older values and the rise of fundamentalism (reaction to modern ideas by returning to strict religious principles following literal interpretation of religious writings). See the DVD Jesus Camp, about “Kids on Fire,” a summer camp for evangelical Christian children in North Dakota. The pastor teaches the kids to “take back America for Christ.” (2006) An interview with a young extremist Muslim jahadi is available.[1]

Even among the Australians who tend to be less religious than Americans, a 2006 study of spirituality among young people (the researchers defined Generation Y as those born from 1976 to 1990) found that 48% believe in God, 32% are unsure and 20% don’t believe in God.[1] Only 19% attend religious services at least once a month, and 17% report they have an eclectic spiritual combining two or more New Age or Eastern beliefs. They rely on family and friends rather than churches. The young people who consider themselves spiritual and religious are more likely to do volunteer work– 27% or the respondents do volunteer work every month.

According to the 2005 survey by Encyclopedia Britannica, the world practices these religions: Christianity (33%), Islam (20%), Hinduism (13%), Chinese folk religion (6.3%) and Buddhism (5.9%). Non-religious people make up about 14%, and about 4% follow tribal religions. Sikhism, Judaism, Bahá’í, Jainism, and Shinto each have under 0.5% of the world’s population. Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religion, especially in developing nations.[1] They’re Christian Protestant churches like the Assemblies of God that believe they can be filled with the Holy Spirit to heal and prophesy. See the endnote for resources about religion.[1] Former Prime Minister Tony Blair set up a foundation to research “Faith and Globalization,” including university courses.[1]

The common belief of all religions is the Golden Rule; do onto others as you would have them do unto you, reports British historian of religion Karen Armstrong.[1] Confucius was the first teacher we know of to teach it, five centuries before Christ. Adept Kung asked Confucius: “Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?” The Master replied: “How about ‘shu

[reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?” When Jewish Rabbi Hillel was asked to recite the teachings of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) while standing on one leg, he said, “That which is hateful to you, don’t do to others.”

However, children seem to have been left out: Philosopher Matthew Fox criticizes religions for “adultism, no commandment to honor thy children.” Jesus did teach that we should become like children. Matthew 18:1-5 states:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ” Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Youth have these questions about religion:

Why God allowed the Devil to live amongst us on earth? Golden, 10, m, Liberia

How did God create the earth? Malama, 10, f, Zambia

I would ask him whether the religious of nowadays are true or not.  I doubt about the possibility of their truth in life. Yannie, 11, f, Hong Kong

Which religion is true or most true? Trever, 12, New Mexico

Professor and author Huston Smith taught about world religions for decades and wrote about them in numerous books. In his CD “The Big Picture,” he said all religions share a belief in a higher dimension. Mystics and people who have experienced near-death experiences report the other side is blissful and loving with helpful guides.

The Bible and the Koran talk about heaven and earth, Buddhism contrasts samsara (this world) and nirvana (which can’t be described in words), and Hinduism contrasts maya (this world of illusion) with Brahma (god). Much older tribal religions, which date back 30,000 years–compared to only 6,000 years for historic religions, agree a superior world exists beyond this plane. Religions also agree humans were made in the image of God and there will be a happy ending, usually with the coming of a prophet (or for Christians, the second coming of Jesus).

Smith believes the advent of the scientific method in the 16th century, with its use of controlled experiments and proofs, led to unbelievable technological advances, like walking on the moon. But “the critical mistake of modernity” is that science denies the possibility of another world, keeping many from exploring it. Science ignores meaning, values and purpose. We’ve lost a great deal in dismissing these dimensions, Smith concludes.

The answer to your question, then, is religions are all true in that they teach us to define our values and live up to them. They all teach we can expect consequences to follow from our actions in this life to the after-life. We can ask for spiritual guidance and receive it through prayer, meditation, chanting, and other spiritual practices that quiet the mind. Religions disagree about who is the greatest prophet (a person who reveals God’s teaching) and which scriptures are the most true—those written about Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Zoroaster, and more.

Why doesn’t everybody believe in God? I’m a Christian. Lewis, 12, m, US

Because we can’t see a physical being, some don’t believe in God. Some see God in His/Her creation. I can’t see radio and TV waves so it seems unbelievable that they create sound, but they do. I can’t see that the 99% of my body is space, not matter, but it is nevertheless true since atoms are mostly space.

Why do we have to pray? Sinan, 13, m, Turkey

To get calm and centered so you can receive guidance to your questions. Shehroz explains, ”He is talking about Muslim prayer of five times a day which should preferably start when the child is seven-years-old. All Muslims who pray five times a day say that it is really calming, soothing, relaxing, spiritual and a connection with God.”

Why is there such a controversy between different religions?

Donicka, 14, f, Lanai, Hawaii

The same reason countries fight wars—people get caught up in ego, thinking my way is the right way.

What is religion and what is its purpose? Forrest, 15, m, American in Chile

Groups of people with similar beliefs worship together to set aside time for spirituality and to hear suggestions from the clergy person about how to live life wisely. Religion use different words for the sacred: Hinduism and Buddhism discuss Dharma or law; Confucianism, Li; Daoism, the Dao or the Way; Judaism, the Torah; Christianity, the Logos; and Indigenous native peoples believe in the Great Spirit. The British philosopher Aldous Huxley wrote The Perennial Philosophy in 1945. He was the first to describe two types of world religions. One is external and public: rituals, buildings for worship, and sacred books. The other is the more secret form, known to an inner circle usually involving a meditative discipline like Sufi dancing.


Buddhists believe in what we call ‘Khamma’ [karma]. It’s kinda like the way of life for us. We are taught to do good things, cause no harm and keep our hearts clean and calm because whatever we do will come around to us somehow someday. Scientifically, is what you know as Newton’s motion law; action = reaction. The highest aim is ‘Nipphan’ [Nirvana]. It’s said to be the deepest and most wanted forever peace. Now hopefully, you got the idea of Buddhism.

Unlike Christians, we go to temple on occasions such as birthday, New Year, Thai New Year (aka water festival), and other holidays. In the early morning monks walk from nearby temples to receive alms from villagers. Monks live a plain and simple life, physically and mentally. We give them food and flowers for merit. As Christians give love to one another, we give forgiveness. Khamma will do its role. The bad will receive bad fortune in return but before that we have no right to judge them. Palmmy, 17, f, Thailand


What does Jesus look like? Kendra, 9, f, Canadian in Belize

Like a Middle Eastern young Jewish man, who could come in many different appearances.

How would religion change if Jesus was gay? Olivia, 10, f, British Columbia

The Bible doesn’t mention any romance for Jesus, so we don’t know anything about his sexuality. Some people do believe that he had a special relationship with Mary Magdalene. The Old Testament spoke out against homosexuality but Jesus didn’t say anything about this topic, as far as I know. He was more interested in purity of heart than external practices: “People honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Mark 7:6)

I’d like to know the day when Jesus shall come. Mulenga, 12, m, Zambia

People have been trying to figure this out since Jesus died. Paul, an important founder of the Christian church, believed the end time would come soon, but it didn’t. Some Christians invite Jesus to come into their hearts on a daily basis.

I felt most loved at my first communion. Adrian, 12, m, Switzerland

Family and friends share a special bond at religious rituals that mark important steps in our lives.

My purpose is to be a king of earth; God made man to be the king of animals. Remo, 16, m, Sudan

I hope this means you’ll work to keep wild animals safe from poachers and others who take away their habitat and food sources.

I’d stop people from devil worshipping and make people of different communities mix up, not living in different groups as they are now. ?, 17, f, Kenya

What’s the sense of living if we die in the end anyway?! Why is life so unfair? I’m a Christian so I also think life is my mission. Jesus is my life and death my win. I think every person is here to make the earth a better place. Some are succeeding some are not. Franziska, 17, f, Germany

God wants to bring goodness, truth and beauty to the world and take all of the pain and suffering and wipe it out. The incredible thing is that he wants to do this through you and me. He also wants to restore our relationship with him. That’s why he sent his son Jesus a couple thousand years ago. . . .  Jesus’ death, and his coming back to life, also opens a way for us to step back into a good friendship with God. The guilt we feel over our sin can be wiped out. …Check out what God has to say to you and the help he offers for living in the Bible. That’s one of the ways God talks back to you. Zach Hunter, 17, m, Georgia

[Zach started an organization called “Loose Change to Loosen Chains” in 7th grade to end slavery and has written three books to encourage activism. The above quote is from his webpage.[1]]

My circle of family and friends are critical and judgmental about personal decisions I’ve made lately, saying what I’m doing is not Christian.

Betty, 17, f, California

Remind them Jesus said let those who are without sin throw the first stone, judge not that you not be judged, and pay attention to the dirt in your own eye. He stressed forgiveness, love, and compassion for the downtrodden. He was a radical who violated all kinds of traditional taboos, as by discussing theology with women—including a woman of the streets, healing a bleeding person, turning over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple, and so on. Christian leaders who ignore the poor and the destruction of the planet’s ecosystem need to re-read the Gospels.[1]

Jesus is around the corner coming. Obadia, 18, m, Sudan

Mohamed B. Fare worried about the current influences of western culture on Liberian youth: “media, music, alcohol and drugs, sexual temptation and the awareness of a better life (materially) somewhere out there.[1] In the light of this (and therefore Christ) seems more and more irrelevant.”


Our purpose is to reach our goals, which are written by Brahma in his book. Abhinay, 13, m, India

My purpose is to serve my guru and to achieve goals in my spiritual life.

Sailam, 18, f, India


As Hindus, my family has a worship room in our home with photos of gods and goddesses and ancestors. They’re all manifestations of God, Brahma. We do puja, give offerings of sweets and money, and chant. We celebrate festivals like Diwali, to celebrate when Krishna rescued Sita, or Holi when people throw colored powder at each other to celebrate. Weddings are huge, five days of ceremony and feasting. The bride has henna designs on her hands and feet; how dark they are symbolizes how much the groom loves her. My parents’ marriage was arranged, so they don’t understand dating, so I didn’t date in high school.

Bhumi, 19, f, Indian in Colorado

In Hinduism there are three ways to reach God: Gyan Marg, Karm Marg and Bhakti Marg. When we talk about puja and worshipping by rituals, we are on bhakti marg. On Karm marg we don’t bother about these aspects. Not participating in puja is all right; if you are a Hindu then you don’t need to worry about the ritualistic aspect of it–it is not compulsory to worship God only by rituals and puja. We can worship God by our karma also. I don’t believe in a position for God which Christians and many Hindus keep for themselves–that God is like a King who would grant us wishes if we pray to him and do good, or that there is a Swarg/Jannat/Paradise where good people are treated while bad people are sent to hell. I think these are concepts created for the naive to threaten them. We don’t need to believe in these. Devi worship or Shakti [goddesses] worship is a very unique concept in Hinduism; try to read more about it on the net. Then even if you won’t worship her, you would get inspired to be on the right path. Umar Rahul, ?, M, India[1]

A Scottish journalist who lives in India wrote about the sacred in contemporary India points out that many religious practices are based on the son performing rituals for his parents, as at cremation, and also based on caste and social groups, which are “changing rapidly as Indian society transforms itself at speed.”[1] William Dalrymple observed in his travels around India, “Much of India’s religious identity is closely tied to specific social groups, caste practices and father-to-son lineages, all of which are changing very rapidly as Indian society transforms itself at speed.”[1] He reports the speed of development is breathtaking and, according to CIA estimates, the Indian economy will overtake the US by around 2050. Interesting regional spiritual practices, such as memorized oral myth telling that takes days and an astounding memory, are lost to the homogenization by middle-class urban Hindus and by TV and film versions of Hindu mythology. But there’s a renewed middle-class interest in religion, as witnessed by the fact that over half of the organized tours are pilgrimages to sacred sites.

In his book Dalrymple tells the story of the spiritual practices of nine Indians, Jain and Sufi as well as Hindu. Some follow what previous generations have done; for example, one man makes statues of the gods but worries that the tradition will end with his son choosing computer engineering instead. Amidst all the changes, “an older India endures.” Some of the “nine lives” he describes rebelled against their parents to become wandering monks or nuns with no possessions. People still debate ancient spiritual issues or worship village local deities: “In the sacred topography of the south, every village is believed to be host to a numberless pantheon of sprites and godlings, tree spirits and snake gods, who are said to guard and regulate the ebb and flow of daily life. They are worshipped and propitiated….[1] Villagers follow old traditions, while urban educated people and media “homogenize” religion. Some political parties are organized around Hinduism (i.e., BJP, Shiv Sena, and Bajrang Dal). The Hindu right wing nationalists want India to be a Hindu-dominant country and are more likely to be supported by upper caste voters.[1] A magazine written in English called Hinduism Today is written for Hindus in Diaspora around the world and provides a summary of Hindu philosophies.[1]


Over 1.5 billion people believe in Islam. Many young Muslims strongly identify culturally with the global “tribe” of orthodox Islam. Kahina, an Algerian young woman student,


The only thing that keeps our traditions alive is our religious events like Ramadan where Muslims refrain from food and drink during the daylight hours, the fast is broken with a family meal, and Eid al-Fitr, the final breaking of the Ramadan fast, which involves consuming large quantities of foods, sweets, and pastries in particular. Even if we’re losing some of our traditional values because we can’t keep all of them, I know that these simple things will be passed by a father to his son, by this son to his son and on and on…that why deep down in my heart I know that we will never lose our traditions.

Indonesia has the most Muslims in the world. Many Indonesian Muslims regard western culture as a threat to Islamic moral values, although middle-class Muslims in Indonesia shop at the mall in Muslim fashion sections. They carry cell phones and own portable CD players or iPods.

Muslim students in our book are much more likely than others to state that their life purpose is to worship God, follow religious law, and spread their religion. The biggest branch of Islam is the Sunni, while the Shia are less than 15%. Many Iranians and Iraqis are Shia. They believe religious leaders—imams, can help us communicate with Allah. Millions belong to the Sufi faith, which like the Sunni emphasizes a direct relationship with Allah.

Saudi Arabia has its own type of Sunni, called Wahabi. Women are not allowed to drive or vote. Physical education classes are banned in government girls’ schools. The top religious leader in Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz, said in 2004, “Allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe.”[1] In 2010, a young man was sentenced to four months in prison and 90 lashes for “immoral movements” (kissing a woman) in a mall. He was also banned from the mall for two years.[1]

Islamic family law is called Shariah and some countries that practice it have religious leaders who make decisions about legal issues like divorce. For example, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, law makers in this province used Islamic law in 2001 to ban gambling, drinking, and require women to wear head scarfs, and in 2009 decreed punishing adulterers and homosexuals with stoning to death. In Somalia, Islamist insurgents arrested 14 teenagers for watching the 2010 World Cup soccer match, accusing them of “time-wasting.”[1]

Islam and traditional Hinduism don’t believe in dating or allowing the opposite sex to be alone together. Hassan, from Pakistan, comments on US high schools where dating is the norm.

After I went to US, I got very open minded. I got exposed to many new aspects of life, which I never experienced in Pakistan like boys and girls interacting openly, dating, etc. Now, I know Islam don’t allow us to date but there’s no perfect Muslim in this world. Not only that I dated a girl, but there are many other things in Islam that I might not follow accordingly. I dated her because I liked her, but this dating is a different kind of dating. Because I never touched that girl. We used to talk on phone and that’s it. I saw her, but never touched her. Again, we all try to be perfect religiously but we have the devil with us and sometimes, we listen to our heart and maybe it takes us on the wrong way. The most important thing is that you learn from what you did and don’t try to repeat it again.

The Prophet Muhammad (7th century) was progressive for his era, as in his dealings with women. His first wife was older than him, a widow, not a virgin, and proposed to him. He banned killing baby girls and limited polygamy to four wives who were supposed to be treated equally. Women had property rights. But, the Koran says that a daughter inherits only half as much as a son and a woman’s testimony counts only half as much as a man, and it permits slavery. Islamic feminists (like Moroccan Fatema Merniss) suggest that Islam needs to change with the times, to look at the teachings of the Prophet’s youngest wife, Aisha, and her feminist recollections of her husband.[1] Muhammad’s wives drove camels, so why shouldn’t women today drive cars? Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1961, so why not change with the times in other areas? “The rise of women is in fact a prerequisite for an Arab renaissance,” concluded a UN Arab Human Development Report.

I get angry too fast; I waste my time and don’t offer my prayers with concentration and on very particular timings. But the worst one thing I want to stop is my habit of wasting time. I would pray everyone understand Allah and Islam—my religion. ?, 14, f, Tanzania

I would like to be a journalist to help my war-effected country and spread the holy Islam to the entire world. Naqibullah, 14, m, Afghanistan

I’m a Moslem. So I think I live on earth to do the best I because of my love to Allah. I truly believe that I’m nothing without Allah, so I won’t let Him down with my bad behavior. Lina, 15, f, Indonesia

ALLAH created us on Earth to worship him and to construct the Earth by our deeds which are limited to Islam’s rules found in Quran. I believe that my purpose is to worship ALLAH and to work my best to help people and make Earth better for the whole humanity. I want to be a surgeon to cure ill people and avoid them to feel painful. Mohamed, 16, m, Egypt

I live on earth for preaching Islam. Nida, 16, f, Pakistan

I’m here on earth because it’s my fate that I was born from my mother’s stomach. Some things motivate me to live—that is, to thank God for all the blessings, how much he loves us. We thank him by doing good things, do everything with spirit and pray to Him. Maybe my purpose is to do so many good so that when I die, I go to heaven but I’m still doubting that I can do that. Atika, 16, f, Indonesia

Normally people would say that we are here to practice and spread their religion. That’s true, but as a together, we are here to help others, be a better person and respect each other’s religion. Hafiz, 17, m, Pakistan

I love my religion. I pray to ALLAH five times a day, I believe in Qumran, I have understood my religion. I know My ALLAH almighty and whenever there is a choice between good and bad, I know what my ALLAH wants me to do. That whole message resides in one sentence of Him I learned in 7th grade,

“ALLAH can forgive if you don’t fulfill His rights (like pray five times and cover your head) but he will never forgive if you do not fulfill the rights of humanity (like love, care, peace).” I have been the source of joy for hundreds of people and I have never hurt anyone. This is what I learnt from my religion.

Sahar, 17, f, Pakistan

I would change my country from a republic to a Kingdom. My purpose is to workshop Allah and do what he ordered us to do. I would like to the president of my country. Ismael, 17, m, Iraq.

The purpose of being on earth is to worship Allah and to do what he ordered us to do. Ibraheem, 17, m, Iraq

Islam is the word for “peace” and Muslim means “One who submits” so we should not be misunderstood to be a hostile and wild religion. Koran says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” This means that no one should be forcefully converted but only ‘convinced’ with a proper, decent, calm, and friendly but serious persuasion. If persuasion didn’t work then nothing else should be done. Muslims believe that Allah is the same God who created Adam and who sent Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as prophet and messenger to mankind. We differ slightly on the “nature” and ‘attributes” of God.

The word Jihad actually means “to strive/to struggle” and it doesn’t mean to fight or kill innocent people. Muslims are told to fight in DEFENSE and to honor all treaties and agreements. I would recommend a book called “Imperial Hubris Followed by Defeat” by an anonymous writer, if someone is interested in the whole AlQaeda, Taliban, Jihad, Terrorism and war against Terrorism issue. This book is biased towards Afghanistan, Iraq and AlQaeda.

Shehroz, 17, m, Pakistan

Laws should no longer be governed by religion, but by a fixed set of rules instead. And I’d abolish capital punishment. Ameer, 17, m, Pakistan

I will fix the west’s view of Islam; they think it is the religion of the terrorist. I will show them what our prophet teach us and tell us. Eman, 17, f, Bedouin in Israel

[Hassan emailed me about the Muslim holy month where adults fast from sunup to sundown.] Ramadan is just so awesome. The atmosphere is just amazing. People love and care for each other and they develop that concept of patience. We try to do as many good deeds as possible because the devil is imprisoned and there is no one to stop you from being good. So I love Ramadan and I am anxiously waiting for it. Hassan, 17, m, Pakistan

Islam is given a bad name throughout WORLD MEDIA by associating it with all the terrorists. But I tell you that these TERRORISTS are not MUSLIMS (and that is a whole new argument). Media calls terrorists as MUSLIM EXTREMISTS, but I would rather call them NON-MUSLIM TERRORISTS for a terrorist cannot be a MUSLIM. This wrong association by media creates biasness among common people and a bad name and reputation for MUSLIMS. Pakistan is the country with second largest Muslim population but MEDIA’S opinion is based on a bunch of bearded idiots in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc. Shehroz, 17, m, Pakistan

There is just one purpose for us—pray to God. Ashin, 17, m, Indonesia

In this world we have a God who teaches us to obey the command and avoid restrictions. We live in this world is only temporary, and only for the worship of God. And in a time we will also return to the gods. Febri, 17, f, Indonesia

Why are the Muslims the ones to be oppressed when they are just practicing their faith? Sadika, 16, f, Tanzania

The people who stereotype Muslims do not actually know the true Islam. Education is compulsory in Islam for both men and women. People do not know the actual teachings of Islam, that’s why they are stereotype Muslims. But as you cannot judge the car by its driver, people should not judge Islam by its followers. Believe me, most of the youth of Pakistan think like that. Firasat, 19, f, Pakistan


I felt most loved at my Bar Mitzvah. I’m proud to be a Jew in Israel.

Nadav, 15, m, Israel

Spiritual Practices

Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working. Artist Pablo Picasso

When anybody tells me any false information, I feel much bother. And deep meditation (quantum method) practice helps me to stay calm.

Tonil, 17, m, Bangladesh

I was about seven- or eight-years-old when I started praying every night before sleep. I beg God to grant me power and heal any of my discomfort, I imagined the power came from the universe, joining to my bio-field and enhancing it. For example–how I take care of my stomach problem–I try to feel the cosmic power enhance my energy field. I put my hand on my belly and concentrate the energy to my stomach and let it heal the ulcer and wound in my stomach.

I had perfect health when I was a child. Looking back, that’s definitely due to the meditation I did everyday. But after middle school I gave all my time to study. I did meditation less and less, and the pressure just cracked me. I still can’t go back to the same state when I did meditation at that time. I can’t concentrate like that time. And maybe some of the practices I do to get deep relaxation can’t count as meditation–that could be self-hypnosis. Yuan, 19, m, China

In the US, over half the respondents to a Parade magazine study said they prayed daily, for others, for forgiveness, and for personal success. Over two-thirds believe in God.[1] A moralistic (but not in its language) youth subculture calls itself “straightedge,” as explained in this dialogue from the Urban Dictionary, “Want to get blazed after school?” “No, I’m straightedge.” “OK, that’s cool.” Or another entry, “You don’t have to be hardcore emo to be straightedge. You just don’t drink/don’t smoke/don’t f**k: “F**k you, I don’t want a smoke. I’m straightedge.” Books have been written about the movement in the US and Canada, explaining some of the teens are also vegetarian. If you see a black marker X on a teen’s hand, it signifies this subculture with its moral prohibitions.[1]

Isn’t meditation just sitting and not thinking? Juao, 19, m, Brazil

It’s very hard for most of us to not think. Most of need something to concentrate on to quiet our thoughts, like a mantra/phrase or repeated saying such as “peace and love,” looking at a candle flame, counting breath, or counting prayer beads. Tibetan Buddhism compassion meditation suggests that you meditate on when you felt most loved and your love and compassion to others. Imagine the other is you.

Filmmaker David Lynch advocates going within in mediation a way to eliminate school violence. He recommends,

In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have one class period a day to dive within himself and experience the field of silence—bliss—the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is the way to save the coming generation. I have been “diving within” through the Transcendental Meditation technique for over 30 years. It has changed my life, my world.[1]

Some young people buy into the consumer religion so their aim is to get rich. Others value doing good for others and some follow traditional religious practices. An Indian professor teaching in the US, concludes:[1]

Whenever a country modernizes there is speculation that the new generation will be dramatically different from those that preceded it, in particular more Westernized. Much of that speculation is based on superficial observations regarding rock music and the like. However most systematic studies show that new generations retain much (though not all) of the core values of their culture.

Cultures change, if at all, very slowly. What is changing is the environment in which they live, their living standards, opportunities for advancement, and self-fulfillment.

I think the values that have changed are the weakening regard for religious institutions, with an acceptance of an eclectic spirituality—with the exception of the Muslim youth.

Why Suffering Exists


Why Does Suffering Exist?

Why do some people live harder lives than others? Victoria, 12, f, New Mexico

Why are there so many wars, crimes and why not peace? Tiago, 12, Brazil

Why is there sin/drugs/war/alcohol? Logan, m, 14, Alberta


As to why things are so messed up, I think of this as a kindergarten planet. People have free will to hopefully learn from their mistakes. The media focus on violence. It may be that humans have always behaved like this but we didn’t have CNN and the Internet to let us know how widespread our troubles are.

Our closest relatives, with whom we have a common ancestor, are chimps and bonobos. Chimps, like humans, often solve disagreements and fighting over desired resources, with power, either physical aggression, or social power, building allies of groups of friends to back us up. The hormone testosterone is linked to aggressive behavior and rough and tumble play, in young chimp and human boys especially. The extreme is sometimes seen in athletes who take steroids and get very aggressive and even violent. It’s interesting though, that scientists don’t talk very much about bonobos who are headed by the females and solve tension and disagreement by having sex. Huston Smith tells us about experiments with macaque monkeys finding that 87% would rather go hungry, some for as long as two weeks, rather than give electrical shocks to their companions, so we do have instincts for altruism as well as aggression.[1]

On a positive note, for most of human history, we lived as small bands of democratic hunters and gathers, like the Bushmen of South Africa. Some archeologists, like UCA Professor Maria Gimbutus, maintained that early civilizations in Crete and Turkey were peaceful, with equality for women and men, in cultures that worshipped goddesses, until warriors invaded.[1]


Why is sin and suffering permitted on the earth? Amana, 15, f, Sudan


Why is there always suffering in life? What is the best cure of it?

Shashikala, 16, f, Nepal


Is life a bed of roses or is it completely covered with pointed pebbles?

Azba, 16, f, Pakistan


Why is life so unfair and so strange? Judge, 16, f, Tanzania


There is always something in the world that spoils and ruins our peaceful life: so many wars, catastrophes. Why do people from all over the world always suffer from hunger, earthquakes, and floods? Why don’t we live in peace?

Helen, 16, f, Ukraine


Nobody takes the time to realize how beautiful life is. They are all so caught up in what’s happened and all the drama but they never really look and see what is around them. Roz, 17, f, California


Optimism is hidden even in the worst of situations. In the over-crowded and polluted city, I find beauty in the eyes of that small child who is eating an ice cream with absolute innocence. In the most dead of graveyards, I find beauty in that lonely flower growing by thorns and bushes. Suffering is a test. In our life, problems are like challenges. Some people might say that if God loves us, why would he give us miseries and problems? He wants to test us and see how we react to the problems. That’s all. The better we face it, the more fruitful it is. Hassan, 17, m, Pakistan


Why is there so much evil in the world? Konstyantyn, 16, m, Ukraine

Because people are not evolved and imperfect. Abused people often abuse others.


Does karma actually exist? Laurel, 17, f, California

It means cause and effect, or, as the Bible, says, “As you sew [seeds], so shall you reap [grain]. See if you observe it in your life.


How can you avoid letting the bad things that happen to us stop us from doing anything at all? Jess, 17, f, Georgia

Look at them as challenges and opportunities for growth rather than bad luck.


Why does life always turn everything upside down when it seems to be going fine? Kat, 17, f, Indiana

We learn from the downs as well as the ups. The question I ask is about difficult times is what is this experience teaching me, why did I attract it into my life? Difficulties have caused me to change course for the good.


This is how Josh considered the nature of suffering in a California school essay on Enlightenment:


A Japanese Zen master by the name of Nan-in once entertained a professor who came seeking knowledge of enlightenment.  As they sat, Nan-in served the professor tea, and as the cup reached its fill, Nan-in continued to pour, until there was a small puddle on the table.  The professor expostulated, “It is overfull. No more will go in!” The Zen master replied, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can we discuss enlightenment unless you first empty your cup?”

I have come to the realization that, in order for me to better understand enlightenment, I too must first empty my cup.  I must throw away my preconceptions.  As always, they serve no purpose, and act only as a limitation. Life is suffering.  This is the first of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.  Human nature is rife with imperfections, as is the world we live in.  We encounter fear, frustration, sadness, depression, and inevitable death.  No one’s skin is impervious; we are all subject to the empty feeling of someone looking right through us.  Of course there is also good in this world.  Namely, comfort, love and friendship, but in its entirety, life is an incomplete mess.  It will remain this way until we finally end our self-centered desire.

The origin of suffering is attachment.  This is the second of the Four Noble Truths.  As long as we crave impermanent objects, we will continue to be blinded by their unneeded promise of fulfillment.  Unfortunately, the loss of such objects is inevitable, and upon their departure, suffering will occur.  We cling to what we now refer to as “self.”  One’s sense of separate self is an illusion; we are all intact within the universe.  “Self” is little more than a bag of skin and bones.

The cessation of suffering is attainable. This is the third of Four Noble Truths. Suffering can be ended by attaining a state of dispassionate tranquility.  The cause of suffering is attachment, so why not annihilate that cause?  Because it is fu—– hard!  The process of eliminating desire is a many-leveled one, as there are countless possibilities for attachment.  Consequently, few ever truly achieve nirvana.  Nirvana is freedom from angst, complexes, and ideas.  It is incomprehensible for those who have not yet achieved it.

The Buddhist path to cessation of suffering is eight-fold: correct thought, correct speech, correct actions, correct livelihood, correct understanding, correct effort, correct mindfulness, and correct concentration. One must follow this path.  It may last many lifetimes, and it may consume one’s every waking moment, but as one continues down this path, gradually, ignorance, delusion, desire, and eventually suffering will all disappear. This is the fourth of Four Noble Truths.

Do not liken enlightenment to a religious awakening.  It is anything but that.  It is not an answer, for there is no question. To be enlightened is to see past right and wrong, to surpass the notion of correctness entirely. It goes beyond belief.  Religion is temporary by nature, ever changing to suit its recipients. Unlike religion, enlightenment is not characterized as the pursuit of finding meaning, answers, and purpose.  It is the pursuit of rising above that. Purpose is a path worn out by humanity’s pointless striving for a definition. The need for either of those two terms, purpose or definition, is obsolete.

Enlightenment is a possibility for everyone. Many believe that only Buddhists strive for it, but this is untrue. An example of this is Walt Whitman in the 19th century, a new poet of a country in need of a new voice. His change in self was most appreciated through his poetry.  He was already a writer connected to the world through energy and immortality, but the wondrous secret of life was gently whispered into his ear, and he began anew.  “I cannot be awake or nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.” (Walt Whitman)

His change was noticeable even to those with unperceptive minds.  It was like his writing emerged from a sleep, which is essentially what enlightenment is:

The emergence and awakening from a deep slumber. Enlightenment exists free of constraints. In some cases one could devote one’s whole life to meditation, counting breaths and calming the mind, and one would be not a day further down the road than the moment one emerged from the womb. Yet enlightenment can also be triggered in an instant, by a meandering moment at a butcher shop, or a hike into mountains devoid of habitation.  It’s as if all of our brains are mired in a deep slumber, and then in one fleeting moment, a switch in the back of some blessed recipient’s head is flicked on. That moment is more than all of the emotions in life, more than any realization.  It is in this moment when beautiful tears grace the uplifted visage of a person who has risen above the act of caring. Being enlightened is to recognize that we are of the earth, not from it. It is the grasping of the concept that the highest mountains of Tibet are somehow connected to the small stream outside your window. The entire universe is intact.  How could it be otherwise?

I, unfortunately, am still asleep, literally or not. I perceive only what’s in front of me. I judge what I don’t know; yet I remain without curiosity towards that which I judge. I exist only to survive, partake in meaningless activities that serve as nothing more than distractions. I eat, drink and sleep. I guess love too, but it means nothing. I am still searching.  It is the rise above that search that is truly significant. Josh Allerd, 17, m, California


I would like a better understanding of pain and why certain things happen to certain people. Kara, 18, Northern Ireland


What does it mean to be human in the face of cruelty like WWII concentration camps, atomic bombing Hiroshima, and genocide in Rwanda, Tibet, Srebrenica, etc? Humans pollute the planet, fight wars in the name of religion, allow over one billion poor people to struggle for daily survival, and crime and domestic violence continues. The many authors of a book titled What Does It Mean to Be Human? started with Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s life motto of “Reverence for Life.” They give as examples 20th century prophets who enacted this caring for others: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Pope John XXIII, Laurence VanderPost, and Bede Griffiths. The first principle of what reverence for life means is that we protect children, according to lawyer Leonard Marks, then to respect all beings and their religions.[1]

How to Make Good Decisions


Doing Good: How to Make Right Decisions

I want to become more true to myself. Enoco, 10, m, Japan


How do I know when I make the right decision? Kelly, 11, f, California

The secret to getting answers is to ask questions. To get answers to our questions, we need to access our inner guidance. In Listening, author Lee Coit describes the ego voice as more rapid, busy and fearful than the inner guide that is calm and friendly. To access the guide, he suggests take time for daily devotion; have no preconceived idea about the answer to your question; be patient and know that it can show up in songs, books, in conversations with friends, etc. The right answer is accompanied by a warm glow; it flows without a sense of pressure, and with the ease of serendipity or synchronicity (when two seemingly unrelated events happen at the same time, as when you think of a friend as he or she calls you).

Here is a guided visualization or daydream to contact your higher intuition. It’s on my meditation CD, or tape your voice and listen or have a friend read it to you. Imagine looking at a window into a mountain meadow. Step out into it. As you stroll down the path, notice the wild flowers at your feet, the blue sky above, and feel the warm sun on your shoulders. Inhale the forest air. Stroll to the stream you see ahead of you in the meadow.

Find a pool in the stream and adjust the temperature of the water the way you like it; sit on a flat rock with your back leaning into a waterfall. Ask your body what temperature and color water it would like and bathe it with the rush of water and fragrant tropical flowers down your shoulders. See if the colors change as your body absorbs them. Any worries can be dropped into boats beside you to float down the stream. Look in the sand at your feet, admiring gemstones shimmering in the light, and reach down for a jewel to take with you to remind you to stay peaceful.

When you’re ready, look to the right towards the woods. Notice a figure stepping out on the path. This is your symbol of your higher self, your inner guidance. As it gets closer, feel the love and acceptance radiating towards you. See how you’ve chosen to portray your higher self. Examples of my U.S. workshop students’ images are a knight in armor, a Native American warrior, John Lennon, a figure with many arms, an old man with a gray beard, and a wise woman. My Japanese workshop participants saw a huge sea animal, a dolphin, an older man, a green light, and so on.

As you get closer, notice a scroll that your guide gives you to read. It’s a reminder of something you already know. What’s the message? Ask questions and listen for answers. Return your awareness back to your room and to your body, stretching and wiggling it. Other ways people use to access their inner wisdom are prayer, prayer beads, meditation, chanting, singing, and dancing (like Sufi dancers).


What is the biggest mistake a kid can make? Kristen, f, 15, Florida

To let peers or the media pressure you into making decisions that violate your values. Listen to your inner voice, although it’s wise to consult with wise adults to benefit from their experience. Shehroz says, In Pakistan and I guess in almost all nations and cultures, adults are a symbol of wisdom. Yet the youth fail to realize that they are a great source of wisdom to help them and seldom utilize their wisdom and experience. Youth would rather listen to what TV says than what our elders say.


How can I tell if I’m living life right? Collie, f, 16, New York

If you feel calm, centered, happy, and proud of yourself. It’s important to define your beliefs and goals and then stick to what is right for you. Life is like a wave that ebbs and flows in, has ups and downs, so sometimes we feel dissatisfied and unhappy and then we get back on track. Growth can be uncomfortable, like a growth spurt in adolescence, but it’s worth it to gain in stature. “I always say this to my friends: every trouble is a teacher,” adds Shehroz.


What’s a rule of thumb that applies to almost everything in life?

Zhanibek, 17, m, Kazakhstan

The Golden Rule, do to others as you would have them do to you. Know that there are consequences to everything you do.


Everyone says that lying is a bad thing, but sometimes we have to lie for someone’s good. Is it wrong? Prashant, 17, m, India

The highest good should prevail. If someone asked me, “Do I look ugly in this outfit,” and I thought he or she did look bad, I wouldn’t agree outright, but say, “I think you can find an outfit that looks better on you.” If someone says, “Do you dislike me,” I’d say, “I dislike that particular behavior where you talked about me behind my back,” but I appreciate that you’re such a good artist.”


How do you face difficulties in your life? Chu Fang, 19, f, China

Useful principles are explained in The Four Agreements: Don Miguel Ruiz‘s Mexican Toltec code for life.[1]

Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word: Speak with integrity.

Agreement 2: Don’t take anything personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.

Agreement 3: Don’t make assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.

Agreement 4: Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.


Nigerian Chief Iwowarri Berian James emailed me in reply to a question about his family’s childrearing practices to maintain values. He’s the father of five boys and one girl:


As to how the children are being helped to cope with the challenges of materialism, I will say that parents are also on the edge on this and therefore have not been able to do much in spite of much efforts. For families that have deep religious background like mine, we have focused the children on the path of salvation and have used that as a base for character molding and an effective deterrent. The school system and extended family system has helped also to a point. But ultimately the solution is in letting the children know about personal responsibility for actions that do not further their spiritual wellbeing. In letting the children know about the purpose of our existence in this creation and how we must obey the natural laws that govern creation if we are to achieve this purpose for which we are here. I am an adherent of The Grail Message by Abd-ru-shin. I use its teachings as basis for educating my children about life and it has been giving me results.

Meaning of Life, Values


Meaning of Life, Purpose of Living

The diamond cannot be polished without friction, nor the person perfected without trials. Chinese proverb


Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose… Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received. Albert Einstein


We know we can’t take our possessions with us when we die, that materialism doesn’t bring soul satisfaction. Every generation of young people has asked questions about why we’re here, the nature of the creation, and what happens after death. SpeakOut respondents are no exception. Teens are more likely to ask about these philosophical questions than younger kids and girls than boys.

Some young people don’t see a deeper meaning:


What is the point of human life? If there is a God, did he just put us there for his amusement? We are born, get educated, be as happy as possible, and die. And any impact we make on future generations seems just as fruitless because they aren’t going to do anything different. Born, live, die. Is there anything else?

Rachel, 14, f, Pennsylvania

Just like nature evolves, so does the human spirit. We also appreciate and enjoy the creation. Water, carbon, and sunlight are needed to generate life, but I think there’s also a creative Intelligence behind it. Hindus and Buddhists say there are cycles of creation and destruction. A similar idea is developed in a book by Ervin Laszlo called Science and the Akashic Field. The purpose of life is evolution, to develop our potential and enjoy the process. Humans are making progress in some areas, such as increasing awareness of women’s rights to equality or the injustice of child labor or the recognition we’re responsible for global warming and pollution.

A short video teaches in “10 Rules for Being Human” that life is about learning lessons—there are no mistakes.[1] Challenges are repeated until they’re learned. Other people are mirrors for your issues. To learn how to cope with your challenges, look within and listen to your intuition.


Life was meant to be a mystery or else we would be born with the answers. Deanna, 15, Quebec


Do you think that the way the world is falling down is destiny or it is the mistake of mankind? Anas, 15, m, Pakistan


Is it worth having fun and dying young or being cautious and dying of old age? Skipper, 15, m, Quebec


In the end is it worth it? We go through so much pain and suffer and in the end we die. Is it better to party up, be crazy and vagrant, or is it better to be study, go to college and be stuck paying debt, working 9 to 5, etc.?

Sara, 15, f, North Carolina

Partying gets old and isn’t fulfilling, based on a chemical high followed by a downer. Some jobs are enjoyable, so I think you can combine work and play. Learning at university and meeting new people is fun, as is a job where you’re learning and providing service.


How do you know what you’re supposed to do with your life? How will you know what God wants? Sometimes it just seems so meaningless. I go to school. I go to the mall. I go hang out with friends. I do homework. What does it all add up to? I’ll die eventually. Is all of this just for entertainment? I mean, what do you get a job for? Why do we do what we do in everyday life? Is there any reward that we’re working towards? Mavo, 15, f, Minnesota


What is the point in life as when you work hard and study for all your life, you’re then old and then you die and you don’t have the youth and the incentive to go and enjoy yourself anymore? Teri, 16, f, United Kingdom


I can’t answer why I’m in the world. I guess I was luck to be born. I live for me, for my life. There are so many things that are not fair in the world. Many good people that deserve to be happy or should get more out of life suffer. Many people who have excess amounts of everything don’t appreciate what they have and have no idea how well off they are. Marina, 17, f, Germany


After much contemplation, I’ve concluded that life is without purpose. The best we can do is make life worthwhile by enjoying it. If your circumstances make you unable to enjoy life, you’re screwed and I would understand if you wanted to take yourself out. Badeiaa, 18, f, Israel


What is the most important thing in life? Reika, 17, f, Japan

To be true to your principles and become all you can be. Author Deepak Chopra, MD, suggests asking yourself these questions to help you define your values and purposes, implying that one of our purposes is to help others[1]:

What is my principal life focus?

What have I felt when I have had a peak experience (transcendental moment or epiphany)?

What contribution do I want to make in my life to my community and the world?

Who are my heroes and heroines in history, religion, and philosophy? (Try to name five)

What are the qualities I most admire in these heroes and heroines?

What is the principal quality I look for in a good friend?

What are my unique skills and talents?

What are the best qualities I possess in my personal relations?

How might I best put these skills and qualities into service for a peaceful, just and sustainable world?

I am here on earth still searching the answer from my own question, “What for I live?” Until I get the answer, maybe I will say, “I want to live on earth just for see how beautiful the earth is,” and I am sure all questions be there in myself. Search, wait, and see. The answer will be come. Nurinda, 16, f, Indonesia


The meaning of life is to stay alive and pro-create. I think of humans more as animals rather than owners of the planet. We try to make our race survive and our communities flourish. Once we’re wealthy enough to survive easily, we spend our time keeping ourselves comfortable and occupied so that we don’t have to worry about our purpose or why we exist. I don’t fit god in the equation as an almighty power that humans should serve. I believe religion is something people imagine so that they can envision themselves as still alive after they die. I don’t think there is a divine plan we all fall under; we don’t have purpose; we just are. Zamboni, 17, m, Minnesota


I don’t know why I must be here; sometimes I feel I’m just a useless human, filling this earth without any use. Riza, 17, f, Indonesia


Shamans, philosophers, prophets, and theologians have been trying to figure out the meaning of life since ancient times.[1] The “ah ha” insight for me was reading Huston Smith’s book The Religions of Man when I was in high school and also, later, learning about science. If you study a single human cell, the complexity and intelligence is awe-inspiring, the way DNA replicates and the quality checks on accuracy, the way cell receptors check on informational substances trying to enter the cell, the transport of parts of the cell as they move around doing their work, and so on. To me, this suggests a higher intelligence that loves to create and to teach us how to create as well. So one of the purposes of life is to get smarter, more creative, and more in love with the creation, including yourself.


How do we really know we exist, and it’s not all a dream?

Piggytron, 18, f, California

“Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?” This question was asked by Chuang-tzu, an early Chinese Taoist master after he woke up from a dream. It can be answered by saying both realities exist. Life is a kind of dream. The Matrix movie series and the DVD What The Bleep Do We Know? explore this idea of our perception of reality being an illusion, just as Plato and the Buddha did much earlier in Greece and India. Albert Einstein said imagination encircles our planet, as the next level of consciousness itself. Imagination feeds and is greater than knowledge, he believed. So, it’s good to dream as well as to be logical. The painter Andrew Wyeth said, “I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting.”


Some young people think God provides meaning:


I’m here on earth because the god felt lonely and the world was too plain.

Glory, 9, f, Thailand

I was born in the earth created by God and my purpose is I want to amuse all people and also want to be success people. Anugrah, 15, m, Indonesia


I’m here on earth to serve the Lord Almighty. My purpose is to live a spiritual life, have a better future, help the needy and change the world. ?, f, 16, Kenya


God send us here for examination; we came here to see what can we do on the earth or which kind of things we can make and detect. Ihsan, 16, m, Afghanistan


I’m here because my father and my mother and my Lord desire to make me available. If not, I wouldn’t be here. My purpose is to do lot of things before I die (with some conditions that permitted by my religion). Nurinda, 16, f, Indonesia


According to Islam, there are 124,000 messengers. We have a belief that Muhammad is God’s last messenger and there will be no messenger coming to us till the end of life. So the responsibility lies on us to spread our religion peacefully. That is why we are here in this world.

Just look at it this way, this life is a test for us. It’s like an examination hall. Every single step is like a subject. Every good deed is like a plus point and every bad deed is like a minus point. We have angels with us that are appointed by God to write our good and bad deeds. We die because we have to go to back where we came from and get our grade sheets. We have to face eternity. People with good grade sheets will go to heaven and will live happily in it forever. People with bad ones will go to hell and will get punishment for their bad deeds. Now, it’s common sense. We are here to be good and spread goodness. Be noble, respectful and nice to your parents. Listen to them and love them. In the end, you will end up together. I hope all of my family lives together in Heaven.

Hassan, 17, m, Pakistan


I would like to keep my eyes healthy and bright and beautiful, to let my glasses see God. Loi Yinhui, 20, f, China


Some think life’s meaning is to do good.


I think I’m here to make my parents happy, and to do important and good works so that I can be remembered by everybody even when I’m dead. Another purpose is to make the earth heaven by removing unnecessary evils, such as the trafficking in girls. Barsha, 15, f, Nepal


To help poor and needy people and receive love and blessings from them. My purpose is to gain name and fame and reward from people. I would like to make a water supply to villages and nutrition and electricity. Springy, 15, m, India


I think I’m here on earth to make the people on earth unite and help each other in loving grand care so there will be no violence. Nara, 15, m, Indonesia


I am living on earth to make this place like heaven with my hard labor.

Susmita, 16, f, Nepal

I think I am a visitor [on earth]. I have a mission, but like everyone, I don’t know what it is. I think that after death we will know our mission on earth. That’s why I try to do a lot of good works. Dadash, 16, m, Azerbaijan

I’m here on earth to continue with God’s creation by implementing new things in my daily life. ?, f, 16, Kenya

Note: Kenyan students often mentioned God or Allah. Religion is part of the national curriculum and questions on it included in the national exam.


I think my main purpose is to make other people feel better, to make their life better or fill some specific target in their lives and then go. That’s what I think about everyone in my life–that they are here to make my life better, fill some specific target or teach me a lesson about life, and then go.

Aviram, 16, m, Israel


I’m gonna pick up those pieces which are forgotten and broken by careless people then make them whole again. I’ll be someone who can heal this world. Avina, 17, f, Indonesia


Allah gave me a life. I will be a leader. Miftahul, 17, m, Indonesia


The reason why we are here on earth is to give as much warmth, positive feeling and energy as we can and certainly receive it all back.

Giorgi, 17, m, Georgia (the country)


You should ask my parents why they born me, and I think the answer is that they need me, so I come to this world. Because they love me very much, I grow up healthy. So I live in this world to bring happiness to my parents, to make them feel happy, satisfied, proud and delighted. Dalang, 17, m, rural China

[The rural students from various western provinces often agreed that their purpose in life is to care for their parents and country.]

Hearing about youth like these makes me feel that there is still hope for a better world,” adds Shehroz from Pakistan.


Some think they’re here to enjoy and love life.

I’m here to have a gorgeous life. Marie-Desiree, 9, f, Chad


Life is a big journey. Rizka, 16, f, Indonesia

Why is life so complicated? Raina, 16, f, Lanai, Hawaii

Shehoz believes, “If life was not complicated, it would have been monotonous. Complications, hurdles and challenges are all that make life spicy and worth living.


I would like to change my thinking towards the materialistic world and my attitude.  I am here to experience happiness and sorrow, to be happy and love nature. Also, to enhance peace, prosperity and harmony. Sabin, 17, m, Bhutan


I am sure that everybody has come on earth for some reason, to do something special in his/her life. But understanding what this thing actually is can be difficult. I think that one day I will find out why I am here on earth, but now I just follow my chosen path and enjoy every pleasant moment! Marina, 18, f, Bulgaria


I am sure that everybody has come on earth for some reason to do something special in his/her life. But understanding what this thing actually is can be difficult.  I think that one day I will find out why I am here on earth, but now I will just follow my chosen path and enjoy every pleasant moment! Marina, 18, f, Indonesia


My purpose is to love and to be loved. Dessy, 18, f, Bulgaria


My purpose is to evolve and develop self. God is energy, which started everything and keeps it going; it’s all connected. Joao, 19, m, Brazil

                             Personal Purpose and Values

What do young people value and want? Materialist values focus on economic and physical security, while, according to Ronald Inglehart’s theory, Postmaterialist values focus on freedom, self-expression, and quality of life.[1] Young people are more likely to be in the latter camp, which is therefore the future value system. An AIESCE (global college student organization) report describes the play between local and global values:[1]


Young people are absorbing new ideas, values, beliefs and codes through the connected world, mass media and new information technologies; but they are also growing up with the traditional cultural values of their own societies. This blending of local and globalized cultures may become more like a collision, with accompanying tensions and challenges. Exposure to new information has both positive and negative sides. With very little opportunity to find out about sexual and reproductive health through their families or at school, for example, young people get information through the Internet, often from their peers. Although this is better than no information at all, young people may come to believe rumors, myths or “urban legends.” Some people feel that unfiltered information acquired from the Internet leads to conflict with traditional values. The tension between local and globalized values is clearer in regard to sexual and reproductive health than with many other social issues. But despite the global media’s impulse to uniformity, there are still wide differences among regions and countries in patterns of marriage, sexuality and reproduction. Local values are still the determinants of attitudes and practice. . .. Given the opportunity, young people can be highly effective as builders of peace, as participants in civil society; as bearers of new ideas, and as mediators between cultural tradition and cultural change.


A survey of 17,000 young people (aged 16 to 29 in 17 countries) reported for developed countries, as in Italy, entry into adulthood is delayed by more time in studies and difficulty finding jobs. Youth expect work should not just be a way to earn money but also give meaning to life. They want a good job with a high salary—especially the males, and also want work that allows for flexibility and balance with home life.

Young women are more interested in the quality of work and more family-oriented. But both genders value family a lot, as a personal resource and source of affection. Young people desire independence and many Northern Europeans view the individual as the basic unit of society rather than the family; 47% of Europeans view the family as the foundation, compared to 62% of Americans. Friends provide a very important source of identity, as well as family. When asked what a good life means to them, most young people said it consists of having a family and children, feeling needed, spending time with friends, and having an exciting and meaningful job. Material goals like having a lot of money were only cited as important by about 30%.[1]

A report for the United Nations referred to a 1996 poll of 25,000 middle-class high school students from five continents, which found them to be more similar than different.[1] Personal achievement and a desire “to make something of themselves” was valued by 80% of the world’s youth, and they also valued family. Young people in developing nations worried more about crime and the environment, while those in industrialized nations worried the future of the world and tended to reject “the old way of doing things.”

A commentator on an Israeli survey of youth, a member of the Knesset (parliament), Tzipi Livni worried that, “We are witnessing an erosion of values amongst the youth.”[1] The Chairman of the Knesset’s Education Committee, Zevulon Orlev, stated: “This distressing information illustrates the education system has neglected its responsibility in teaching students about human and Zionist values, Judaism, and democracy.” But perhaps adult values are simply different than young Israelis, as only 2% of them believe the government is the most trustworthy institution, while 35% believe the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) is the most trustworthy. Other findings they may have worried about are 47% do not think Israel’s education system is preparing them to serve as good citizens, 50% think Israeli Arabs should not be given the same rights as the Israeli Jews, and only slightly over half, (57%) believe Judaism has a reasonable influence on life in Israel. But this is a typical finding that global youth do not respect institutions; they shape their own beliefs.


Respect Elders

UNICEF conducted a large survey of young people, aged 9 to 17, about 10,000 youth in 17 countries, from 1999 to 2001. In East Asia and Pacific, the young people most valued respect for elders but almost one third (31%) said money is the most important thing, especially in rural areas–without gender differences. Korea was an exception with low respect for elders and authority figures. Many also value not stealing, respecting others, telling the truth, and helping others—all from 85% to 61%. Most say they apply these values in their daily life. They most admire their parents, entertainers, and friends. Political and religious figures got little mention.

A comparison of youth values in the US and Pakistan is given by Hassan, an exchange student in the Mid West, in regards to respect for elders:


My personal experience from USA regarding attitude and manners of kids towards elders was horrible. I would see my host brother using the F-word right in front of my host father in his face. That’s disrespectful. It’s sad but I must say that in Europe, teens are getting more disrespectful day by day towards their parents and elders. When they are 18, they think they are the smartest kids in the world and can pretty much do anything. But that is not true at all.


I interviewed an Indian woman, 28, who said when she was a girl her family emphasized that girls should not wear short skirts or low-cut tops out of respect for elders. Body functions were not mentioned in company; when she first started menstruating she thought she was bleeding and came to her mother about it when she was with friends. Her mother spanked her for mentioning such as thing. Of course she didn’t get sex education at home either, but gathered information from friends. Now, she reports, in good schools reproductive processes are part of the curriculum and educated parents inform their kids. In villages and in some families, elders are still greeting by touching their feet as a sign of respect.

Elders and ancestors are revered in traditional African societies. In a description of West African spirituality, the authors explain that there is higher Spirit that creates energy called Nyama (like qi in China or prana in India) and many intermediaries and spirits found in nature and in animals. “All that is visible corresponds to an invisible source.” The goal is to maintain relationship with Spirit and not to be attached to material things: “We take what is essential for survival; anything more is sacrilege.”[1] People who inherit high levels of nyama are shamans, diviners (as with reading cowrie shells), and storytellers/historians. These leaders can direct nyama to help the people with information, rituals, ceremonies, initiations into secret societies and adulthood, sacrifices of animals or food and water, protective charms, sacred symbols, and herbal healing. Elders teach and govern the village, as they are closest to the ancestors. To show respect, shoes are removed in the presence of ancestors, heads are bowed, and they are helped if carrying loads. Ancestors serve as the closest intermediary to Spirit and are guardian sprits. Before eating, a piece of food or some alcohol may be placed on the ground as an offering for an ancestor. If you drink a beer, you pour a little on the ground for them.


Do Service

My purpose is to show other people love and show other people how to love others.

Marin, 10, f, California


Everybody has a mission. I’m interested in global warming, violence, and improving prejudice against workers. They don’t make enough money. We need to create more jobs, lower taxes, and have better schools. Eva, 11, f, Brazil


I was the chosen one from God to go down to earth to bring more happiness to my parents’ lives. Mariana, 11, f, Brazil


My life is like a drama in seven ages and when I play a role I like to do something for poor people by giving money, clothes, etc. Saikiran, 14, m, India


Because my ancestors live on earth. To protect the earth.

George, 16, m, China


To live in order to make myself and my relatives happy.  Coffee, 16, f, China


I am living to change the current situation of my family. I don’t want to live in the countryside as a farmer like my parents; I want to go outside to make great achievements. But I’m losing the dream of leaving the countryside, how can you clear up the confusions in my mind, so that I can keep struggling and don’t give up my dream, and be resolute to leave the countryside. I advocate that the people plant trees, to beautify the environment and protect our home.

Liuyuxia, 16, f, rural China


My purpose is to help change the world one person at a time.

Kalynn, 16, f, Wisconsin


To remain immortal by doing good works helping the helpless children in my society. Dayaram, 17, m, Nepal


I don’t feel I have a set purpose. I don’t believe I am on the Earth for any reason, but that’s not to say I can’t achieve anything with my time here. I would like to become a doctor so that I can help people through illnesses, not just in the Western world, but also through volunteering and providing my services elsewhere. Michael, 19, m, England


Religious Purpose

To become mature as a sprit and then go to paradise. Clinton, 11, m, Nigeria


I would try and change myself to a better person for the hereafter and try not to do those things that would cause me to go to hell. Rabia, 13, f, Tanzania


I think life is God’s gift who is playing with us on earth like a playing thing. Deepak, 15, m, India


God is watching at me and be a good woman. Lilac, 16, f, China


The sperm met the ovum and changed into me. My purpose is to have a good life with a hard work and pray to Allah who gave me the soul.

Bella, 16, m, Indonesia


I’m living to fulfill the promises of God and my purpose is to serve him diligently to the end. ?, 18, f, Nigeria


No Purpose

People don’t have purposes, you know. They’re just born, and then they complain for a while, and then they’re gone forever. I guess the purpose, if there were one, would be to make your own purpose. It’s not like we’re robots or something, with an idea in mind upon conception–we need to find stuff we like, and do it. Make our own paths. It’s not like there’s a big label hovering over people’s heads saying ‘Doctor’ or ‘Serial killer’ from the moment they are born. People make choices, and they do things, and all these actions shape who they were, are, and will be. Everything is fluid.

If we’re just talking about the purpose of humans in general… I don’t think there is one of those either. We just happened. To think that people have a purpose is to assume that humans are better, or more important than, other living (and non-living) things. What makes us more important than a lump of lead? We can paint and sing and kill each other in interesting ways, yes, but why is that better than having an atomic number of 82, and being useful for many things? We humans tend to assume that we are more important than other things-even other people.

Look at religion. The Jews are the chosen ones. No, wait, the Muslims are the chosen ones. Hey! God said that we Christians are the chosen ones! It’s a big mess, and having a purpose specifically chosen for us, but not for any other things, is in the same vein, a way of elevating our status, a way of reassuring ourselves that we are important, and that we will be remembered. We have no more purpose than the waves–we just live on. The only purpose you will find today is in goal setting- and we make that ourselves, it’s not like our path has been plotted out for us before we ever came into being. We make our own purpose. Tom, 14, m, New Zealand

Yours is the view of Existential philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre. It is useful to define your own purpose, but I would explore the insights of other philosophers and theologians.


I don’t need to think about that because I know that we don’t have a purpose or a why, it’s just life. Akira, 15, m, Brazil


I think people exist simply to exist. If we knew our purpose, than life would be much easier and clearer to understand. However, I think that finding our purpose is part of the challenge and intrigue of life. Ideally, I think my purpose may be to live to my fullest potential. Meaning, if I live a healthy and balanced life, then I can be best equipped to put my strengths to good use to help the world. But often times, I feel insignificant when thinking about myself in relation to humanity and its history. It seems like things just happen for no reason, and like life is often absurd and pointless. What does it all amount to? This is where I agree with many existentialist tenets that urge people to live life as if a God exists and as if it makes a difference. Becky, 17, f, California


Is it worth trying to find the answer to what we are meant to do? To be the most intelligent? Or is it better to just enjoy life?  Brian, 19, m, Mexico


Many youth around me are wasting their times. This may because they don’t have a clear objective. They do not know what to do when they graduate from university, what is the goal of their life. In my country most students who entered the university just want to fulfill their parents’ dream. They do not learn for themselves and their own goal. Huayang Shi, Chinese university student


To Learn

We are on the earth as characters in a movie who have their different roles and different habits. Our purpose is to play our role the best.

Mohammed, 15, m, India


I want to make mistakes so I can learn from it and others can learn from it. I want to be noticed, not just someone you walk passed in the street. I want to make something of myself. Talia, 15, f, Australia.


I am on this earth to understand the meaning of life, family, friends and nature with its processes. Earth is a mother who gives such an environment where everything is provided and life is a journey to struggle. ?, 19, f, Nepal


To discover how to find our life purposes, I interviewed Linda Ratto, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the School of the New Spirituality (SNS), on July 18, 2007. She organizes retreats, after-school, and other programs for youth to develop tools for consciousness, inspired by Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God books, including a book for teens.[1]

Ms. Ratto says to ask yourself two questions: 1) Why am I alive on this planet? 2) What are my dreams and passions that I love? Sometimes it’s not easy to listen to our deep selves to get the answers about what you want, so she suggests that you experiment by taking quiet time by yourself to listen to the answers from your own mind and heart. Try taking a walk in nature or a park, dancing, yoga, painting, and discussing these two questions with your family or friends. You can also describe what roles you play, such as student, daughter, or brother. Would you like another role, like actor? Joining the school drama club might be fun. Even very young kids can participate in naming their feelings and needs. Each soul is important, as age doesn’t have anything to do with spirit. We are all souls having a human experience, no matter what the size or age.

Ms. Ratto’s SNS programs center around bringing what you love out into the world. She often leads retreats where dreams and “dreamboarding” are used. Once you get some answers, you can make a poster or a “dream board,” where you list, draw, sketch, color or somehow define ways you can make your dreams more real. Include favorite people in your life like friends and family in helping you think of ideas. Let’s say you want to spend more time with animals, but you can’t have pets in your home. You could volunteer with a pet shelter or take care of a neighbor’s pet. If you’re bored, in a funk, and don’t get answers, do something different, like use your non-dominant hand, or take a new way to school. Change it up.

To deal with a problem, such as a bully at school, and don’t have an answer, try to walk in their moccasins by asking yourself why that bully behaves in a mean way. Ask, “What’s up with that kid?” What might you have in common with that person since we’re all human beings? If you change your attitude, the problem person may change, too. Although you can’t control someone else, you can control how you react. It may help to let the person know how you feel. Do spend time thinking about the two magic questions (why are you alive and your dreams for your future), and ask yourself again some months from now when you may have changed and have a new passion.





Americans who’ve spent time living with poor people in Africa comment on their happiness and lack of complaining, even when dealing with prolonged hunger. For example, a development expert commented in her book, “I was awestruck by the Ugandans’ ability to endure suffering and still embrace great joy.”[1]

UNICEF conducted a large survey of young people, aged 9 to 17, about 10,000 youth in 17 countries, from 1999 to 2001. In East Asia and Pacific, the young people said they are happy most of the time (52%) or sometimes (47%). The happiest were younger and urban kids, and those in Australia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam–but low in China. What made them happy is contact with family and friends. They felt sad when they’re scolded or punished, as for doing poorly in school, when they’re left alone, and thinking about death.

In Europe and Central Asia, two-thirds of the young people felt happy most of the time, more so in Western Europe (80%) than in transition countries (60%). Those in two-parent and more well-to-do families were more likely to be happy. Like Asia, causes of happiness were being with friends and family, followed by doing well in school and playing or having free time. Like Asia, being scolded caused unhappiness, as did getting poor marks in school, and problems or quarrels at home. They worry most about family problems, doing badly in school, and economic problems. Other worries included the environment, politics, war and future employment. Despite their worries, 60% believe their life will be better than their parents and 43% believe life is better today than a decade ago, but 26% believe it is worse–especially in eastern countries.

In contrast to the other areas, one third of kids in South American don’t often feel happy. Unhappiness increases with poorer families, kids who are black or indigenous, and in the Caribbean. What upsets kids is family problems and quarrels, school problems, and money worries. The saddest news they had heard recently was most frequently natural disasters. Other responses were hunger, war, child abuse, delinquency, and violence. However, 76% think the quality of their lives will be better than their parents.

Scientists created a Wellbeing Index of countries with 87 measurements, including how long people live, health care, the environment, and education. The Index has been used to compare 180 countries. About two-thirds of the countries have low happiness ratings. Three Scandinavian countries had the highest rating levels: Norway, Denmark, and Finland. For 30 years, Denmark has topped international happiness surveys. Ask an American how it’s going, and you will usually hear “great.” Ask a Dane, and you will hear “Det kunne være værre (It could be worse).” “Danes have consistently low expectations for the year to come,” a team of Danish scholars concluded.[1] Another study ranked the happiest nations as the Scandinavian countries, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand, with the US in ninth place.[1] Based on a large Gallup Poll, researchers found happiness rises with increased income up to $75,000.[1]

Economist Mark Anielski developed another economic model of happiness he calls Genuine Wealth. In his book, The Economics of Happiness, he provides examples of the Genuine Wealth model.[1] The World Values Survey of almost 90% of the world’s population concluded,


The extent to which a society allows free choice has a major impact on happiness.[1] Since 1981, economic development, democratization, and increasing social tolerance have increased the extent to which people perceive that they have free choice, which in turn has led to higher levels of happiness around the world, as the human development model suggests.


Bhutan’s government has a happiness policy as guide to policy decisions and a wealthy city in China called Jiangyin strives to create happiness for its residents.[1] The project aims to make the government responsible for meeting five targets around jobs, incomes, the environment, culture and health.

What makes young people happy? More than 100 questions were asked of 1,280 Americans ages 13-24 in 2007 (by the Associated Press and MTV). Like people of all ages, relationships are the greatest source of happiness. In this order: spending time with family (73% say their relationship with their parents makes them happy), spending time with friends, and boyfriend or girlfriend. Money was not high on the list, nor was sex. Having highly educated parents has a more positive effect on happiness than income. Comparing groups of young people, 72% of whites said they’re happy with life in general, but only 56% of blacks and 51% of Hispanics agreed.

When asked to name their heroes, nearly half mentioned one or both of their parents, with Mom a bit out in front—as with our youth respondents. Most want to be married and have kids. When I asked my college students about their happy childhood memories, family trips are often mentioned, along with other fun shared activities. A study of teen boys in South Korea by Dr. Jee Hyan Ha found that the heaviest cell phone users were the least happy, trying to make themselves feel better by texting others.

Studies of US adults also found that money does not buy happiness: the average person’s income more than doubled between 1957 and 2002, but the percent of people who described themselves as “very happy” remained the same. Poor people are less likely to be happy than people who have their basic needs met, but wealthy people aren’t happier. People who have social networks live longer than lonely people. Married people are happier than those without a partner.

Kids seem happier, as studies show they laugh a lot more than adults. We laugh when illogical things are linked, as comedians often do in their performances. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed laughter is an escape valve for feelings. Women tend to laugh more than men and men are the best laugh-getters, states Robert Provine in Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. It’s good for our health, increasing the healthy function of the tissue lining the blood vessels, reports a 2005 study at the University of Maryland.

We have a genetic predisposition to be happy or not so happy, affecting as much as 50% of the way we respond, according to the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. Events such as winning the lottery or becoming disabled don’t change this pattern over time. About 10% of our attitude is shaped by our situation, and 40% is our thinking patterns, and half is genetic. Cell biologist Bruce Lipton even believes we can change our genes with our beliefs. Lipton explains in The Biology of Belief (2005), “Repetition creates a filter which alters genes.”

Scientist Candace Pert, PhD, explains the biology of happiness: She believes happiness occurs when our system flows without blocks. Our emotions are associated with biochemicals called neuropeptides, which are received by cell receptors as a ligand, like a key in a keyhole. Being in love creates very different chemicals than being depressed; the former enhances the immune system and the other diminishes it. Pert discovered, “Only when our systems get blocked, shut down, and disarrayed do we experience the mood disorders that add up to unhappiness in the extreme.” Pert writes in Molecules of Emotion: “I believe that happiness is what we feel when our biochemicals of emotion, the neuropeptides and their receptors, are open and flowing freely throughout the psychosomatic network, integrating and coordinating our systems, organs and cells in a smooth and rhythmic movement.”

The implication is we need to understand and express our feelings by journaling, meditating, keeping a dream journal, engaging in therapy, exercising, etc. Breathing deeply can free up repressed emotions as it moves body armoring (a concept developed by Wilhelm Reich that blocked energy creates physical blocks in the muscles which prevent release of energy). To switch from negative to positive thinking, even in the face of challenges, use what therapists call “cognitive restructuring” or positive self-talk. Appreciate the lessons of strength, patience, compassion, or whatever you learned from a difficult problem. Remember, “The disasters of life are often the genius of the unconscious, forcing our egos into a new experience of the self.”[1] Shehroz reports, “I told a friend during his troubled times that ‘trouble itself is a teacher’ and he wrote that down in his journal. He says now he looks for positive lessons from every trouble he goes through.”

Martin Seligman is the author of more than a dozen books and father of the Positive Psychology movement, which studies the processes that contribute to optimal function of individuals, groups and institutions.  Seligman says that “happiness-building exercises” can increase contentment because they can change a person’s memory and perception of the past. To boost your own happiness factor, add to your gratitude list daily, write a letter to someone you’d like to thank, and set aside time for your favorite activities. Taking time to be quiet and listen to the higher self provides us centered calmness as well as answers. His website includes free tests you can take to identify your strengths and your happiness and depression levels.[1]


What Youth Think About Their Parents


Students wish they had more time with parents and that they quarreled less.

[I wish] that they were mostly at home. Maximilian, 8, m, Singapore

Ask for regular time with your parents, such as a relaxed dinner together, reading together before bedtime, and having a fun family outing every weekend such as a hike or picnic.


Don’t let mothers and fathers fight with each other.

Mohammed, m, 10, Saudi Arabia.

Fighting between them is their responsibility, not yours. In any close relationship between two imperfect people, conflict exists. If people work through conflict in a fair and healthy way, it’s good. Some people feel better if they yell, but if it bothers you, leave the room. Can you go in your room when they fight?

Also, realize that you are not responsible for your parents’ relationship. If something about the way they argue bothers you, let them know. You can watch to see what starts off the fights so you can learn what not to do in your own relationships.


[I wish] That they really paid more attention to what you said to them.

K-J, 11, m, Belgium

A 2007 survey of developed countries by UNESCO found the percentage of parents who spend time just talking with kids several times a week ranges from about 90% in Hungary and Italy to less than half in Canada and Germany.[1]


I would change their saying “I experienced this when I was your age.”

Zachary, 11, m, Belize

When I come home and I finally want to tell a story and they don’t listen to me. Janine, 11, f, Switzerland

Some adults work like 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. This is bad for kids because the adults can’t spend time with their kids. Ramon, 12, m, Belize

When they’re mad at you, they yell and spank you. I just think it’s not fun. Elizabeth, 12, f, Belize

My parents can never agree and are always fighting. Kylee, 12, New Mexico

Why do parents think they have so much control over their child, making them think they have the final word on every argument/quarrel? There are many restrictions within the house and what I can do. I would reduce the number of times they would say ‘NO’ to something you wanted to have or do.

Ping, 13, m, Singapore


Rules [bother me], because I can’t play, fight, or bounce the ball on the wall in my house. Validmar, 13, m, Belize

Parents have to punish their children because punishment is the way of learning. Mwanaima, 13, f, Tanzania

Adults should not beat their juniors.  Azharul, 13, m, Bangladesh

To plan their life, especially family planning, or to bear children by planning according to their ability. Nisembia, 14, f, Tanzania

To be more relaxed because some parents scream at their kids for really small reasons. Mark, 14, m, Quebec

How to get rid of the quarrel and fighting between my parents.

Dong Mei, 14, f, rural China

Do not ignore children!  Ha Rim, 14, m, Korea

I wish they could remember more about when they were young and don’t make so many rules. I believe it’s better to take each thing as it comes.

Brigit, 15, f, Sweden


I wish they would understand teenagers’ feelings more and not tell us our dreams are farfetched and that we should just get a nice business degree.

Morgan, 15, f, North Carolina


If your children do wrong bad things, what will you do to teach them?

Yin Ming, 16, f, Shanghai, China

Instead of yelling or hitting, discuss the problem with them to figure out why the child made the wrong choice.  As many youth have said in this book, adults need to listen to young people. People learn best from consequences, rather than nagging or hitting. If the family rule is that dirty clothes are put in Iaundry baskets in order to be washed, the consequence of leaving clothes in your room is they don’t get washed. If dinnertime is at 6:00 PM and the child is late, dinner is cold. It’s also important to reward and reinforce good behavior, giving children daily praise and appreciation. Behavior modification psychology teaches the importance of reinforcing good behavior and not giving much attention to bad behavior.

I would change their seriousness. My mom loves to be serious and scream. I wish sometime she’d be a little more carefree. Amy Marie, 16, f, Illinois

Their carelessness about what their children are doing and who they are friends with. Kat, 17, f, Indiana

Their ability to fully listen to what their children have to say. Sometimes they have selective hearing and don’t truly understand us kids, but if they listened then they would know. Erin, 17, f, Michigan

I would change the fact that some adults do not take the time to talk to their kids. I believe firmly that if a child is showed affection and understanding from an adult, then they can prosper with that love later on in life. Felice, 17, f, Illinois

Parents are very busy or working, so they often neglect the growth of their kids. “John,” 19, m, China


My father is a good father, but he is easy to anger. I hope he doesn’t angry every day and is happy. Zhu, 20, m, China


I really don’t like my family. I live with my mum and I think my grandparents don’t like me. I feel very sad about my family, so I don’t want to live in this family. Sometimes I want a boyfriend, but when I decide to get a boyfriend, I am afraid of a lot of things. Yao, 20, f, China

It is very difficult to not feel comfortable with your family. Friends of both genders can provide some of the acceptance all of us need.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: