Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Going to Monastery Does Not Mean "Escaping from Reality"

Some people may have the mistaken perception that members of the Sangha or those seeking ordination are doing it as the means to 'escape from reality' and the working world. As such, parents, especially coming from cultures that are not familar with the Buddhist culture finds it especially heartbreaking with their sons or daughters tell me one day that they want to ordain.

Benefit of doubt must be given to those who ordain genuinely to learn the Buddha's teachings and to gain release from samsara or suffering. To understand anything, one should really experience it- I find it sad that I hear people passing judgement even though they actually have no idea what they are judging on.

It is not easy to stay and practice in a monastery- for a person who genuinely practice, he/she had to spend time in chanting, meditation and looking in the heart instead of looking at others. Sometimes, it is scary to see what is inside us- so much that most would just rather see and find fault of others. As part of Vinaya, a person whether monk or lay who is practicing in a monastery would need to practice chanting, meditation as well as helping out with chores in the monastery. This is because food and other requisites in the monastery are obtained through the act of generosity and faith of lay donors' often hard earned money- so if a person intends to use a monastery like a 'hotel', ie to use to eat or sleep only without exerting any effort will incurr heavy bad kamma. As such, Vinaya (monastic ruling) will require one to practice and transfer merits so to benefit donors.

Whether or not a person comes and stay in a monastery just to really practice, or just to 'sponge' or be a parasite, etc is not up to us to judge. What is paramount is that we look within ourselves and make sure that we ourselves are really trying to practice. We may not be able to meditation till we are enlightened or attain jhanic bliss but to make the effort to observe sila (precepts) is indeed meritorious for us, for donors who support us and for our families. Why it is so is because we give up a lot of comforts- like not being able to eat dinner, sleep on high beds, watch and participate in entertainment shows, wear makeup- for a beginner, they often have to exert a lot of effort. But those who follow ardently and observed the precepts the best they can will realise a change in their hearts and improved peace of mind. Whatever other people do, they will be the heir to their own kamma- we should be more concerned about the kamma we are making. If we spend time judging, getting angry, gossiping, getting attached to doing things in a certain way, arguing with others and causing conflicts- we are wasting precious time.

Personally, I have been staying in monasteries for quite sometime- and I have seen many kinds of people come and go. Initially, I am quick to judge at others- I spend so much of time analyzing and looking at flaws of others that I wondered why my own meditation practice never seemed to progress. Eventually, at the strict guidance of a very compassionate teacher, who had to often resort to raising the voice just to get the message across, I finally learn to develop enough mindfulness and built the courage to look within. And looking within is not easy- instead of pointing at others, the tables are turned back to ourselves. Then we see the goodness, but often more so the ugliness that arise and work to eliminate them. It is then we can see progress.

I can tell you, it is much easier to go and work in the real world than to stay and cultivate one's mind in the monastery. Before I chose this path, I used to be very successful in my career and I often lose my temper when people do not deliver. Most people, including my boss and big boss often gave in to me because I was very good at what I do. I was egoistical and to come to the monastery is to have my ego cut to threads, to always swallow my pride. Anyone who try to do that will know that it is not easy- try not to shout back when someone shouts at you. But once we are able to do it, the results are awesome- it is like letting go of inferior things and gaining something better- even though at the point of letting go, it can be especially painful. Those who are not strong enough will have just packed up and go. Remember, a good teacher often knows the workings of your heart- and often adopts various tools to teach you. If you have come all the way to practice, don't give up- anyone will start initially will have obstacles thrown in their path. Sometimes, it's probably Mara coming to test your sincerity and whether you are for real (in practicing). With patience endurance and you overcome your emotions, things will clear up and you will reap greater rewards.

I have a few friends who have already gone forth and ordained. When they wanted to ordain, they met with so much of challenge, criticism, rejection and opposition from their loved ones and friends. How their parents wept and people who were once their friends and colleagues start to reject them. It is often a lonely path to walk- but parents who are 'grieving' because they felt they have 'lost' their child should ask themselves this question: 'Why would someone give up material comforts and security to walk the path? There have to be some worth and good in it, correct?'

In Thailand, I have met a number of foreign monks and nuns who left their homeland faraway to ordain and stay in the monastery. The path they have chosen is not easy- but it is a path to purity- often they have been successful people prior to their ordination. When they walk the path, all they have is a few requisites like robes, a makeshift (and often very basic) shelter, a couple of candles, hot water flask, etc. But even though you see with your eyes that their living conditions are poor, such conditions are very good for mental cultivation. If one lived in a comfortable air con with everything provided and good food, how is one able to get rid of defilements like attachment, anger and ignorance? Reducing attachments does not turn a person into a cold blooded person- it makes the person have genuine compassion and loving kindness- so much so that he/she helps people without expecting something in return.

For those who don't understand how can living in such an apparently desolute condition can bring about inner peace, and why some monks/nuns even chose to live alone in forests, cemetries or caves, well, this matter work against conventional logic. In fact, a lot of things in this world is beyond the comprehension intellectual mind. To know it, one have to live it with the heart- then one will know.

Once they practiced till they have skills in meditation, chanting and Dhamma knowledge, they in turn teach others. They teach lay people meditation, and inspire them to practice- so that these lay people go back home and become better husbands, wives, friends, bosses, sons and daughters. To some, helping others this way is worth all the gold, power and richness in the world.

If the parents are not blinded by the conventional way of the world- that tends to believe that one who are born should go to school, work, get married, have kids, grow old--- instead, to learn to look at the value that their child who chose to answer the spiritual calling is bringing to the world, the parents would have been proud. It is a true blessing and very meritorious for any parents to be able to give birth to a son and daughter who eventually follows a spiritual calling and to serve others.

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