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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Judging the teacher when there's a scandal

Often people are quick to judge when there is a scandal arising from a teacher. Recently, a friend of mine sounded very agitated as she relayed the incident about how a well known monk seemed to be in an 'overly friendly' terms with a nun.

What happens when we hear of a potential scandal like this? Do we lose your faith in Buddhism or in the Buddha's teachings? Do we feel 'cheated' if a teacher whom we have suddenly followed for many years choose to disrobe to marry a lady?

Perhaps we do. I must say, in the past, I will be aghast if I find out that a monk whom I respect, have faith and follow the teachings suddenly disrobe after many years of monkhood and to return to the life of a layperson.

But now, I've changed my view about this type of issue. You see, kamaraga that governs lust/passion/love/affection is only permanently estinguished at the stage of Anagami (3rd stage of sainthood). It is one a known challenge facing many monks and nuns in view of the world today when sex, sexy bodies, love are used to sell products and services all around.

That is why there is a lot of Vinaya rules that is placed especially with regards to dealing with the opposite sex. It is not that the Buddha discrimates or dislike women and do not want monks to be in close proximity with women. There is nothing against women, really. The rules are set in order for monks to be able to practice self-control and restraint.

When we do not understand the nature of kamma, we should not be quick to judge at a teacher or any other person. Many people who practices earnestly usually have a spiritual partner who had been going through with them through countless of rebirth cultivating their perfections together. As such, the bond may be too strong and too difficult to break- if we have never been in that shoes before, we will never understand. I feel sad and unfortunate that a monk whose practice is going very well were to suddenly have the kind of kamma ripening and to meet someone and fall in love. It is easy for one to resist crushes and physical attraction- but there are some kammic bonds that are hard to break.

During Ajahn Mun's time, there is a story of a monk- this monk went with another friend to bath at a river stream. Then suddenly, the hill tribe woman walk past with her friend- the route is not the type of road that people will normally take. The moment he set eyes on her, he could not stop thinking about her- that he was distressed and nearly gone crazy. His friend, noticing something that is wrong with him, finally managed to coax him to tell. His friend then suggested that this monk move to another place. Ajahn Mun also did not request the monk to go almsround but got other monks to share their food with them. When the affected monk went to Ajahn Mun and took leave from him, Ajahn Mun consented. Even though no one relayed the incident to Ajahn Mun, he seemed to know about it because he made a comment, something about, 'certain kammas one just can't escape regardless of where one goes to.'

The monk went to another area and it is sheer coincidence that the woman also shifted to the same place. When the monk went for almround, he saw her again. It is very unusual for a hill tribe woman to move. Anyway, the monk disrobed and marry the lady.

In the past when I went to Thailand, I had been fortunate to be trained by a very good Acharn. He had a lot of compassion and taught me to the best of his abilities. He had been ordained for a very long time, and had done excellent translations of books that had changed the lives of many. But in the end, he had a lot of affection for one particular lady- so much so that the abbot had no choice but to send him away after giving him a number of warnings. On subsequent trips when I no longer saw him and someone told me about the incident, does it make me thing any lesser of him?

The answer is NO. Because when he had taught me, he had helped me a lot during the time when I was struggling with my meditation practice. I had gratitude in my heart for his teachings and books that he had translated because he is an excellent translator that captured the essence of the teacher's teachings in his translation. It is unfortunate that this had to happen as it had cut short his parami to be under the particular teacher. We will never know, if we judge or condemn others, one day, when we chose to practice earnestly, we may end up in the same predicament.

The same with the alleged scandal that was told by my friend of this other senior monk. And I told her, why judge others? It is the kamma that is made between the both of them. In the past, that teacher had helped her to break through when her meditation was stuck. I reminded her that she had to have gratitude for it. And also, the monk was the only one whose teachings were able to inspire my mom during the difficult period when she was struggling with cancer. When I took her to listen to his talks, she was inspired. He was the only monk whose teachings have touched my mom's heart and whom had benefited my mom. So I will always be grateful for that- because help was there when we needed it the most.

Let us not look and focus on the faults of others. Instead, let us reflect on the past on how we have benefited and then, move on with our practice. We should only be concerned with our hearts- do we have ill will, is our practise improving? Judging and condemning others, not having gratitude will not get us anywhere- in fact, it will lower our practice.

As the argument if whether will such thing ruin the name of Buddhism, etc: The answer, if we want to find fault, anything can potentially ruin the reputation. Defilements affect everyone- at least, this type of man-woman relationship is obvious. The bigger danger is that one associate with a teacher who spreads the wrong teachings and bring his/her disciples that instead of getting rid of ignorance, are pilling them up. This exist in all sects and in all religions. Don't you think this is much more harmful?

Therefore, the most important thing is that we must be able to develop our practice sufficiently to differenciate between what's right, and what's wrong. To develop our hearts that it can be reliable and a mainstay so that wherever we are and whatever we do, the practice sustains us.

Life is anicca- impermanent. We will not know what will happen in the future- practice and strive NOW- don't wait.