Saturday, December 22, 2018

Dealing with temple 'politics'

When we are trying to practice in a temple or monastery, we are bound to encounter some friction or issues while staying with other practitioners. Even though rightfully those who chose to stay and practice in the monastery should cultivate attitudes of goodwill (metta), compassion (karuna), symphatetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha), it is not often the case.

You may find that one or more people do not like you and treat you with ill will. There may not be any help or assistance when you need it. And if the teacher seemed to have a soft spot for you, it may trigger feelings of envy or jealousy.

If you reflect on it, this situation- you can see that it exists everywhere- in your home, office and any environment that you frequently find yourself in.

I used to tell some of my closer friends (who know of my long stay in monastery) that it is so much easier to deal with issues in the corporate world. Dealing with back stabbers, people who play politics, bullies and those who are out to get you. I have no issues dealing with them because if I could lose my cool, raise my voice and exert myself.

But when you stay in a monastery, it is very different- you need to deal with the situation very differently. I like what Ajahn Suchart (who have practiced with Luangta Maha Bua for 9 years at Wat Pa Baan Taad) say in his autobiography (pg 179):

"Nowadays there is confusion in our society because
of the lack of religion in people’s hearts. Religion has its
presence in temples, in various objects, but people do
not embrace religion in their hearts. Their hearts are
filled with defilements and cravings. They go to the
temple to argue or to fight with each other. If you want
to go to the temple, you must go in peace, go with
the intention of not causing problems for others.
The ultimate aims of going to the temple are to practice
Dhamma, to improve oneself through meditation,
and to observe the precepts. Do not pay attention to
other people’s opinions or viewpoints. It is better to
behave like a small mouse, rather than a big lion. A big
lion might get into a fight whereas a small mouse will not
run into a problem. As a result, you will have time to

The book (available online in English and Mandarin) is really a very inspirational book. I learned about Ajahn Suchart through reading his book Mountain Dhamma (the list of his books are available here).

Even though I could act out my emotions when I was working, and at the same time getting a steady paycheck each month, I must say that it really does not make me a happier or better person. I was stressed, constantly live in pressure to maintain my standards and sometimes find myself having to support things that I personally do not agree on but it is for the company's profit bottomline and to make the shareholders happy. You wonder, that is what most people do anyway right? Most people work in jobs that they do not like to earn the paycheck and then they go out and 'console' they heart through indulgences (eg in food and retail therapy) or entertainment. They numb themselves through the array of stimulating entertainment found in TV, Facebook and YouTube. They need not deal with the emotions or unhappiness in them.

In the monastery,  you would meet with valuable mentors who could guide you, as well as some people who you may not see eye to eye with. Rather than acting out on your emotions and leaving, if you have the opportunity and made the choice to stay in the monastery, my sincere advice is to stay on.... to use this as an opportunity to battle your defilements.

If you find yourself being upset, angry or discouraged, then it is time to study your own emotions. After all, we are at the monastery to cultivate and win the battle against our defilements. These defilments have been latent and hidden for possibly aeons and uncountable lifetimes. In a way, you need to be thankful to disagreeable people to help raise the defilements up to the surface so that you can deal with them.

Currently I am staying at a monastery. There is a friend whom have ordained whom I have known for a long time. She was once someone who was not treated fairly and was in fact being 'bullied' by some of her fellow nuns. I've known her for more than 10 years already.

Fast forward 10 years later, with time she has become 'established' due to tenor, knowing the people and language. Those who have bullied her have left, as according to my teacher, a person who does not practice accordingly would not be able to remain at her temple for long.

I was very surprised when I came back to see the change in her. For some reason, I sensed that she did not really like me to be in the temple which shows in the behavior and non verbal cues. She also exerted similar behaviour towards others whom she felt is at fault in something.

It was quite unexpected. And it would have upset or discouraged some people. But for me, I remind myself that I am not here because of her but I am here to follow and learn from the teacher who is competent.

I find the experience as useful because my reaction towards her behaviour helped me to watch over myself and my defilements. Why should anger arise when it is each and every one of our practice.... that we are the owners and only we reap the results of our practice. If we do good and practice, it would be good. Her behaviour also tested my level of ego and attachment- do I get angry and worked up when I was treated rudely? I use it to watch myself.

At the same time, she also become a reminder for me not to be heedless for a longer duration of practice does not mean one would progress or stay the same. If one is not mindful and have wrong views, one would regress in one's practice and it is a real pity. Such type of persons used to drive me nuts and get me very worked up but having been through quite a lot in life over these past years, it has really build in the resilience and patience.

When I was previously in the corporate world, I had some talented colleagues who were being bullied, sometimes being almost managed out at work. I know them and their work.... they are competent and hardworking. But I know because of their work ability, they made their bosses and some co workers feel insecure. I spent hours consoling them... not to give up and that it is very stupid to give up and resign just because of people with bad intention who by right are not worth for you to pay such a high price for. And they have financial commitments and bills to pay- hence if they go without a job and cannot find another job, they would be in dire financial straits.

I told them that I saw it as an opportunity for them for personal growth to develop real leadership. One of the qualities of being a leader is endurance and to be able to relate to any type of personality.  And 'bad people' come to your help to 'teach' you how to develop these qualities.

No books or talks can each you effectively and can embed the understanding in your heart as good as direct experience. Yes, it can be very tough to face it but you would gain something valuable if you stay on and find skillful means to face it.

For my friends who are able to pass through it, they would be successful. To endure, not to react when being triggered (because it is just what these people are hoping for), to detach from them and focus on the job and task at hand.

But if they give up, run away to another job, they most probably would find the problem coming to back to haunt a greater scale and at a less favourable environment (since at a new company one have to learn new things whereas at the existing company, one is already knowledgable about the work).

It is the same for me at the monastery where I am staying now because in any place where there are people, they would be friction. I focus on my practice and do not get worked up with others attitudes because I understand that good or bad, we are the heir of our own deeds. The scale of the issues I am encountering is much lesser than 10 years ago... perhaps because I have changed and the challenges in life (which many I have chose to face instead of running away from) have helped me build the detachment, understanding and patience.

Time in a monastery is very precious to practice....because we do not know how long we have. Like in the case of my friend who stayed in the monastery for a decade and have changed, it is a reminder for me not to lapse in my practice. Avoid talking or mingling too much as it would mess with our mind and the mindfulness that we are trying to cultivate.

I noticed it is where the starting point of many who have regressed in practice.... either starting to spend too much time on the internet and neglecting meditation/chanting, and/or talking with others over frivolous matter.