Being a Buddhist Monk
Technically I can't be a monk because I'm a woman, but what fun would it be to say that I want to be a nun, although that's what the female equivalent to a monk is. Nevertheless, I've learned much more about monks than nuns so I'm going with monk. Besides, it is the nuns who do a lot of the work (cooking, cleaning, etc) around the temples, leaving little time for meditations and typical monk activities so no thanks- that's too similar to my life now.
My greatest desire, and simultaneously my greatest struggle, is simplifying my life for much needed peace of mind. Some women read fashion magazines, imagining their ideal shopping day or outfit, others watch design shows in search of their perfect house and all the little perfect items to put in it. None of that is for me, instead I've read books about Buddhist monks, dreaming big of achieving less.
Somewhere I get lost in the shuffle of appointments, promises and expectations, children, family, work, perfectionism, dealing with a disability, and everything else that makes up the life of this busy woman. It's literally a giant sinkhole ready to take me down at any moment. While it would be easier to shave my head and wear a robe all day, I can't run away to a Buddhist retreat this very moment. I may live a complicated life, but I live in reality so I shall have to do it here- be a Buddhist monk for everyone to witness.
Take the journey with me- you might learn a thing or two about me, about Buddhist Monks, and more importantly about yourself.
I love rituals- they are a sense of order, tradition, and familiarity that makes me happy as a clam. What's odd is that in my life, I've come to resent some rituals I've established. As a mom, I think they're especially important for kids and family, but it seems to achieve them, I overextend myself to the point of a stress melt-down. What should give me a happy feeling, makes me feel overwhelmed.
A Buddhist Monk's life is set up around rituals- prayer rituals for instance can take place several hours a day. They take periodic breaks for tea, lunch, or a nap (can I note here that I don't get any of those three things on most days). Their foods are nothing fancy (usually eating once or twice a day), their fashions don't change much, and they even find sweeping floors meditative.
Part of what makes a monk's rituals seem so relaxing is that they have very few needs- just the basics and the rituals are simple. The rituals I've established are complicated. I end up running to 10 different stores at the last minute or having to find just the right things to re-create the tradition or am pressed for time just to get around to a usual ritual. Either way I'm diving in head first to a pressure cooker. Is it impossible to create and maintain simple routines? No, absolutely not and that is something I can learn from a Buddhist Monk. It seems that prayer, tea, and quiet time are all perfectly reasonable to welcome into my life and now I know why my husband spends an hour sweeping our driveway.
Admittedly, I am happiest by myself. Always have been, always will be. I know what the experts say, 'people need people', 'having plenty of relationships improves health', 'we're social creatures', blah blah blah. I can tell you though, it's not in my DNA- perhaps one my strands went rogue. I'm married, but still I could take it or leave it. If I get time to myself for reflection and letting my thoughts swirl around in my head, I am a better person for it- solitude is my drug of choice. I know most people associate solitary folks with sociopaths, but let me assure you that's not remotely me.
As fast as the world moves today, there is no way anybody has time to truly process anything without slowing down and taking some alone time to gain awareness and perspective. Isolated retreats are part of the Buddhist Monk tradition and one of the aspects that draws people to Buddhist retreats (my dream is to do this someday). Isolation has long been a spiritual tradition for many religions. I think my attraction to a period of isolation is to find order outside of chaos, to find myself outside of my typical titles I wear everyday.
Buddhist monks spend hours a day with others right beside them, in prayer, in meditation, at meals, but most of their self work is done within them. Their neighbor sitting next to them isn't trying to get the baseball score, a recipe for apple pie, or trying to make small talk. Meaningless small talk seems to go such a long way in our society- it stinks, I hate it. It's as if people are saying I don't know myself or you enough to talk to about something worthwhile.
My answer to the infamous question "What would you do if you won the lottery?" is I would be a career student. Some people are shocked by this answer, but it's true. I'd go to school as long as I could. The caveat is that colleges and teachers all adhere to certain and/or strong viewpoints with little wiggle room for free thought- you learn to play by their rules, you think like the teacher in order to get the grade. Buddhist Monks do not learn in this fashion.
Knowledge and philosophies are interpreted objectively. Personal thoughts and debates over knowledge are tossed around among other monks until the kinks are worked out. We often can't imagine knowing anything without having a personal opinion and subjective view of it- this is foreign to most of us, but not a Buddhist monk. Their self is different than our self. Knowledge is also not used to belittle or perpetuate superiority onto others. For them, knowledge is freedom and a path to enlightenment.
A philosophy within many religions is the fact that what we do here on Earth effects us for eternity- whether it's the heaven and hell of Christianity or Karma of Buddhism. This is a heavy burden leaving many of us to wonder how good is good enough and how bad is too bad, especially when we live in a world of a lot in between.
I have to admit, I think about this often because it seems those who suffer the most don't really deserve it- unnecessary suffering is one of the main arguments against a Christian God. Buddhism explains that all people suffer, life is suffering. Karma would suggest some people may have done bad in past lives, but it's not only about the past. What we do with the hand we're dealt presently, no matter how bad it may be, displays a good or bad in us. Two people with an equally difficult childhood may handle it completely different. There certainly is a distinct amount of unfairness among mankind and Karma explains this unevenness, even the innate personalities we are born with- they come from somewhere and not just genes.
My favortie Buddhist quote
I have always loved this quote so much that I have kept a 2003 Dalai Lama calendar all these years, because it has this quote in it. The calendar still smells like the sandalwood incense I used to burn constantly in my place.
"If you want to know what you were doing in the past, look at your body now; if you want to know what will happen to you in the future, look at what your mind is doing now"
In other words, our future is in our hands right now so there is no time like the present.
My Day as a Buddhist Monk
The inspiration behind the desire for living like a Buddhist Monk came to me long ago when I was taking a "World Civilizations" course in college. I remember one day sitting in class when the professor began rambling on about something that actually caught my interest. He was speaking on Buddhism, but in particular, the vicious cycle of wanting- people get what they want and then want something else, something more. This was me. He even challenged us to live like a Buddhist for one day. I did, and even though I am Christian, living a Buddhist philosophy for one day, changed my life.
I am mindful of when the rat race mentality takes hold of my life again and I momentarily forget there is another way people live. By writing this I am remembering, at least for today, to slow down, create time for peace, treat others kindly, keep it simple, and feel as though I have everything I want and need already. I hope you do the same.
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