Friday, August 15, 2008

Running a Monastery

When did the urge to run away and join the circus -- or the monastery for that matter -- begin? People in the rural US, Europe, and India have long dreamed of running away. Nowadays, for many of us, our urges may have more to do with the strong influence of Hollywood celebrities than the sight of enlightened beings.

In the past, exciting circus troupes often came through our boring hamlets with tales of Big City glamor, fame, and unlimited riches. It was the only easy way to grasp at some escape from the mundane and familiar -- to undertake the archetypal Heroic Journey before life set in and it became too late. They were doing it; why not us?

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"When I started feeling like the wealthiest man alive...I knew I was onto something." This is as simple as trying to explain Quantum Theory. I'm grossly simplifying things and sticking to reasons I can reasonably communicate. One trouble is that when you start talking about the true benefits of Buddhism, no one believes you. So I have to stick with the believable stuff. In my video I talk about Ajahn Brahm.

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When do we make our move? This urge to seek enlightenment, to get away from it all, to run off and become a recluse goes at least as far back as Talaputa. He was an actor and a Buddhist who longed, dreamed, and (more importantly) waxed poetically about it:

Forest Meditations

1. When, O when shall I live all alone in mountain caves, unmated with desire, clear seeing as unstable all that comes to be? This wish of mine, when indeed will it be? 2. When shall I, wearing the patchwork robes of color dun, be sage, uncraving, never making mine, with greed, aversion, and delusion slain and to the wild woods gone, in bliss abide? 3. When shall I, this body seeing clear — unstable nest of dying and disease oppressed by age and death, dwell free from fear in the woods alone? When indeed will it be? 4. When indeed shall I dwell seizing the sharpened sword of wisdom made? When cut the craving creeper — breeder of fear, bringer of pain and woe, and twining everywhere? When indeed will it be? 5. When lion-like in the victor's stance shall I draw quick the sage's sword of wisdom forged and fiery might quick breaking Mara with his host? When indeed will it be? 6. When myself exerting, shall I be seen in goodly company of those esteeming Dharma? Those with faculties subdued who see things as they are? Those who are 'Thus'? When indeed will it be? 7. When indeed will weariness not worry me — hunger, thirst, and wind, heat, bugs, and creeping things, while bent on my own good, the Goal, in [the]wilds? When indeed will it be? 8. When indeed shall I, self-mindful and composed win to that wisdom known by Him, the Greatest Sage, the Four Truths won within, so very hard to see? When indeed will it be?*

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But what would it be like? What would life in a forest monastery be like if the aspirant in the video, or any one of the many Westerners who long just like he does, were to find their way to the Monastery?

*For more of Talaputa's verses, and to read the contemplations of a Westerner who successfully escaped to the monastery, or for some of the tales that draw people, see Bhikkhu Khantipalo's

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