Saturday, October 10, 2020

Birthday reflections of an American monk in Asia

Ven. Subhuti (, 10/6/20), American Buddhist Monk; Eds., Wisdom Quarterly

I turned 50 years of age. A few months ago, I was really happy about it but then as health problems piled up a few weeks ago (which ended up being a 2.5 week allergic reaction), I was unpleasantly reminded that our bodies are only given 40-year warranties, and I was ten years overdue.
As I told my parents this newly discovered truth that a birthday means I’m getting older with more problems and eventually death, my father said, “Bhante [Venerable sir], we have been 30 years ahead of you with this same stuff.”
It's old Buddhist wisdom: Aging, sickness, and death are part of the definition of dukkha (the inherent disappointment or suffering of life).
Nevertheless, as I reflect and look back on my life, I become quite happy again. I’ve been pretty much doing exactly what I have always wanted to do since about age 18 or 19 when I started university. Before that? Eh..schmazel!
  • 1989-1993 Central Connecticut State University. I learned how to be a teacher of technology, traveled to China and also learned how to hang-glide.
  • Studied computers intensively for 3 months after graduating so I could become a computer programmer.
  • 1994-1999 worked as a contract programmer for: Pitney Bowes, QSP (Readers Digest), McKinsey & Co. and Bayer Diagnostics.
  • 1999-2000 Traveled to Hawai’i, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, & Thailand.
  • October 5th, 2000 checked into Wat Pah Nanachat, Thailand with intentions to ordain.
  • Feb 7th, 2001 ordained at Pa-Auk Meditation Center, Myanmar with the most Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw-gyi as my preceptor and name giver.
  • June 18, 2007 re-ordination Na-Uayana, Sri Lanka, to fix some (unnecessary) doubts.
  • November, 2012 back to Myanmar
  • 2015 visit to Kaua’i (as a monk) for 6 months, living my dream as a monk in Kaua’i, Hawai’i.
  • 2015 published Going for Broke: Travelogs on Becoming a Buddhist Monk and writing this blog:
  • 2016-2017 International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University Diploma Program.
  • 2017-2019 Return to Kaua’i living my dream as a monk in Kaua’i
  • 2019 Changed my legal name to Bhante Bhikkhu Subhuti.
  • 2019 Return back to Maymyo from Kaua’i, Myanmar to practice meditation
  • October 6th, 2020 celebrating my 50th birthday
Although I was known as the monk who was a computer programmer, the timeline shows I really only worked for a little less than 6 years. Working was easy for me, yet people thought I was really smart to do what I did.
But really it was actually easy back in those days, and I really enjoyed it. The rest of my adult life was simply living my dream to travel around the world and then to become a monk. Going back to Kaua’i twice was a bonus dream, too. Even in college, I lived out a dream by learning how to hang-glide. Things have been good. This is a picture of me when I was a programmer.

My adult life pretty much started in 1989, which clocks in at a total of 31 years to the present date. Of those 31 years, I have been a monk for a total of nearly 20 years and backpacked around the world for 1.5 years. Life has been good, and I’m really happy with my life’s decisions as an adult.

During this November's full moon, I will officially have 14 rainy seasons or "monk years" under my belt. The oldest picture I have is maybe from 2001. I look quite different from the layman worker above.

The earliest picture of me in front of Sayadawgyi’s kuti,2001 (with young trees)
Although I spend most of my time in a monastery, I have probably traveled to more countries than most people. I also have a really good world view since I live with international people. I have been abroad so long that it has changed the way I speak.
I have developed a tinge of a foreign accent to the point where people ask me what country I am from when I am visiting America. Nevertheless, the majority of my life and goal is to practice, do nothing, and gain the true Dharma knowledge. I have nothing better to do because there is nothing better I can be doing.
My goal is to keep on living out the monk life until I die. I’ve been told I would die a couple of times, but I’m still here. I wonder if I will live long enough to surpass 31 years as a monk. If I do the majority of my life will be as a monk. That would be sort of cool (and I hope I stay healthy).
After all of this time as a monk, my parents and family finally accept me as monk and that feels good. Things started to feel really good after my parents visited me in Kaua’i in 2018. They learned that I could survive anywhere, which was a big concern for them as parents.
My brother has always supported what I have been doing since the beginning and helped arrange the trip to Kaua’i. I’m very grateful for that. My late grandmother once said that one day we would be good friends. I swore it would never happen as a child. A friend is defined in AN 7.35.

“Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. What are the seven?

That friend gives what is hard to give.

One does what is hard to do.

One endures what is hard to endure.

One reveals secrets to you.

One keeps your secrets.

When misfortunes strike, one does not abandon you.

When you are down and out, one does not look down on you.

A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.” One gives what is beautiful, hard to give, does what is hard to do, endures painful, ill-spoken words. One's secrets one reveals to you, your secrets one keeps. When misfortunes strike, one does not abandon you; when you are down and out, does not look down on you. A person in whom these traits are found, is a friend to be cultivated by anyone wanting a friend.

Hideaway Beach, Princeville, Kaua’i 2019

Today, along with some of my donors, the family sponsored the meal for the day plus a fresh juice drink for 537 residents. Because we are on a Covid lockdown, shopping for new food is just not really happening. However, the food is pretty good considering the circumstances and the remainder of the money will go to the food endowment for the monastery.


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