The Thai monk, AjahnSarayut Arnanta of Tucson AZ. posted a photo of us together one day on Facebook. He made an accompanying comment which I wish to address. “When you hang out with the monk, you do things like the monk.”
It is true that the time I spent before, during and after living in the temple had a profound effect on me and the way I do things. I do things differently than I used to. It was almost 3 months of living in the temple before I stopped hounding the monks about how they should run the temple. Then I had an epiphany and realized that I could best serve the temple by offering simply and only to do what was asked of me….nothing more. The next 45 days were spent practicing humility and service and meditation.
I wish there were opportunities like that for other spiritual seekers. Unless and until you take the vows of a monsatic, and wear the robes and live amongst fellow monks 24 and 7, I do not know that you can understand the power inherent in such an experience.
The monk seemingly assigned to monitor my behavior in public was Ajahn Preeda Jaiboon. Although he didn’t speak English he was relentless in guiding me in the protocols of monastic life. (For instance I never did master the proper way to wear my robes in the formal fashion.) He had great patience, warmth and humor. I am not sure the monks could be as satisfied by having the likes of me in their midst. I am hard for any Anglo to manage, so what a challenge it was to provide the appropriate environment for an American who was a lawyer, pistolero, head of household and older than the oldest monk by 10 years.
Given the opportunity I would re-enter tomorrow to complete the transformation that began with the shaving of my head and eyebrows, followed by the recitation in the Pali language of the vows which were to bind me to the monastic community and the Buddha.
I dared to become a Buddhist and then to become a monk. As a novice monk, I took vows, chanted in an ancient language, Pali, every day twice a day. I never ate past the noon meal. I didn’t have physical contact with my wife and daughters. I never wore jewelry, I slept in my robes, and never appeared in public without being fully arrayed in the saffron colored robes. I left a large house and bed to sleep nightly in a small room on a small bed. I never gave that much effort to being a religious Jew. I was never inspired by Judaism to expend the energy to ever be referred to as a “good Jew”. I do not expect to become enlightened before I die. But my death will be all the better for my Buddhist practices.
When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.