Would I ever return to being a Buddhist monk?

The question has been asked of me many times. I have asked me many times. Here in Thailand there is opportunity to ordain again. But here in Thailand I do not think so.

In case you did not know, I was ordained as a novice 10 years ago. I lived in a Thai temple in Arizona for a little over 4 months. I lived there with 3 Thai monks, two who were bilingual. I was a bull in a china shop but I was serious and dedicated. I had planned to stay longer but some events required my attention and I could not do so as a monastic.

Monks live by very strict rules. 227 rules actually. They affect every area of life, dress, eating, grooming, traveling, socializing and much more. As I am in Thailand for my first time if I were to ordain, I would be limiting my ability to travel around. New monks are generally required to be in the company of a senior monk. They rarely can travel at night. They cannot go to entertainment venues, such as a Muy Thai match (Thai martial art)

As it is, I am very connected to the things that matter most to me about being a monk. I am with them constantly learning more and more about the history and ceremonies and teachings of the Buddha. My constant companions are monks who are all in university and are preparing to graduate. Each one has been in the monastic life for at least 10 years, starting when they were as young as 12 as novices.

Traveling and eating together I am constantly asking them questions. And they are practicing their English so they are forcing me to think about how I explain many things including English slang. Sometimes we have to resort to an Internet translator.

The monks are also teaching me some basic Thai words, and how to get around and how to integrate into a monastic community as a lay-person (non-monk). They are telling me stories about their countries of origin, Myanmar and Laos.

As part of the monastic community, I arise at 4.45 AM or earlier so I will chant the morning chants with them. I help clean the temple grounds and then go out on the alms rounds with them. I know the difficulties I would face were I to try walking barefoot for 2 miles everyday to collect alms/food. I usually have morning meals with the monks. Their last meal must be completed by mid-day. But unlike them, I can leave the temple in the late afternoon and get something more to eat. But of course I too must be in bed early to rest up for the next morning. So what would I benefit from ordination. Probably ego. As a lay-person I am essentially an attendant to the monks until the completion of the lunch meal. Then we often go out touring in the afternoon or helping me with errands like immigration.

If I travel Thailand as a monk I will be presented with the difficulty of eating my meal before noon. We have had to cut short some morning touring to eat and sometimes they just pass on the meal because it got too late, which would make me crazy. They cannot wear sunglasses or play musical instruments. Their robes are well-suited for most days but quite another matter in very hot or very cold weather. Monks generally hang their robes out around the temple to dry. I go to a laundry service because underpants should not be part of a temple clothes-dry line.

The monks wear sandals or flip flops when walking after alms. They have walked many miles with me that way. I am quite spoiled podiatrically speaking, and suffer if I do not have my vibram soled shoes when walking on hard surfaces.

In addition, while I am proficient at certain Pali chanting, I do not have it memorized, I am also not conversant with many additional chants used by the monks for specific moments. There is the blessing given on the alms round many times but sadly I do not have any skill in chanting it……yet. Pali is considered the language of the Buddha and was used to teach the Buddha’s lessons to his listeners. From Britannica “Pāli language, classical and liturgical language of the Theravāda Buddhist canon, a Middle Indo-Aryan language of north Indian origin. On the whole, Pāli seems closely related to the Old Indo-Aryan Vedic and Sanskrit dialects but is apparently not directly descended from either of these.”

So the truth is, at least for now, I have many of the benefits of being a monk but not the limitations. As a first time visitor to Asia, I think it is best for all that I not ordain again. Perhaps my next visit.

What would Buddha do? Would Buddha kick your ass?

I seem to befuddle a number of you about how I self-identify as a Buddhist and a gangster (figuratively not literally). In fact, that is the tip of the yin yang universe I identify with. I also consider myself a warrior and a healer, a superficial intellect, a brilliantly poor student, and more. I have made peace with my inclinations and intentions which are almost always guided by principles of kindness/compassion and fairness.
 
I have no illusions about where I have been and where I am now. I do not practice Buddhism with an intention to become an enlightened being, escape suffering and find Nirvana. I practice Buddhism because I found it to be what I needed. I tested the practices especially meditation and I found them reliable and effective in alleviating the causes of my difficulties which are mostly self-inflicted and psychological. Sometimes it is also effective to bark and bite a motherfucker when triggered. May not be as socially acceptable but I can make it work for me.
 
Those friends closest to me report that I am generally more calm and patient since I began meditating. I am also older and less physically intimidating than I used to be. But I am sincere when you hear me say that I will fuck someone up.
 
The monks knew this about me when they allowed me to ordain and live among them. They had no illusions about my propensity for aggression and even violence. But to wrap myself in the saffron robes of a monk was like wrapping oneself in a reverse bomb suit used to protect a bomb removal expert. I found the robes contained the explosion within. It did not extinguish my ability to wage war but it surely ameliorated it. And although I am no longer living as a monk and I do not wear the robes, the effect was undeniably positive and enduring. It will take many more years before I will have as much experience in meditation as I do in martial arts. I can rely upon muscle memory when I draw my handgun. It takes far more effort to sit and eat mindfully.
I have an extensive vocabulary to convey hostility. The language of peace often leaves me speechless. I admit, love and peace do not need an extensive vocabulary.  But to be very clear, I am not without the tools of skillful speech. I safely navigated the inner-city for many years without being harmed or harming anyone. When I worked with street gangs, the kids responded well to the verbal deescalation techniques that I used. In fact they reacted far better than the myriad of mean drunks I have had to neutralize.
If you know me and are waiting for me to reside in a perpetual state of calm, then you are a believer in miracles, not conversions.  I have no plans to walk on water or levitate in this lifetime. What seems to be a safe bet is that I will keep practicing Buddhism, lawyering, fatherhood, 12 steps and bicycling.
“It is better to be a warrior tending to his garden than a gardener in a war.” Chinese proverb

Who am I?

If there is a me, this might be. Can you summarize a life? I did so much living, I cannot recall half of it. But memories flow when I find that those memories may be helpful to others. I also realize that all I am in many regards, is memory. This moment fades immediately into a memory.  Here I lay out the substance of memories which comprise the path I follow to freedom from suffering. I have learned studying the Buddha that the most precious moment in my life is this moment. If you read through I hope it will be worthy of your time.

I am 66 years old. I am recently identifying as a lawyer, meditation teacher and  recovering addict. I relate to Marilyn Monroe when she said, “I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”

I arrive here by luck and by being very street smart.  I spent most of my teens on the streets of Chicago, as a runaway from a physically abusive dad. While my family was affluent, I chose to live in poverty and crime, sometimes living on pieces of foam in the basements of apartment buildings and churches. I spent my teens stealing property, selling drugs, hitching rides and evading pedophiles.

Fightin’, killin’, wine and women gonna put me to my grave
Runnin’, hidin’, losin’, cryin’, nothing left to save
But my life
Stood on a ridge and shunned religion, thinking the world was mine
I made my break and a big mistake, stealin’ when I should have been buyin’
Uriah Heap

Probability of survival, low.

When I was 23, I created the nonprofit youth agency called Local Motion Inc. because it was the only way I could get a job working with teens. All the established youth programs I applied to declared that my lack of any formal college education disqualified me. So I hired me, I learned how to write grants for funding, and spent most of my time working in the streets with the toughest kids I could find. I was drawn to spending nights on street corners inhabited by gang members. My goal was to draw them away from the violence and facilitate their productive participation in society.

I dropped out of high school at 16. I tested and received a GED, high school equivalency when I was 18. I didn’t see the inside of a classroom again until 11 years later when I began a college program called University Without Walls. I spent 2 years in (and out of) the program getting a bachelors degree. My college program was interrupted when I went into drug treatment. After being clean of drugs for a year I returned to college and social services. Got my addictions counselor certification and my Bachelors in Human Services.

In 1985, at the age of 33, I enrolled in the John Marshall Law School. I was awarded a law degree 2.5 years later. I continued to work as a social worker with high risk populations in the inner city until I began a solo law practice in 1988. My own experiences as a street urchin and a drug abuser made me feel drawn back to the streets even as a lawyer. I could stay with what I had come to know the best, the streets! I have learned most of the tricks of survival by always bringing my work to the streets and the streets to my work.

I have been in numerous life and death encounters, including being shot at a few times. I have been witness to or involved in probably 100 violent incidents. Some days I saw multiple assaults. I have seen hate and most of its permutations. Probability of survival, low.

I am licensed to practice law in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. I studied law with some of the best trial lawyers in America including Gerry Spence and Racehorse Haynes. I loved doing trials and represented clients in all types of criminal and civil cases. I am especially proud of my representation of those accused of murder. The stakes for the accused are almost incalculable.

Moved to Dallas TX when I was 43 with my second wife. She was a corporate executive and I started the DFW Gun Range and Training Center,  the largest firearms training center in Dallas. Studied handguns tactics with some of the best, Thunder Ranch, Gunsite Academy, and the Executive Protection Institute among others. I was certified by the state of Texas to teach police and security firearms and the laws of use of deadly force. Survival odds, improved.

I made a best friend of my little brother Ricky when I became a Big Brother of Chicago over 35 years ago. He was 8 years old then.  My second and best wife and I became foster parents to Danny, an 11 year old I met when the juvenile court in Chicago assigned me to assist in his criminal defense.

I have owned 7 businesses including 3 nightclubs. I regard nightclubs as a world infused, infested with drugs, alcohol and pain. Probability of survival, low.

So let us summarize what I think I am. I do fail more than I succeed but my failures are so delightful to others that I enjoy sharing them when opportunity knocks. So I identify with my failures. At the same time, my failures were harnessed to create subsequent successes. I identify with that.

If I get past labels, it is because I realize that saying I love biking Dallas or hiking Tucson AZ. is not satisfactory. Teaching Buddhist meditation for several years at the Buddhist Center of Dallas and being present for my daughters/family Annastacia and Alexandria, does not explain who I am now.

Should it be a thing that I relapsed on drugs for 10 years but in 2007 I reengaged with and remain in 12 step recovery?  Does my study of Buddhism help sketch out who I am?

Funny story. On my way to losing a fortune during the economic tsunami of 2008, I befriended a Buddhist monk from Thailand who was living in Tucson Arizona. He and I hiked hundreds of  miles of mountain trails discussing and learning meditation the next 2 years. Then I ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and lived in his monastery for a little over 4 months. That monk, Ajahn Sarayut, taught me how to meditate and then to teach.  Odds of survival, very good.

I eat healthy, treat the Earth with respect and seek the companionship of great spirits. I have two mottos. Do no harm. And, Be humble, because I may be wrong.

I do wish to label me not. I prefer to be what I can be as the moment dictates what is true and right. My study of the Buddha taught me that the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment would lead to a state of calm well-being and to use that calm state to look at all experience in terms of suffering and freedom from suffering.

I am certain that I must be accepting of everything. I may not approve but with a gentleness I never knew, I must accept the pleasure and adversities and how fleeting both are. Drug addiction was a quick way to allay my emotional discomfort. Meditation is a slower, safer more skillful way to free myself from the very torment that drove me to abuse chemicals, relationships and money.

The time I spend trying to be certain of the solidity of things and thoughts the more suffering I have. When I bathe in the uncertainty of everything including myself, while it is bewildering, it is liberating. When I sit a look closely, there is nothing I can cling to with certainty. I was asked to challenge myself as to where my thoughts began and where the went when they left. I was challenged by my teachers to show that my thoughts and emotions were mine to possess by adhering to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions.

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln.

If I fail to stand for what I believe I would fail to be who I think I am. When I act mindlessly, not mindfully, when acting selfishly not selflessly, and when my intentions are unwholesome, then I am not who I want to be.

Who am I? Have not a clue. I no longer intend to let the armor around my heart remain there. I have been letting go of the pain of life’s encounters which close me, protect me and subvert me when I wish to love. Breathing in I am mindful I am breathing in. I practice in meditation to be aware of the physical sensation of the breath, in and out. When I am fully mindful, meditating  the sediment of mindlessness settles. There is then a clarity which I never had of this moment and all the pain of yesterday and the anxiety of tomorrow is dissolved. I am free to love my family and friends and even strangers without the rubbish of judgment and opinions I love attaching to.

 

Am I on the path less traveled?

In Buddhist practice we study the Dhamma or as it is pronounced in some lineages, Dharma. The teachings of the Buddha are said to lead to enlightenment, which  is liberation from suffering/happiness.

The Buddha asserted what we call, the 4 noble truths.

Buddhism’s four truths are called noble because they liberate us from suffering. They are the Buddha’s basic teaching.

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We attach to things and all things that exist are impermanent.

3. The End of Suffering

Suffering can end because our awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas (awakened ones) do. We too can wake up. This path is the 8 Fold Path.

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Having put that out there, I want to make a point. My nature causes me to suffer. Human nature leads me to suffering. We will suffer. We will hurt. We will fall ill, lose loved ones, fail at love, harm others unintentionally, etc. If we practice an ethical and compassionate life we can often mitigate our suffering but if you are participating in this thing called life, things will happen.

Our untrained, unmindful thoughts are usually leading to disaster. But mindfulness does not end suffering. The 8 Fold Path is not the end of suffering.

Monks train constantly to think, speak and act mindfully. They practice mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Monks eliminate most of the distractions and attachments which cause suffering or limit happiness. These same attachments for a lay person lead to great joy at times, great suffering at others.

I do not chase enlightenment but instead simply try to live in the moment. I can do many things Buddhist monks can do. I can chant in the Pali language, recite the blessings, study the scriptures and teachings, go without jewelry, and more. But I live in the world, seeking companionship, friendship, financial security and love. I enjoy pleasure, accept pain. I try to not resist a change of circumstances or fortune, especially one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Rather, I have a dedication to the development mindfulness and skill, wisdom and compassion. I do not expect the elimination of difficulties or attachments. I have learned to moderate and mitigate suffering and to navigate the type of difficulties that can rob a person of peace.

The past few years have been littered with difficulties and blessings. I would have been crushed under the weight of my own insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. But now I recognize that I am not my thoughts and feelings. They are the story I generally tell myself but which I can alter and improve upon by acting in a skillful, wholesome and kind manner.

Monastic life has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that it is a simpler life generally without the complications and the challenge of paying rent, buying food and clothing and raising daughters. I would if I could but I cannot I know. I can live more simply but I will always be encumbered by the responsibilities and distractions of a non-monastic life. It beats the old way though by a significant margin. It is a life of service, free from intoxicants and a recognition that I can be in the moment when all my fears and insecurities are pulling me back to the pain of the past or anxiety of the future.

“If you just walk with me
And let me walk with you
I’m on a journey
I don’t wanna walk alone”    Pearl Jam.

 

Renunciation (or what I didn’t get for dinner)

Renunciation is an act or instance of relinquishing, abandoning, repudiating, or  sacrificing something, as a right, title, person, or ambition. Renunciation is often  used to describe the act of a monk or nun going forth into a homeless life to be liberated from lust.

As you know, over 5 years ago, I was ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and resided in a temple/monastery for over 4 months. I had many apprehensions going into this challenge. I had never cut off my hair and eyebrows. I had never gone without dinner and monks do not eat after the midday. I had never resided in a community where I was the oldest person with the least amount of authority. I had never vowed to make no physical contact with a female. These are all part of the monastic lifestyle.

I have never been able to fully explain how I went from what was at times  an extraordinarily hedonistic lifestyle to monk. The transition was quite gradual but it is incredible that it took place at all. My primary guide was Ajahn Sarayut (ajahn being a honorific for monastic teacher), a monk from Thailand living in Tucson Arizona. We met through his meditation group on Meetup.com.

After attending his monthly 90 minute meditations at the local library, I asked to be given more comprehensive training in meditation. And Ajahn asked me to guide him in hiking the local mountain trails.

For the next year I imagine we hiked about 3 times weekly. Always meditating. And we always had hours of conversation. What do you talk about to a monk? We had no common life experiences in the physical realm. No cultural similarities. As a matter of fact, language was often a barrier to communication. At least Ajahn had studied English or we would never have spoken since I do not know Thai.

I can tell you that the inclination is to discuss Buddhism when you spend hours with a Buddhist monk. And so we did, up and down the mountains and in dozens of emails which I wrote at night as my brain demanded more information. Simultaneously, I read dozens of books, journals and magazines on the subject. Then one day I decided that I would be Buddhist and I would take the vows associated with declaring oneself a Buddhist.

Here they are in Pali and English.

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.                                                                                                                          2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.                                                                                                                       3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.                                                                                                                                  4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from lying or gossiping.                                                                                                                                    5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

I look back now at my “adventure” in spiritual growth. I marvel that the least of renunciations caused me much distress. I so fear/feared being hungry at night that I ate gluttonously at each lunch. It has taken me years to examine why the deprivation of food is so difficult. I am an overeater, that I know. But fear and anxiety about a meal…why?

The idea of self-imposed austerity is somewhat alien to my upbringing. If you can afford it, then eat it, wear it, drive it…own it. Austerity is generally for persons of limited means. While I am not rich, anymore, I can afford to eat. I can even afford to go on some spiritual retreats without having to renounce the life of a lay-person and become a monk. There has to be perceived value in the monastic lifestyle or why bother. In my case I saw it as a vehicle to diminish the fire of anger which burned constantly in me. I was incapable of putting out the flames of self-righteousness on my own. I was expert at rationalization, justification and resistance to change which were the barriers to a calmer life.

In the monastic life I had more time and occasion to reflect on my thoughts and actions. I was not distracted for hours upon hours by music, television telephone. I had my laptop and phone, but the emphasis was on practicing a quiet, contemplative  lifestyle. Mindfulness was emphasized. If you eat, then eat. If you walk, then walk. If you drive, you drive. I was urged to do things and speak skillfully. I was encouraged to examine my actions for their intent and effect. Most visitors to the temple spoke Thai so small talk was kept to a minimum.

Cloistered with and managed by lifelong Buddhist monks was weird but simple. No one ever really asked me to do something I did not or could not do., yet I found these simple commands of the monastic life difficult. Ludicrous at times. But slowly, having nothing else to do, I began to engage the world more mindfully.

One of the primary functions of monastic renunciation of so many aspects of ordinary life is to facilitate an inner transformation. Mindful meditation jump-started the process of seeing (awakening) to the truth. The truth being that most things I relied upon for happiness or caused me sadness were not true causes. Gil Fronsdal, a Buddhist writer says “Renunciation is often difficult. Grappling with the power of desire, attachments, and fear may require great personal struggle. But that struggle yields many benefits. We develop the inner strength to overcome temptation and compulsion. We don’t have to live with the suffering and contraction that come with clinging. Clinging can be exhausting; letting go is restful. We may taste the luminous mind of freedom, which is hidden when clinging is present. And, last but not least, we are more available to work for the welfare of others.”

I had an epiphany after 3 months. I was and had always been in the throes of thought patterns that demanded I create and nurture resentments. Nothing was fully exempt from my manufacturing of disdain and resentments. But suddenly in one of my morning meditations, I saw clearly that I was the source of my problem and a solution. Rather than try to teach the monks how to behave in my Anglo-culture, as I had been doing dutifully, I would simply offer myself to be of service. It was a seismic shift which could be felt by the ajahns I lived with. My new mantra became “what can I do to help today?” My old mantra had been more like, “how can I teach you today?”

It is coming up on 5 years since I returned to my family and the life of a lay-person. Hardly a day goes by that my experience does not directly impact my thoughts and behavior. I still joke mindlessly at times, but I rarely act mindlessly and unskillfully.  I wish most people not be as hard-headed as I am about their spiritual growth. But my experience with people leads me to believe that most people are very much resistant to genuine change of a spiritual nature. It requires renunciation not of lust but of comfort. It requires practice in observing the mind, primarily through meditation. Spiritual progress has not come about by judging or interpreting the actions of others, but in keeping the focus and solution on myself.

Soon I will face the prospect of returning temporarily to the monastic life. I am still attached to my hair and dinner. These two things alone lead me to believe my work is far from over. Meantime, I ride my bike and teach. These things are powerful spiritual motors. I have been able to ride them to new destinations previously inaccessible.

 

Transformation

So there is a story behind every transformation. Every Anglo who walks into a Buddhist temple is a possible even probable story of transformation. Not because entry to a Buddhist temple is required but because it usually signals seeking and dissatisfaction.

I have come to a spiritual awakening of sorts through significant dissatisfaction(s). It starts in 1982 with a dependence on cocaine to alleviate the emotional pain associated with a lost love interest. I twisted the age old adage that “time heals all wounds” and decided if I could use coke to numb my pain it would eventually pass. It was a flawed plan.

A year after I put that plan in motion I was ready to enter a treatment center for drug abuse. I spent 3 weeks there being introduced to 12 steps and the underlying foundation of a belief in a higher power. My initial reaction which I openly expressed went like this. “If it will take God to keep me clean, then I am hopeless.” But I decided to try the 12 step programs because I really didn’t have a better plan.

Putting myself into close proximity to the people in AA and Narcotics Anonymous made me want what they had. I found a willingness to pray just because it worked for them and I had nothing better. I spent the next 14 years in recovery and I practiced and eventually believed that there was a higher God-like power and it was helpful to pray to said power.

In the process I undertook tasks that had once seemed impossible. I started school, I went to sleep at regular hours and I exercised consistently. I, a high school dropout, got through law school. I, an incurable insomniac, began to sleep. And I became a regular in the gym and on the triathlon circuit.

But, complacency eventually became my constant companion. I got cocky and believed that I had molded myself into a normal guy. Time though has shown that I am not normal even at my most normal. I can mimic a community. If it is a criminal community, I’m in. Recovery? OK. PTA? I’m good. I won’t blend in but my behavior will comport to societal norms.

So subsequently I drank and then drugged again. If I missed doing a drug in the first go round, I got to it this time. I wouldn’t even try in this story to recount the horrors of my addiction. That is a book in and of itself. Nope this is about the spiritual transformation that then occurred over the next several years.

I went back to 12 step meetings. I sought mentors and sponsors. I inadvertently read books about transformation, starting with Eckhart Tolle. I taught myself to meditate. I sought a meditation teacher and wound up practicing with Ajahn Sarayut a Buddhist monk from Thailand. (ajahn means teacher in Thai)

I was teaching Ajahn how to navigate amongst Anglos and he taught me meditation and the practice of Buddhism. After 2 years spent constantly studying with each other, we undertook to open a new Buddhist temple in Tucson. I subsequently felt compelled to continue and deepen my practice by becoming ordained. To serve as a temporary Buddhist monk required the permission of my family, shaving off my head and facial hair and living exclusively in the temple and having no physical contact with females. I was allowed to eat the single meal of the day that monks eat, I wore only the saffron robes and I participated in twice daily chanting and meditation. I learned to chant in Pali. (The word Pali is used as a name for the language of the Theravadan Buddhist scriptures.)

I sought training with other teachers as well. Jack Kornfield, Lila Wheeler, Eric Kolvig, Lama Marut and more. I crossed the country to spend days in lectures to attend silent meditation retreats.

I “unordained” and returned to my family a little after 4 months. Ajahn completed my training as a teacher of meditation and provided me with a letter of introduction to the Buddhist Center of Dallas when we subsequently relocated to Dallas TX. I have been teaching meditation at least 3 times weekly for the past 4 years in and around the area.

I have left behind my drugging and drinking. I have long left the world where I owned adult entertainment nightclubs and websites. I am an infrequent participant in the firearms world where I made a living for so many years.

Everyone American I meet in the Buddhist temples is a seeker. None of us were born into Buddhism. To arrive here we had to have dissatisfaction with whatever came before. Some will embrace Buddhism and others will simply develop a mindful meditation practice. We are driven consciously or unconsciously to seek answers to our discontent. Some find what they are looking for. Others do not. But the practice of mindful meditation will facilitate or perpetuate transformation to all who practice it.

Can a Jewish lawyer and handgun expert be a Buddhist monk?

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 toordination day 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’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.

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.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/die.html#CMBWztwhxSbD32cD.99
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Imagine that….I lead mindful meditation

As there are in most people’s lives, I have people who come and go. Some recent acquaintances and some long standing. Most old friends have never seen me in my new environment. Even my old, (40 plus years) friends back in Tucson may never have seen me directing meditation for a group. And the Chicago friends, fuggedaboutit.

So what? Well I find I straddle between who I was, who I am and who I am becoming. Not only is it a transition, it is a laborious process. Imagine that I arrived  in Dallas with a letter of introduction from a Buddhist monk in AZ to the Buddhist temple in Dallas. The letter was written in Thai so I will have to guess what it said. I think it went something like this. Ken Goldberg is competent to lead Westerners in meditation!

How had my life come to this? Dozens of hikes up and down the mountains with the monk. Days spent learning meditation on the mountains, in the desert and in the non air-conditioned Buddha Hall. I accompanied the monk to art fairs, grocery shopping, community meetings and finally as a novice monk. My head and eyebrows were shaved, I was assigned a bed in the hall, and typically I was in the Buddha Hall by 5.30 AM chanting and meditating with fellow monks.

This post is not for those who have come to know me in the recent past. What would you care my journey. This is for the old crowd. To them I say, Imagine that….I lead meditation, in a Buddhist temple. With the blessings of the monks. I know darn well, not one of you, not ONE, ever thought this day would come. And with good reason. This day had no business coming. It was not on the itinerary or flight plan. My orbit was not scheduled to come into retrograde Aquarius with a Sagittarius moon or some such. Nope, live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse.

If anyone had told me I could modify my life in this way, I would have scoffed. If someone called me sweet, I would have mocked them. I would be derisive to those that had not learned to fear me.

You are welcome to join me every Wednesday night at 7 PM at the Wat Dallas at 8484 Stults Road for meditation. Ends at 8 PM. Or join me Tuesdays at noon,  Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas community mental health center at 8140 Walnut Hill Lane #200 Dallas, TX 75231‎ for meditation. That is an invitation you never saw coming.

A monk has died in Texas

When I lived as a novice I was trained to treat all monks as my seniors and to treat monks as family. Ajahn Poomin, abbot of Wat Treethepdhammaram, El Paso, Texas was a car traveling monk and he traveled extensively by car to many locations. So, he dropped into our Tucson temple (Wat Buddhametta) often on his way hither and thither. As a temple leader he was given the respect accorded to monks of his rank. Like many monks from Thailand he rarely showed his English skills unless necessary. Once he came to me to discuss a legal matter and I discovered he was fluent but reserved. After that he was always friendly and gracious. (Novice Anglo monks are treated, how shall I say,….. like a kid.)

Doesn’t matter if you have a law degree, head of household or are older than the monks, you are just a rookie. What simple lessons are derived from that experience, Humility, Obedience, Discipline.

So here it is, sometime after I disrobed and have returned to the life of a lay person and I find I am very touched by his loss. It is as though a relative has passed away. I marvel sometimes at the force of the change that took place living in the temple. I rarely reside in anger and resentment like I used to. I would often harbor ill-feelings with little reason, for long periods of time. Now I find those negative thoughts to be fleeting in contrast to the past. I find that negative thoughts embarrass me after my practice of Buddhist meditation/chanting loving/kindness over the years.

Where I once thought casually about the death of those I didn’t know or didn’t care about, now I find the presence of pain in suffering in living beings evokes the wish that all beings be free from all suffering. And I hope that Ajahn Poomin has an excellent rebirth and that his footprints do not fade soon.