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Buddhist Mindfulness #30 The Bliss of Recluseship


There is a certain view isn’t there, that to become
a monk is to escape from the world? People are doing it from a contracted, a fearful way of escaping life. Which I know it isn’t. Oh, it is. Okay, perhaps you better elaborate
on why it is and it isn’t. The Buddha in his teaching would always say, well,
it is not an escape and it is an escape. It is not an escape from responsibility, I certainly discovered that within a few days of being here. Because I had to take on responsibilities. It was not an escape, in that sense,
from the harshness of life, or the difficulties of life,
because they come along with you. My period of life when I was travelling taught me that. You cannot just flee your troubles.
It is an internal matter. However, it is an escape from living a life based on other people’s values
that you do not agree with. I had no strong urge to forge a career. I had no strong urge to make lots of money. I had no strong urge to raise a family. I felt at odds with, alienated from, the world,
in that sense, because those things were not strong attractors to me. They did not mean anything to me. And, I found that living a monastic life did. So, in that sense, I was escaping from the wrong life. The life that was not intended for me. Into the life, in that sense, that was. Ultimately, of course, the Buddhist teaching is about escaping from suffering. Not through just trying to avoid it,
but through fully comprehending it and understanding it, and going beyond it. And, a monastic setting is the ideal place. Whether it is someone in the world who is
coming into the monastery for a week’s retreat, or whether it is somebody who is devoting
the rest of their lives to it. The purpose of following the Buddhist teaching is, ultimately, to escape suffering. In that sense, it is escapism, pure escapism. So, it is both. So, when you had your interview with Alan, is there a sense that you are being checked out for suitability? I mean, it is a two way thing? Oh, absolutely. We need to point out that there are specific conditions that have to be fulfilled if you want to enter into a monastic life, a recluse’s life. You cannot be wanted by the police. Makes sense. You cannot have any court injunctions outstanding. If
you are due in court, you have got to go to court. This is not escapism, you have got
to face your karma. You cannot have dependents. If you have got dependents you cannot come in because you have to provide for them. You have got to be free from debt,
you cannot have any debt. And you have got to be free from disease. If people actually take
the time to think about those conditions, it really covers a lot of this whole problem
of people trying to use a monastic way of life to escape from their troubles. For instance, I had a small amount of debt that I had to clear in order to come in. Which took me about six weeks. It is amazing, isn’t it. I had that debt hanging around for years and years and years, and when I finally wanted to go and do something, I had it all finished and done within six weeks. If there are things outstanding like that, you can, if you have got the intent, if you have got the volition, you can create the ideal conditions to allow
you to, essentially, leave the world, in that way. There are more subtle aspects to it too. I was talking earlier about my relationship with Alan, [Paul’s teacher] the fact that I went into it knowing that I did not know. Whether it is a retreat, whether it is a long-term
recluseship, you have to be open to instruction. You have to be humble. You have to be willing
to accept that you do not know, and that you are entering into it
from a position of not knowing. And being willing to serve the community, in whatever way that the community
needs you to serve. To be humble. Not to be arrogant and try to change everything to suit you. The whole point is, the way the place is set up is
the perfect middle way. It will show you where your excesses are. It will show you where your resistances are and your craving for life to be different. Those are the things that cause you to suffer. So, it is about learning to accept
the conditions of the monastic setting, rather than trying to enforce your will upon it. That is a very important aspect. If someone has reached the point
where they understand that, and they want the opportunity, they want the space, to apply themselves
to mindfulness and meditation, for more than an hour a day,
for more than one week a year, then you find that that discipline,
the discipline of the monastic training, really helps to support that endeavour. Do you think the transition as you progress as a monk, you are having to deal
with your own cravings and hatreds, and they are highlighted, probably, to a degree which
they would not be in the outside world, does that make it challenging? It is often described as blissful, isn’t it,
the monastic life? So, it must have aspects of both? I suppose, as long as you are resisting, you are suffering? Yes, the bliss come from… I think there is a story in the Pali Canon about a king
or a prince who ordained under the Buddha, and the other monks found this former king
underneath a tree moaning, “Bliss, bliss.” And then they went to the Buddha to ask what
on earth was going on with this chap and he said well, and I am paraphrasing terribly,
well basically he has given up all his worldly cares. All that responsibility he had as a
monarch, he has actually just abandoned those, and he is experiencing the bliss of recluseship.
He is experiencing the bliss of not having that pressure, that burden on him anymore.
It does not mean the work is finished by any means, but he is given himself the space in
which he can work now at looking at what is the real cause of his suffering. Because he
has taken away a lot of the unnecessary worldly, I want to call it “flim-flam,” but I do not
want to be disrespectful. Before you ordain I guess you have to get rid of all your possessions,
sort out all your affairs, does that mean giving them all away? Do you want them? If
somebody is coming in for full time training, for at least the minimum of two years, I want
nothing but the Dhamma, I want nothing but the opportunity to practise the way, free
from worldly concerns and worldly burdens. And then you are going, oh yeah but I want
to keep my record collection? I sold, for £50, my record collection, which these days
I would have thought would be worth thousands. All these rare, 80s, indie. I have talked
about it before, but it was an astonishingly good record collection. And I gave it all
away, because it was a burden. Why was it a burden? You cannot play your records all
at once, all the time. And you end up carrying them around with you. And ultimately, what
are they worth? I mean beyond a discreet, financial net worth. What are they really
worth, set against truly being free of suffering? So behind this you can tell that there is
a determination and a vision, that what we are sold as being life’s value is not life’s
true value, that there is something beyond it. And once you become opened up to that,
it changes everything. So I can understand people being in a halfway house with it. Life
experience though will show you that the things you think you need in order to be happy are
actually the things that burden you. Well it certainly was the case for me.

Jerry Heath

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