What's it like being a monk?

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.

What's it like being a monk?

Postby manas » Tue Nov 26, 2013 3:48 am

I am not foolish enough to idealize this lifestyle. I am aware that one would have to deal with a number of inner and outer challenges, and that it would not be an easy life, in some ways. But surely there must be some things about the life that are like a breath of fresh air. The Buddha said thus, so we hear:

"A householder or householder's son, hearing the Dhamma, gains conviction in the Tathagata and reflects: 'Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air. It is not easy living at home to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, like a polished shell. What if I were to shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes, and go forth from the household life into homelessness?'


"Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air." Put that way, it does sound rather appealing. But then again, one very senior monk I once asked, said "Oh, it's easy to ordain. But it's difficult to stay [in robes]".

Just wondering what the experience of being a monk is like. Is the constant need to guard the sense doors a strain? Do you ever get what an anagarika once described to me as 'sensory deprivation', or does this fade over time? Because, if I gained enough conviction in the truth of the Dhamma, I might want to just devote myself more intensively, under the guidance of a teacher, in a monastic setting. It's a possibility. If we have a rotten tooth that needs to be pulled out, why not just do it the faster way, rather than pulling it out very, very slowly?

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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby SarathW » Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:24 am

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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby kmath » Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:58 am

I recently spent 18 months at a Thai Forest Monastery. For 12 of those months I was an Anagarika.

On the one hand, the life gone forth is free as air. You have basically no responsibilities or worries. You can really develop your samadhi, and living in nature is great -- if you go to that kind of place.

On the other hand, the lifestyle can be a grind. Most days we were up around 4:00 am and didn't get to bed until 10 or 10:30 pm. Plus there was an all night sit once a week. So I never felt like I was well-rested.

But a bigger deal was this and it's something people never talk about: as a lay person, you always having something to look forward to -- whether it's a vacation, a big game or Friday night with friends :toast:

As a monastic, I always felt like there was nothing to look forward to. Every week was basically the same as the last one: you work, you meditate, you go to bed and do it again. There's no real juice, if you get what I'm saying. Eventually that can take it's toll.

Plus, there's the whole family situation. You probably won't be able to see them much as a young monk, depending on where you ordain. Not sure if that's a big deal to you but it is to some people.

There's a lot more to say on this subject but I guess I'll leave it at that for now.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby manas » Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:10 am

kmath wrote:I recently spent 18 months at a Thai Forest Monastery. For 12 of those months I was an Anagarika.

On the one hand, the life gone forth is free as air. You have basically no responsibilities or worries. You can really develop your samadhi, and living in nature is great -- if you go to that kind of place.

On the other hand, the lifestyle can be a grind. Most days we were up around 4:00 am and didn't get to bed until 10 or 10:30 pm. Plus there was an all night sit once a week. So I never felt like I was well-rested.

But a bigger deal was this and it's something people never talk about: as a lay person, you always having something to look forward to -- whether it's a vacation, a big game or Friday night with friends :toast:

As a monastic, I always felt like there was nothing to look forward to. Every week was basically the same as the last one: you work, you meditate, you go to bed and do it again. There's no real juice, if you get what I'm saying. Eventually that can take it's toll.

Plus, there's the whole family situation. You probably won't be able to see them much as a young monk, depending on where you ordain. Not sure if that's a big deal to you but it is to some people.

There's a lot more to say on this subject but I guess I'll leave it at that for now.


Thanks, kmath, for sharing that. I can see that one would need to really enjoy one's meditation practice, to thrive in a monastery long term, yes? Meditation itself would have to become one's 'juice', otherwise, as you said, the austerity could take a toll, judging by what you wrote. Just one other thing, I'm not really young anymore, more middle aged. I would not consider seeking ordination anywhere until my youngest child turns 18. But for now, and into the next few years, my kids really need me, both materially and emotionally. But it is an idea that I seriously consider for that time, when it arrives.

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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby manas » Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:30 am



Yes, that's what I mean by pulling out the rotten tooth and getting it over with. If we do decide that we want to send craving off to permanent extinction, then nothing beats the monk's life, so I hear.

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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Anagarika » Tue Nov 26, 2013 12:50 pm

There are different kinds of monks and different kinds of Wats. I ordained temporarily in a temple that was connected to a small city, and there was an engaged element to temple life. Sure, there were many,many hours of quiet time for study and meditation. But the stillness was punctuated by community activities, teaching events ( I taught English phrases to a group of Thai men and women working at a park and resort), and other opportunities for the monks and samaneras (me) to connect with the community. This maintained a balance between solitude and engagement. My wat also had connections with cave and forest temples, so that any monk seeking to do deep meditation in solitude could do so.

Bhikkhu Bodhi once mentioned, with respect to engaged practice, that one practices in accord with one's own personality and aptitudes, or something to that effect. My take from that is that for the ordained life, one can choose a city temple over a forest temple, if one needs more connectivity and less solitude, and vice versa. As I mentioned, in Thailand one can travel between forest wats and city wats and train with different teachers that way.

There were afternoons when I felt bored, to be honest. There were days I felt disconnected. However, at Wat Sriboonruang, for example, I didn't need to wait too long for some event or visitor to punctuate the stillness, and this Wat was a great fit for my personality. The abbot is a young Ph.D. active in the community, and there was always an energy at the temple due to his community organizing. I mention this only as an example to suggest that monastic life can take on different tones and paces, and it is up to each man and woman to decide which type of temple is the best fit for them.

Besides, if you're really bored, there's always sweeping to be done. :)
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby kmath » Tue Nov 26, 2013 2:46 pm

manas wrote:

Thanks, kmath, for sharing that. I can see that one would need to really enjoy one's meditation practice, to thrive in a monastery long term, yes? Meditation itself would have to become one's 'juice', otherwise, as you said, the austerity could take a toll, judging by what you wrote. Just one other thing, I'm not really young anymore, more middle aged. I would not consider seeking ordination anywhere until my youngest child turns 18. But for now, and into the next few years, my kids really need me, both materially and emotionally. But it is an idea that I seriously consider for that time, when it arrives.

:anjali:


It's true that the meditation should be the juice. But everyone goes through dry periods or periods in which the hindrances are really nasty. So a lot of the practice is just khante.

As far as the age thing, my observation is that the older monks -- the ones who ordain around 50 -- are on average more successful than the ones who ordain in the their 20s or 30s. The older monks are just a lot more grounded and more clear on why they are at the monastery in the first place. Whereas the younger monks are more easily raddled or confused about the practice.

Metta,

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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Jayantha-NJ » Tue Dec 10, 2013 1:56 am

kmath wrote:
As a monastic, I always felt like there was nothing to look forward to. Every week was basically the same as the last one: you work, you meditate, you go to bed and do it again. There's no real juice, if you get what I'm saying. Eventually that can take it's toll.


thank you for sharing your experience.. my only question regarding this is that how is that any different then lay life?

I have a good job, I could find a good woman again and settle down, get married, have kids, work on my photography business.. but what is there to look forward to, old age and death? This is what I always question myself to see if I really want to do this monastic thing.. I think about what my life would be like, a successful photographer, husband, father.. then what?

who knows I could ordain and 10 years later think the total opposite, I am thankful you posted your experience though, it has given me more to think on :)/
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Mkoll » Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:07 am

Thanks for your input all. This is a nice thread.

kmath wrote:So a lot of the practice is just khante.


I tried looking this up to no avail. What does it mean?
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Chi » Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:22 am

Jayantha-NJ wrote:
kmath wrote:
As a monastic, I always felt like there was nothing to look forward to. Every week was basically the same as the last one: you work, you meditate, you go to bed and do it again. There's no real juice, if you get what I'm saying. Eventually that can take it's toll.


thank you for sharing your experience.. my only question regarding this is that how is that any different then lay life?

I have a good job, I could find a good woman again and settle down, get married, have kids, work on my photography business.. but what is there to look forward to, old age and death? This is what I always question myself to see if I really want to do this monastic thing.. I think about what my life would be like, a successful photographer, husband, father.. then what?

who knows I could ordain and 10 years later think the total opposite, I am thankful you posted your experience though, it has given me more to think on :)/


In my limited experience, there is a big difference between the "looking forward" of lay life and monastic life. Consider thinking about it on a day-to-day level more than on a year-to-year or even decade-to-decade level.

In monastic life, if you are at a practice-oriented monastery or in solitude practicing formal meditation most of the time (there are monastics who don't meditate much), the only things one can "look forward to" are (if applicable) walking if you are sitting, sitting if you are walking, Dhamma talks, interviews with teachers, breakfast, lunch, evening tea or juice, sleeping, going on alm's round, tomorrow's breakfast, where you are going to do your next retreat, what you are going to do after you disrobe.

In lay life, you can "look forward" to all these things, plus a whole range of other activities or experiences depending on your situation, such as going home, meeting your wife and your children, having dinner with family and friends, next day's work plans, participating in sports, meeting new friends, going on vacation, etc.

Still, if the ultimate goal is Nibbana, I think the point is to see how looking forward to anything is a form of ignorance, restlessness, and suffering. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with looking forward to something, but how can we be sure these things will happen or that we will be alive, etc, etc.... But I have experienced an inkling of what it's like to not have anything to look forward to, and it can be scary, unsettling, and emotionally and psychologically draining at times. It can also be utterly liberating at other times. Just depends on where we are in the practice, I guess.

Mkoll wrote:Thanks for your input all. This is a nice thread.

kmath wrote:So a lot of the practice is just khante.


I tried looking this up to no avail. What does it mean?


I think kmath may have meant "khanti" which means forbearance or patience in Pali. It's one of the paramis, and from what I have heard and read, some people, in and outside of Theravada, may consider khanti the most important and difficult parami to develop.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby kmath » Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:39 am

Chi wrote:
Jayantha-NJ wrote:
kmath wrote:
As a monastic, I always felt like there was nothing to look forward to. Every week was basically the same as the last one: you work, you meditate, you go to bed and do it again. There's no real juice, if you get what I'm saying. Eventually that can take it's toll.


thank you for sharing your experience.. my only question regarding this is that how is that any different then lay life?

I have a good job, I could find a good woman again and settle down, get married, have kids, work on my photography business.. but what is there to look forward to, old age and death? This is what I always question myself to see if I really want to do this monastic thing.. I think about what my life would be like, a successful photographer, husband, father.. then what?

who knows I could ordain and 10 years later think the total opposite, I am thankful you posted your experience though, it has given me more to think on :)/


In my limited experience, there is a big difference between the "looking forward" of lay life and monastic life. Consider thinking about it on a day-to-day level more than on a year-to-year or even decade-to-decade level.

In monastic life, if you are at a practice-oriented monastery or in solitude practicing formal meditation most of the time (there are monastics who don't meditate much), the only things one can "look forward to" are (if applicable) walking if you are sitting, sitting if you are walking, Dhamma talks, interviews with teachers, breakfast, lunch, evening tea or juice, sleeping, going on alm's round, tomorrow's breakfast, where you are going to do your next retreat, what you are going to do after you disrobe.

In lay life, you can "look forward" to all these things, plus a whole range of other activities or experiences depending on your situation, such as going home, meeting your wife and your children, having dinner with family and friends, next day's work plans, participating in sports, meeting new friends, going on vacation, etc.

Still, if the ultimate goal is Nibbana, I think the point is to see how looking forward to anything is a form of ignorance, restlessness, and suffering. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with looking forward to something, but how can we be sure these things will happen or that we will be alive, etc, etc.... But I have experienced an inkling of what it's like to not have anything to look forward to, and it can be scary, unsettling, and emotionally and psychologically draining at times. It can also be utterly liberating at other times. Just depends on where we are in the practice, I guess.

Mkoll wrote:Thanks for your input all. This is a nice thread.

kmath wrote:So a lot of the practice is just khante.


I tried looking this up to no avail. What does it mean?


I think kmath may have meant "khanti" which means forbearance or patience in Pali. It's one of the paramis, and from what I have heard and read, some people, in and outside of Theravada, may consider khanti the most important and difficult parami to develop.


I'll respond directly to the questions as well but this was a great post. :thumbsup:
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby kmath » Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:55 am

Jayantha-NJ wrote:thank you for sharing your experience.. my only question regarding this is that how is that any different then lay life?

I have a good job, I could find a good woman again and settle down, get married, have kids, work on my photography business.. but what is there to look forward to, old age and death? This is what I always question myself to see if I really want to do this monastic thing.. I think about what my life would be like, a successful photographer, husband, father.. then what?

who knows I could ordain and 10 years later think the total opposite, I am thankful you posted your experience though, it has given me more to think on :)/


Sounds like you have a lot of samvega...

Anyway like Chi said, I'm talking more about the day to day experience as a monastic. As a lay person, you can often get through the day with the thought that: I'll just do my work now and come Friday night, I'll have some fun.

As a monk, there is no fun -- because you can't really do anything fun things. So when the hard times come, it's more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Jayantha-NJ » Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:57 am

thank you both for your responses..

btw what is samvega ?


I do find teaching fun actually, so I suppose if I ordain whenever I'm allowed to teach that would be helpful, probably not for many years. Guess thats something to look forward to :).
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby kmath » Tue Dec 10, 2013 3:08 am

Mkoll wrote:Thanks for your input all. This is a nice thread.

kmath wrote:So a lot of the practice is just khante.


I tried looking this up to no avail. What does it mean?


As Chi said, I meant khanti. It's listed as the Sanskrit "kshanti" on Wikipedia and defined as follows:

"patience, forbearance and forgiveness... It is the practice of exercising patience toward behavior or situations that might not necessarily deserve it and is seen as a conscious choice to actively give patience as if a gift, rather than being in a state of oppression in which one feels obligated to act in such a way."

Perfect definition.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Chi » Tue Dec 10, 2013 3:12 am

Jayantha-NJ wrote:thank you both for your responses..

btw what is samvega ?


I do find teaching fun actually, so I suppose if I ordain whenever I'm allowed to teach that would be helpful, probably not for many years. Guess thats something to look forward to :).


Samvega: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1816

Be careful about wanting to be a teacher or dreaming about what it would be like to be a monastic teacher. Although good intentions may be present, most of these desires are subtly (or not so subtly) ego-driven. My first teacher said, "You'll be ready [to be a teacher] when you have no desire to be a teacher." It's beneficial to simply observe these thoughts as just phenomena arising and falling. In my limited observation, it's the ignorance attempting to trick you into thinking it's "you" who is thinking. Just as a reference, I used to tutor and teach many people from K-12, and I used to always think about teaching the Dhamma. These thoughts still arise from time to time, but I don't give them much power (I used to) now.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby kmath » Tue Dec 10, 2013 3:14 am

Jayantha-NJ wrote:btw what is samvega ?


Sort of like: disgust with Samsara and a sense of spiritual urgency. It's a good quality for a Buddhist.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Jayantha-NJ » Tue Dec 10, 2013 3:23 am

Chi wrote:
Jayantha-NJ wrote:thank you both for your responses..

btw what is samvega ?


I do find teaching fun actually, so I suppose if I ordain whenever I'm allowed to teach that would be helpful, probably not for many years. Guess thats something to look forward to :).


Samvega: viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1816

Be careful about wanting to be a teacher or dreaming about what it would be like to be a monastic teacher. Although good intentions may be present, most of these desires are subtly (or not so subtly) ego-driven. My first teacher said, "You'll be ready [to be a teacher] when you have no desire to be a teacher." It's beneficial to simply observe these thoughts as just phenomena arising and falling. In my limited observation, it's the ignorance attempting to trick you into thinking it's "you" who is thinking. Just as a reference, I used to tutor and teach many people from K-12, and I used to always think about teaching the Dhamma. These thoughts still arise from time to time, but I don't give them much power (I used to) now.



I also have a bit of an education background. I've always enjoyed being in front of a class, I also see where the ego comes in, which is why I accept I will probably not teach dhamma for quite a long time, even though I do have a desire to teach dhamma.. in that desire I see both the ego aspect and compassion aspect.. and it's hard to discern between the two for the person, let alone outsiders.

I googled samvega and found this discussion by Thanissaro http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... rming.html

I guess you can say yes, I have samvega, I've always felt a sort of underlying dissatisfaction with normal life in general, never felt a strong desire to enter into the whole family + work + retire + die thing. I've always been searching for something deeper that fit and when I found Theravada it clicked with my world view and what I felt.

I've also experienced loss enough to understand life more then most 35 year olds. I was caregiver to a wife who fought cancer for three years and died 8 years ago now(she was 25, I was 27). Her death certainly did not make me a buddhist, I had already been meditating and heading down the path, nor did I have any desire to ordain( I have had 3-4 girlfriends since my wifes death, but none in about 3 years.. haven't felt the need), not until the last 2-3 years, but it awoke something in me the amplified those underlying feelings that I guess have a name. I've never heard the term in my years of practice.


Im not sure what to expect with regards to being a monastic. Im not viewing it as a cure all or as something to escape life. I have the best job of my life, making the most money, am the best looking and most in shape ive ever been. I had weight loss surgery 3 years ago, max weight was 373. I have plenty of female attention. So life is pretty good by any normal persons expectations.. Why do i want to give it all up for a small chance at another way?

I feel at this point in my life i have to try, even if i find out the life is not for me, at least i could move on.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Chi » Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:31 am

Here is a quote by Ajahn Chah from here: http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Flood_Sensuality1.php

When we are accepted into the Buddhist monkhood we live simply. And yet some of them disrobe to go to the front, where the bullets fly past them every day - they prefer it like that. They really want to go. Danger surrounds them on all sides and yet they're prepared to go. Why don't they see the danger? They're prepared to die by the gun but nobody wants to die developing virtue. Just seeing this is enough... it's because they're slaves, nothing else. See this much and you know what it's all about. People don't see the danger.


I think "to go to the front" means "to become a lay Dhamma teacher." Perhaps other people with more experience in this tradition or any monastic tradition can give their opinions on this passage.

His teachings are quite extraordinary. He makes us see things we couldn't otherwise see.
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby kmath » Tue Dec 10, 2013 5:33 am

Jayantha-NJ wrote:I've also experienced loss enough to understand life more then most 35 year olds. I was caregiver to a wife who fought cancer for three years and died 8 years ago now(she was 25, I was 27). Her death certainly did not make me a buddhist, I had already been meditating and heading down the path, nor did I have any desire to ordain( I have had 3-4 girlfriends since my wifes death, but none in about 3 years.. haven't felt the need), not until the last 2-3 years, but it awoke something in me the amplified those underlying feelings that I guess have a name.


Thanks for sharing :anjali:
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Re: What's it like being a monk?

Postby Mkoll » Wed Dec 11, 2013 6:08 am

Jayantha-NJ wrote:I feel at this point in my life i have to try, even if i find out the life is not for me, at least i could move on.

I'd say go for it. The worst that can happen is you disrobe. And from hearsay I think that is not the end of the world if it's done voluntarily.

Good luck!

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