Please keep in touch in this forum.
Thank you for your kind words friend, I plan to do just that. I would like this post to remain a journal of sorts of my experience for those who will come after.. I can see how some many see this as a bit egoistic or self aggrandizing, but personally I'd love to see more of this kind of stuff because in the years leading up to this it would of been helpful for me as I moved down this path.
To add to this page is a recent resident interview I had for Bhavana's facebook page :
http://jayantha.tumblr.com/post/1071512 ... e-jayantha
BHAVANA RESIDENT PROFILES: An ongoing series of profiles of residents at the Bhavana Society Forest Monastery and Retreat Center in West Virginia ________________
Q: How long have you been at Bhavana?
JAYANTHA: Just about four months now.
Q: What does your Pali name mean?
JAYANTHA: Jayantha means “victorious one,” although I also go by just “J” for those who have a hard time remembering the Pali names. It fits since my birth name is Joe.
Q: What is your daily life like at Bhavana?
JAYANTHA: Surprisingly, not all that different than daily life in any other way I’ve ever experienced it. There are parts of the day I love, and parts of the day I don’t. There is plenty of work, some free time, and meditation time. One thing that has struck me as ironic was the feeling of having more time to learn Dhamma as a lay person living at home then I do residing at Bhavana. But the sense of purpose I get from being here far outweighs anything I felt in lay life.
An average day for me is 4 a.m. wakeup call, some yoga or reading until 5 a.m. meditation. Then, 6-6:30 a.m. Puja Chanting; 7 a.m. is breakfast; 8:30-10:30 a.m. work; 11 a.m. is lunch; 12-2 p.m. is free time; 2-4 p.m. is a work period, then there’s 5 p.m. meditation, the 6:30 p.m. Puja and meditation until bed. I’m usually in bed by 8 p.m. for some reading and lights out by 9 p.m..
Q: How much interaction do you have with monks and nuns?
JAYANTHA: Living with them I have interactions daily, however most of those interactions are related to taking care of their needs or the needs of the monastery in general. Occasionally I get to have moments where I am struck by the straight normal humanity of these men in robes who tend to be put on a pedestal and worshiped as something above humanity.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my chances to drive the monastics to various Dhamma teachings or medical appointments. Those hours in a car are prime time for questions, learning, and discussion, when we don’t have a Dhamma talk coming from the radio speakers.
Q: Do you intend to ordain?
JAYANTHA: I wouldn’t have left a good career and a promising photography business at the age of 36 if I didn’t. My story is not unlike many western monastics I’ve read, I had pretty much anything and everything society says equates to an awesome life. But it just isn’t enough, there’s something more out there, and being a truthseeker all my life I’ve come to find that the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths are about as universal as they come.
Yes, my only purpose for coming to Bhavana is to ordain, to enhance my journey towards the deathless and become a worthy and skillful teacher of Dhamma to fellow Westerners in the future.
Q: What did your family and friends think about you becoming a long-term resident at a Buddhist monastery?
JAYANTHA: My plan for ordination was over four years old by the time I became a resident. My family and friends knew that I would be coming to Bhavana for years, although I don’t think it really sunk in that I was serious until the last six months. I was the only Buddhist I knew in my daily life. For the most part I don’t think my family and friends really understand what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. But they are still amazingly supportive and although it hurts them that I left, they bear the pain with a light heart knowing that I’m happy here. They also know that I can quit and come home any time, even if I make it to full ordination. So, maybe there is a little hope being clung to there, ha-ha!
Q: What kind of work do you do around the monastery?
JAYANTHA: In my four months at the monastery, I’ve done everything from making wooden stairs to painting, cooking, a million little basic maintenance tasks and plenty of work cutting down dead trees, processing logs, splitting firewood etc. I’ve also coordinated multiple retreats, which is very fun and rewarding, but mentally draining at the same time. With four hours of work period in the day, monthly retreats, and a 30-year-old monastery always in need of some repair or upgrade, the work is never ending and finding a balance is key.
Q: In what ways has being a resident deepened your practice?
JAYANTHA: Bhavana is not the kind of place for someone to come and expect to be attached to a teacher and learn everything from scratch from them. Being a little naive, I had assumed this is how it would be, after about seven years of practicing on my own and learning Dhamma via the Internet and books. Bhavana is very big on self reliance, so my style of self-practice and self-learning has fit well in here. I am lucky enough to have teachers like Bhante G close at hand and being able to live in a place that has monthly retreats (which is really the only time I get to sit and learn Dhamma). So, in that respect it has been a great benefit. Also, just living in the woods on the side of a mountain, which is a big change from my old crowded home of New Jersey, is enough to help deepen your practice. I love escaping deeper up the mountain to meditate in solitude in the woods. A final aspect as to how it has deepened my practice is related to others. I feel my life is so much more meaningful now because everything I do here at Bhavana is for the benefit of fellow Dhamma practitioners who come to Bhavana to practice and search for awakening. This has been a great boost to my own practice.
Q: Do you sometimes miss the world outside the monastery?
JAYANTHA: Not really, no. However, I had plenty of years of practice to develop nibbida (disenchantment) to the point where coming to Bhavana has felt more like a prisoner being released from jail, as opposed to being put in one, which is what many people feel would be the opposite when they think about being sequestered at a forest monastery, living like a monk. The only thing from my old life that I miss are my family and friends whom I made deep connections with in my past 36 years, most especially my 10-year-old nephew. It has been hard for me, but much more so for them because it seems like I’ve disappeared from the world, but in fact I’m still here .
Q: What advice would you have for someone contemplating being a resident at Bhavana?
JAYANTHA: I’ve seen two types of residents in my years of visiting monasteries. You have the men and women who are intent on ordination, and those who are in these sort of in-between periods of their lives, whether its young kids out of college or middle ages and older people searching for their purpose or next step in life. If someone is planning to ordain, I can only say that they should make sure 100% that this is something they really want to do, and to accept the fact that they may change their minds once the reality sets in. I still have quite a ways to go in my own path towards ordination. I may become a monk, or I may decide it’s not for me; all things are uncertain.
The path that brought me to this point however was a long one of practice, study, and speaking to monastics and others on the same path about their experiences and advice moving forward. I also continue to “check” myself on a regular basis, asking myself if this is really what I want to do by comparing my current life to a possible life as a lay person, even with the best conditions of good job, family, business, house, money etc etc. So far, the response has always been a “no way”. Take your time, don’t rush, develop your practice, and if it happens it will happen.
I remember over three years ago, the first time I came to the Bhavana Society was for a Thanksgiving retreat. My first interview with Bhante G I gave him my intentions to want to come and ordain in a few years. He did not appear to take it very seriously as indeed he spoke about the droves of people who have come to Bhavana over the years seeking ordination who left within the first few months. From that first interview until now, I came to Bhavana as often as I could (I lived five hours away, but usually made it every other month), made myself known, showed my desire to move forward. That was advice given to me by a young monk six years ago, and it’s the advice I pass along now. I’m always willing to speak to anyone who has questions (feel free to contact me through my blog at http://jayantha.tumblr.com/
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If you have no plans to ordain, my only caution is to not use a monastery as a place to hide out from the world (even monks can’t really do that, they live in the world as well!). This does not help you but could indeed hinder you in moving forward. You can learn a lot and develop spiritually in a monastery, but you can also grow stagnant and unsure, allowing more and more time to pass as you grow further from the outside world.