Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Typical Day

Today I returned from Abhayagiri and will be headed to Los Angeles shortly. There is a lot to write about so I will try to do so in small chunks in the coming days so as to not create one large post.

A lot of people are curious what life as a lay-person is like at the monastery so I will try to describe a typical day of what life was like as a lay-person at the monastery.

Most mornings I would wake up sometime between 3 and 4:30am (depending on various factors), get dressed and do some personal meditation if there was time. I then would get to the main hall at around 5am and where the entire monastic community and other lay residents and guests would gather. We would do about 20 minutes of chanting followed by meditation until 6:30am. I would do a small chore that was assigned to me (namely, cleaning the men's bathroom near the main hall) until 7am.

At 7am we had a light breakfast consisting of oatmeal and tea or coffee. After breakfast, we would have a work meeting with the monks and other lay people to determine the work that day. Because monks cannot handle or prepare their own food, the lay people (or Anagarikas) would prepare the main meal for the day. Other lay supporters would work with the monks to help work on various projects around the monastery (about 300 acres or so to take care of!).

The bell would ring around 11am which would signify lunch. All the dishes and drinks for the meal would be laid out on tables and then lay people would "offer" the dishes to the monks. I'll describe the main meal in more detail in a later post, but just briefly, lay people offered to 2-3 monks who would then just "acknowledge" the offer by pressing down the dish that the dish was received. Once this was done, all the food would on those tables would then be understood as received and then could be handled by the other monks. Once this process was completed, all the monks would file in a single line, by seniority, place food into their bowls, and then would return to the main hall. Once all the monks, Anagarikas and lay people are in the hall, they provide a blessing chant in Pali and then would recite an observation chant.

After the chanting, the lay people would leave the hall and enjoy themselves to whatever is left (which is was almost always *a lot* of very fantastic food). After the meal, the Anagarikas and lay people (and sometimes 1 or 2 monks) would clean up the kitchen which would usually last until 1 or 1:30pm.

The time between kitchen clean up and 5:30pm (ish) was used individually. I personally spent that time either in person meditation practice, or doing essentials like taking a shower, brushing my teeth or taking a short nap (the work day + kitchen work can be exhausting). At 5:30, there would evening tea and 1-2 monks would hang out in the main hall for informal chatting. Topics could range from friendly, conversational themes to more specific questions on practice. After tea there would be kitchen clean-up and short break. At 7:00pm, we would do evening chanting followed by meditation which would usually last until 8:30-9pm. Most days I would eventually get to sleep at around 9:30-10pm.

I'll write much more about the experience later but I thought this would be good for now.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Heading to the Monastery

This morning I am leaving for the monastery. I'll be taking a bus up through Ukiah, and then getting a taxi to take me the rest of the way. Today I also start practicing the 8-precepts. Let's see what happens. Onwards I go...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Towards California

Today, while holding my bags and stepping aboard Amtrak train 449, I began my trip towards California.

A little over two years ago, I came to Boston from California. Most of the motivation at the time was wrapped up in a subtle desire to "move on" with life. I had a few ideas what I was moving-on towards, but I wanted to allow things to take their course. And I felt I needed to be far away, and to live alone, in order for this process to work.

After 3-4 weeks of apartment-searching, I would end up deciding to move close to a meditation center in the heart of Cambridge. Initially this idea was only a passing thought. But, as I walked from apartment to apartment in the sweltering July heat, it came to the front of attention as I asked myself, "so John, what exactly are you looking for?"

The center seemed like an opportunity to be with others who were really interested in Buddhism and meditation. Before, I had been practicing on my own, mostly out of not knowing it would be possible or helpful to find others with similar interests. In retrospect, it seems absurd considering how many people practice and form communities around Buddhism in the Bay Area (where I had just moved from), but that's just how I saw things at the time.

And so, as I head to California to join another community, it's now abundantly clear how much I value companionship on this journey. A friend of mine recently emailed me concerned that going to a monastery would possibly over-stimulate my introverted tendencies. I assured him that this probably wasn't the case, and that monasteries are, to my understanding, fairly communal places. Perhaps I'll take some time in the future to be on my own, but for now, I plan to be living with others.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Last Friday was my last day of work. This week will be my last week living in Boston. Or is it?

This last month I've been spending a lot of time visiting and saying goodbyes to friends and family. For example, I recently went to visit my friend Tom for what I thought was going to be my last time seeing him for at least several months, if not years. So, as we said our farewells, I told him that I probably not see him again for a long time.

After the visit, he called me a couple days later saying I had left my umbrella at his place! So I went back to visit him again, even though I had thought I would not see him for a long time. Yet, there he was, just a wee And as we departed, we said our goodbyes again, and again I thought, this will probably be the last time I will see him for quite a long time...but is that so?

The monastery I will be attending is a branch monastery of Ajahn Chah, a famous Thai master of the 20th century. He liked to talk a lot about the uncertainty and its connections to life. For example, here a short snippet from a talk he gave to some of his students:
...All states of mind, happy or unhappy, are called arom. Whatever they may be, never mind — we should constantly be reminding ourselves that "this is uncertain."
This is something people don't consider very much, that "this is uncertain." Just this is the vital factor that will bring about wisdom. It's really important. In order to cease our coming and going and come to rest, we only need to say, "This is uncertain." Sometimes we may be distraught over something to the point that tears are flowing; this is something not certain. When moods of desire or aversion come to us, we should just remind ourselves of this one thing. Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, whatever appears is uncertain. Can't you do this? Keep it up no matter what happens. Give it a try. You don't need a lot - just this will work. This is something that brings wisdom.