On The Relevancy Of Monasteries
Posted by Nikita Krivoshey on Feb 9, 2016
Yesterday, I gave a talk in Palo Alto this is the content from it.
There are many forms of monasticism. Each form has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of these have great potential to transform our society and ways of life for the better. By examining monasteries as systems within larger systems, we can understand the most appropriate forms to suit our situation as individuals, and as local and global communities. Monastic discipline keeps the environment focused on inner transformation and is the primary force which creates a cycle within the monastic population.
This article is composed of 3 main sections:
1. Traditional and Contemporary Monasticism
2. The Role of Discipline
3. Finding a Good Monastery
A common myth is that in order to make use of a monastery one has to take lifelong vows of strict discipline. The truth is that this is usually not the case. There are many monasteries where one can live and take advantage of everything the monastery has to offer temporarily, from as little as a day, week, month, or many years. (Most “Theravada Monasteries”)
TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY MONASTICISM
Traditionally monasteries were created when a community gathered around a common faith, dogma, and way of life. However, as a result of globalization and increased interfaith understanding, contemporary monasticism is less dogma focused and more values focused. This means that a community gathers around values which produce intentional outcomes. Traditionally an activity performed at the monastery could be a specific form and set of prayers. When performed diligently they gave rise to beneficial states of mind, health, and sense of wellbeing. Contemporary monasticism recognizes that many forms of practices lead to beneficial states of mind, health, and sense of wellbeing, and so looks at practice as a function within a formula. Whatever function solves the problem and gets the same results is a good function. Such functions are practices such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, and service work (karma yoga). They are a means and ends in themselves. Additional values often emphasized in monasteries are: silence, simple living, and education. Buddhist, Catholic and Orthodox, as well as Hindu monasticism have almost identical functions and values, and are increasingly in agreement with one another that their apparent differences are not essential differences.
Monasteries have been created in all kinds of places, rural, urban, islands, mountains, jungles, and caves. Some function self sustainably as a complete ecosystem such as the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece, while others such as the majority of those in Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, are highly dependant on a greater lay(non-monastic) community. Highly integrated monastic communities are of greatest relevance for us today as a global society. In such a system, people of all ages receive maximum benefits on a case by case basis, as and when necessary, and for as long as it is appropriate.
How 4 Major Ages Demographics Make use of Monasteries
Children receive mindfulness training and moral foundation.
Young adults after school and before getting into a career, reflect on their situation and choose a meaningful career path and or purpose.
Middle Aged people going through a great transitional period marked by death of parents, the moving out of children, and changes in health and physique, often spend time in monasteries to gain new perspective, and reevaluate their situation.
Senior Citizens, widows and widowers, often move to a monastery to find greater community support. A Common Question “If the monastic life is so rewarding why then do most people leave the monastery?”
The simple answer is “discipline”.
THE ROLE OF DISCIPLINE
There are two main reasons for implementing a monastic disciplinary code:
1. Disciplinary code creates a protected environment designed to make contemplative practice easier. It helps to focus the attention by eliminating certain activities and behaviors which can be forms of distractions from the contemplative practices.
2. It keeps away people that are not interested in inner transformation and who would otherwise disturb everyone’s practices.
A very basic version of a monastic disciplinary code may include the following:
2. Not stealing
3. Not lying
5. Abstinence from intoxicants
6. Moderation in eating
7. Respect schedules, times, and places of silence
FINDING A GOOD MONASTERY
There are many monasteries in the world and there is a high chance that there is one or many near where you live. Make sure to do a Google search for “monastery” in your area. Visit their website, call them, visit them. Often times the best way to get a sense of the monastery is just show up and talk to the staff in person. When you visit one, you will inevitably also discover many others from talking to the people there. When making your assessment of a place check for the following red flags which can be potential conflict issues.
Do the teachings spread divisiveness through dogma or action? Good teachings will be universal, will not spread gossip, hate, or social elitism
The services should be equally available to all people - You can ask yourself, “Whose suffering matters less?”
Relationship with money- does a poor person have equal opportunity to benefit here as a wealthy person? Do they masquerade fees in the form of “suggested donations”? How would you feel if you didn’t pay a “suggested” donation?
Mandatory Work and Duties (Karma Yoga) - Notice the difference when change comes from within as opposed to when it is imposed on you. Mandatory work is not karma yoga.
Watch out for fanaticism and personality cults - watch out for teachers who humiliate students and teachers that are easily triggered into raging anger followed by loving and embracing bi-polar behaviors.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
Does it bring you peace, joy, and wisdom? If you visit and study a particular place and feel that it is right for you, then you may disregard all of the above, because they are just general guidelines and there are always exceptions. Monasteries are place of refuge, personal transformation, training, and study, so that people may come out of suffering and live meaningfully.
Socarete apparently once said:
“a life unexamined is not worth living,”
and along that stream of thought the Buddha has said:
“Better it is to live one day virtuous, wise, and meditative than to live a hundred years immoral, foolish, and uncontrolled.”
This is the work of monks, nuns, and yogis.