Monastic Life

§ Why did the Buddha grow weary of the world? Because he asked himself, “When we’re born in the world, what does the world have to offer that’s really satisfying? Parents? Relatives? Servants? Friends? Wealth? There’s nothing really satisfying about any of these things at all. When this is the case, why should we put up with staying in the world?” This is why he went out into the homeless life, so that he could find the way to keep us from having to come back and be reborn in the world.

§ When we ordain, we have to practice in line with the training rules the Buddha laid down if we want to live up to our name as Sons of the Sakyan. The Buddha’s true children are the four groups of Noble Disciples: stream-winners, once-returners, non-returners, and arahants, those who have released their hearts step by step from defilements and mental fermentations in line with their strength of mind. These are the religion’s true relatives, the Buddha’s children who deserve to receive his inheritance without a doubt. This kind of ordination anyone can undergo— women, men, novices, anyone. It’s internal ordination. As for the monks who shave their heads and wear the ochre robe, that’s external ordination. Whoever can undergo both internal and external ordination, so much the better.

§ Whenever you find pleasure, you should transform it so that it won’t spoil on you. This is like the women who sell fruit in the market. When they see that their mangoes are getting overripe and they won’t be able to eat them, keep them overnight, or sell them before they spoil, they take them, peel them, cut them up, and make them into jam. This way they can keep them for a long time. The jam tastes good and it can fetch a good price. This is called having the intelligence to keep ripe things from spoiling. In the same way, when we gain pleasure we shouldn’t get complacent. We should take that pleasure and pulverize it into pain so that we can uncover the kind of inner pleasure and well-being that doesn’t change, that’s solid, long-lasting, and valuable.

For example, there are monks and novices who find themselves well-provided with the necessities of life that other people have given them, without having to work hard the way lay people do—carrying loads and responsibilities, taming the wilderness, exposed to the sun and rain. All they have to do is “harvest cooked rice” and they can eat their fill. This is the kind of pleasure that comes with the renunciate life. But if monks like this get stuck on their material possessions—robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicine—without behaving themselves properly in line with the sacrifices that other people have made for their sake, then they’re not really contemplatives. They’re simply taking advantage of their donors.

So when you find that your needs are being taken care of, you should take that sense of ease and pleasure and pulverize it into pain, by putting effort into the practice, sacrificing the pleasure you’re receiving by taking on the dhutaṅga practices in line with the Buddha’s example. This way you’ll come to comprehend the pain and stress that are an inherent part of having a body.

You should contemplate the pleasure you receive from others to realize that there’s nothing of any lasting essence to it. The pleasure with a lasting essence has to be the type that you give rise to yourself. What this means is that you have to practice patience and endurance, contending with the stress and pain that come from the body. When you can do this, the mind will become steady and solid, so strong that it rises step by step to higher levels. Eventually you’ll come to realize the true pleasure and well-being that the Buddha called the highest form of happiness.

§ Wherever you live, you should take care of it as your home. Wherever you sleep, you should take care of it as your home. Wherever you eat, you should take care of it as your home. This way you can find happiness wherever you stay and wherever you go.

§ Open your ears and eyes wide, so that you can do a thorough job of helping to look after the monastery. Each of us should have big, big eyes. When you stay here in the monastery, your eyes have to be as big as the monastery, and so do your ears.

§ People who have a good opinion of themselves but aren’t good in their behavior are burdensome and heavy, causing cracks wherever they stay. This is why wise people are said to be light, like cat’s paws: soft and furry, with safe places to keep the claws until they’re really needed. If they walk on a floor they don’t make sound or leave any footprints.

As for fools, people who don’t know how to behave themselves, they’re said to be like dog’s paws. They’re heavy. If they walk on a floor, their claws make a noise, and their paws leave prints.

§ When we live together in a group like this, there are bound to be all kinds of sounds when we come into contact with one another. If you were to make a comparison, we’re no different from an orchestra, which has to include the sound of the oboes, the sound of the gong, the sound of the xylophones, high sounds, low sounds, treble, and bass. If all the instruments had the same sound, there would be no fun in listening to the orchestra, for a one-sound orchestra wouldn’t sound good at all. In the same way, when lots of people live together, there are bound to be good and bad sounds arising in the group. So each of us has to look after his or her own heart. Don’t let yourself feel anger or dislike for the bad sounds, because when there’s a lot of disliking it’s bound to turn to anger. When there’s a lot of anger, it’s bound to turn to ill will. When there’s ill will, it’s bound to lead to quarrels and disturbances.

For this reason we should spread thoughts of good will to people above us, below us, and on the same level. When people below us show disagreeable attitudes in their words or actions, we should forgive them. When we can do this, we’ll be contributing to the peace and calm of the group.

§ Don’t hang around with the group more than you have to, or you’ll waste your time for meditating. The dangers of associating are (1) if your behavior isn’t on the same level, it gives rise to irritation. (2) If your views aren’t in line with one another, you’re going to argue, which will give rise to defilements. It’s just like water where the land is on two different levels. The water on the higher level will flow down to the lower level and make a big roar. If water is flowing along a piece of level ground, the flow of the water hardly makes a sound at all.

Hanging around with the group is like curry ladled onto a plate of rice: It spoils quickly, and you can’t keep it for long. If the rice and the curry are kept in two separate dishes, they don’t spoil as quickly. When people keep to themselves, they rarely have issues.

§ To be a monk who ordains without spending time in the wilds is like knowing the taste of rice but not curry. Monks who go looking for seclusion in the forest are bound to know the taste of the Dhamma, like a person who eats rice with curry. The taste is sure to be very different. Take roosters, for instance. Wild roosters are very different from domesticated roosters. Their eyes are quick, their tail-feathers short, their call short, their wings strong. They have to be this way because they always need to keep up their guard. As for domesticated roosters, their tail feathers are long, their eyes slow, their wings weak, and their call long. When they’re this way they’re bound to become the prey of leopards. This goes to show that the taste of living in the forest and the taste of living in a settled area are bound to be different.

There have been times when I’ve been criticized for going out into the forest, but I just smile to myself. They say I’m a coward, that I can’t contend with people, and so run off and hide. So I keep quiet and laugh to myself until I have to speak up and say, “Living in town is good, all right, but it doesn’t require any special talents. Why? I’ve never seen town people last any length of time in the forest, but in towns—to say nothing of monks—there are dogs and chickens all over the place.”