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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 1 0 66 down sobbing in my cabin about twenty minutes later, alone but warmhearted. Desperate, gushing, cleansing sobs. It was the kind of moment that buys you another five years of patience with, and passion for, monastic life. It’s one of those breakthroughs of the heart. People ask what is the hardest thing about living at a mon- astery. Is it no sex, cardboardy food, zero sleep, eighty bucks a month pay? Is it the isolation from society, the heinous robes, those bone-crushing nineteen-hour days spent in the zendo or in the blistering sun or piercing cold? The hardest thing about living at a monastery, I tell them, is working with people with whom you have nothing in common save spiritual desperation. We monks shave our heads, I continue, because if we didn’t we would surely tear out all our hair in despair from having to live and work with one another. Anyone who’s ever been married or had kids, or coworkers for that matter (work and family—those other group practices), probably knows what I’m talking about. It gets real when the illusions drop away, doesn’t it? Yet nine times out of ten the reason we get so irritated with the people who are closest to us is because they show us that we do not in fact correspond with the ideas we have of our- selves. We are meaner, weaker, dumber, and less interesting, tolerant, and sexy. In short, we are human, which typically comes as extremely disappointing news. You just cannot keep telling yourself how spiritually with-it you are when every time you sit down to read that Eckhart Tolle book the mon- astery cat jumps on your shoulders and claws your bald head and you fling it halfway across the room and scream, “God- damnit, I’m trying to read about patience and equanimity here. Can you at least wait till I’ve gotten past the ‘Pain Body’ chapter?!” Not that I, of course, have ever done that. I used to imagine that spiritual work was undertaken alone in a cave somewhere with prayer beads and a leather-bound religious tome. Nowadays, that sounds to me more like a vaca- tion from spiritual work. Group monastic living has taught me that the people in your life don’t get in the way of your spiritual practice; these people are your spiritual practice. Through each other we discover that if we have the heart— the willingness, the strength, the courage—we have the capacity to plant the seeds of kindness, compassion, forgiveness; seeds of a laid-back humor, a sense of letting go. But your heart must be quicker than your mind. Trust me, that organ between your ears is always spoiling for a fight. Its job is to divide and conquer. But the real fight is taking place inside you, within the “dharma organ,” the heart, where the challenge is to unify and under- stand; where the seeds of love and compassion are struggling to lay roots. Lend this struggle an ear. Just pause for three seconds. One banana... two banana... three banana... Pause and lis- ten. Pause and breathe. Pause and gather your scattered, wild energies, your shattered soul... before you fling that seed of hate into the wind. Mark my words, times are tough and the ground is fertile. That seed will grow. ➤