My Experience as a Buddhist Monk
My two years as a Buddhist Monk in the world’s biggest monastery, Fo Guang Shan Taiwan, was and most likely will ever be, the most profound and enriching experience of my life. Today I wish to share with you my monastic life experience including how it started, what I did day to day and the lessons I learned as a Buddhist monk.
How my Monastic Life Began
It is not uncommon for Buddhist monasteries and temples to offer short term monastic retreats to the community so that laypeople can experience life as a monastic for a week or two. The retreat that I participated in just so happened to fall on the 50th anniversary of the monastery’s inauguration, so it was a special one which lasted 6 months instead.
The time was November 2016, I had just finished my one-year teaching contract in China and was planning to attend a 60 Day Meditation Retreat in Myanmar. However, when my mother invited me to register in the retreat with her, I immediately agreed, deciding it would be much more special to share this incredible experience with such an incredible person. She is still a Buddhist nun to this day.
I had always been fascinated by Buddhism because to me it was more than just a religion or philosophy, but a way of life that focused on transforming yourself from the inside out, using life as a means and practice to purify our mind and body, believing that this is the way to inner peace and joy. This was why committing 6 months to the retreat was not an issue, in fact, I was eager and excited about all the things I would learn.
The tradition of Buddhism I practiced
Because there are many different branches and traditions of Buddhism, all with their own merits, I should first explain the tradition of Buddhism practiced by my monastery as this plays a key role in determining what type of lifestyle we lived. Fo Guang Shan practices Humanistic Buddhism which belongs to the Mahayana tradition, meaning that our self-cultivation is practiced hand in hand with the community, by providing services to the public through a variety of programs and activities that lead to purification, education, ad spiritual growth for self and others. The purpose of Humanistic Buddhism is to integrate the practice of Buddhism into our everyday life whether we are at work, at home, in social gatherings, or when we are standing, walking, sitting and sleeping.
Life as a Buddhist Monk
Because I was 27 years old at the time, I spent the majority of the 6-month retreat and then a further 15 months as a student monk of the Buddhist College. The Buddhist College is an isolated school within the monastery where all novice monks must go through to develop a strong foundation in Buddhism and learn how to live the life of a monastic.
Life in the college was extremely simple yet strict and rigid. We were not allowed to use mobile phones or have access to the internet. Although it seems harsh, we quickly realized the benefits it had on our learning and development when we didn’t have social media and the internet to become distracted with. Instead, we were able to focus our entire attention on developing our mindfulness, concentration, discipline, and knowledge while the monastery took care of everything for us such as our meals, clothing, activities, and accommodation.
In the college, the mornings began 5:30am at the sound of wooden boards being struck. In fact, for the most part, we relied on the beating of drums and bells to tell us what time of the day it was, where we should go, and what we need to be doing. We spent our time very productively, with a clear task to perform at all hours of the day.
Our daily routine comprised of cleaning duties, morning and evening chanting, mindfulness meditation sessions, attending classes, food serving, silent meals, and self-study. At all times, we were trained to remain focused on the task at hand while staying mindful of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
We were discouraged from idle chatter, gossip and engaging in unwholesome conversations because they were deemed unproductive and there was always something more important to do. From 7pm to 7am every day, we observed noble silence which meant no more talking or communicating with others unless it was absolutely necessary. Instead, we spent this time on self-reflection, introspection, and contemplation, as this was another very effective way to develop insight and wisdom.
My Final Thoughts of being a Buddhist monk
Life as a Buddhist monk is extremely challenging yet ultimately very rewarding and fulfilling. Because we had no escape mechanisms, we had to deal with all our problems head-on. In the beginning, it was a little overwhelming, but over time we learned to become resilient, more empathetic and much more open-minded.
The main Buddhist ideas we studied include the law of cause and effect, impermanence and emptiness and we were taught how to observe these concepts in our everyday lives. As a result, Buddhists learn to take full responsibility for their own lives, to live without a mind of blame and complain, and to abide without attachment to phenomena. By doing so, we are able to strengthen our mental discipline, develop inner peace and joy, and attain freedom from stress and anxiety.
I firmly believe that everyone would benefit from having a basic understanding of Buddhism as it teaches us how to become a happier, stronger and kinder version of ourselves. Buddhism is not a sectarian practice which means it does not clash with other religious beliefs but instead accepts people from all religious backgrounds, race, and caste. As long as you have an interest in learning and practicing Buddhism, monasteries and temples will all try their best to help you.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience as a Buddhist monk. If you have any questions about my experiences or about Buddhism in general, you can leave a comment below or message me directly on the contact page. I am always happy to share and help and will try my best to respond within 24 hours.
If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy my piece of “3 Things I Learnt as a Buddhist Monk“.
Thanks for reading 😊