3 Things I Learnt as a Buddhist Monk
Last time, I wrote about my two-year experience as a Buddhist Monk in a Taiwan Monastery, describing what day to day life was like. Today, I’d like to elaborate on the key lessons I learned during that time and how it has shaped the way I perceive the world, changing the way I live my life.
First off, I should start by saying that Buddhism is not similar to other religions in that it is not based on a God figure or an almighty creator of the universe that we worship and revere. Instead, Buddhism is more a way of life or practice, based around key principles that govern the nature of reality. By understanding and abiding according to these principles such as cause and effect, impermanence, selflessness and compassion, we learn to live peacefully, happily and skilfully in this world. Buddhism teaches us how to take control of our lives and become the very best versions of ourselves. Every day becomes an opportunity to improve, every obstacle presents a challenge to test our learning, and every person we meet is a chance to share the joy and love we have cultivated from within.
Below are the main lessons I’ve learned during my monastic experience that has impacted me the most.
A Buddhist Monk’s Understanding of Cause and Effect
The most fundamental Buddhist principle that underlies all the Buddhist teachings is the understanding of cause and effect. Simply put, this law highlights that every cause has an effect and every effect results from causes and conditions. The Law of Cause and Effect is a natural law that applies to everything. In the universe up to and including the inner workings of the mind. Externally, if we plant apple seeds we grow apple trees. While internally, when we think positive thoughts of love and kindness. We create a loving and kind atmosphere around us. Causality may be simple and straightforward to learn. But to deeply understand it, we must experience it in our every life.
Experiencing cause and effect personally and intimately has helped correct a lot of my unhealthy lifestyle habits. For example, over the years I have witnessed directly how physical tension and mental anxiety arises whenever thoughts of anger and hatred are generated. Similar, I have also observed that I can remain in an elevated state of joy, peace, and lightness when I maintain a mind of kindness and openness. Continual observation of my body and mind and its reaction to my actions, speech, thoughts and the surrounding environment, shapes the way I conduct myself, with honest, patient and kind behavior bringing the most pleasant effects to myself and the people around.
We also realize the redundancy of blaming and complaining, because everything is conditioned by other causes and conditions that go back endlessly into the past. For example, do we blame the people that cause us suffering or the system that influenced those people, or the culture and people that created those systems, or the parents of those people, or the environments those parents grew up in? Deeply understanding cause and effect show us that instead of laying blame on other people, systems or situations that we cannot control, we should take full ownership of the things that we can control, such as our actions, attitudes and our futures. As a result, we live with an abundance of hope, energy, and positivity.
A Buddhist Monk’s Understanding of Impermanence
One understands impermanence as an extension of one’s understanding of cause and effect. Because all phenomena arise as a result of causes and conditions coming together. They will likewise cease to exist when those causes and conditions change or are removed. Hence, all phenomena are impermanent by nature. Deeply experiencing impermanence in our everyday lives. We no longer become overly attached to things, as we perceive their ever-changing and fragile nature. This is the very wisdom that sets a Buddhist monk free.
Consequently, impermanence taught me to accept that pleasant and unpleasant thing. They are a normal part of life. And instead of trying to avoid the bad things or chase the good ones. We should always respond with a calm and patient mind. Knowing that all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and form, good or bad, will eventually pass away on its own. When I experience pain, anxiety, or stress. I remain present, accept it entirely. And observe it with a relaxed and gentle mind. I make peace with the sensation, smile at it and become its friend.
There is no need to push it away, change it, or avoid it. As this only keeps it around or makes it worse. This approach is also the same for interacting with people and dealing with all situations. Liberation comes from embracing and accepting that all phenomena are impermanent. And so to approach life with openness, tolerance, and kindness.
A Buddhist Monk’s Understanding of Mindfulness
Above all things, perhaps the most essential skill to cultivate in life is mindfulness. Mindfulness helps ground us in the present moment, increasing our awareness of the things happening around us. Being present means we fully experience our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions as they happen to live. Mindfulness helps us understand where our thoughts and emotions come from by being present throughout the entire process. It also helps Buddhist monks live more consciously and less habitually. Giving us more control of our lives so we can do more of the things that are wholesome and good for us.
The best way to develop mindfulness is to be mindful. Although the most direct way is meditation, we can also practice mindfulness. In our everyday life by simply remaining as the observer. As life unfolds moment to moment before us. This means having the presence of awareness to observe the thoughts. Feelings, emotions, sensations as they arise and pass away and being fully present in all our actions and daily activities. To practice mindfulness, we don’t necessarily have to change what we are doing or where we are. Instead, we just do the normal everyday things that we usually do. But just try to do it mindfully, as the observer. By practicing like such, every waking moment of life becomes the perfect training ground, the ultimate meditation practice.
This briefly sums up the three main lessons I learned from my two years of experience as a Buddhist monk. Understanding cause and effect develops our wisdom, experiencing impermanence brings us peace, and practicing mindfulness leads to fulfillment. Ultimately, we learn to understand the benefits of loving-kindness and compassion. By deeply experiencing the effects it has on ourselves. The world and the people around. In turn, we can create immense joy and happiness. And become the source of love and harmony that everyone needs and deserves.
May we all develop faith in cause and effect through observation. Understand impermanence through insight. And cultivate mindfulness through living consciously. So that we can be kind, be happy. And do our own part in making the world a better place.
Thanks for reading 😊