Life after being a Buddhist Monk – The Bodhi Life
It’s now been six months since I left the monastic life to return to the secular world. Before that, I was a Buddhist Monk in Taiwan’s biggest monastery, Fo Guang Shan, studying, learning, and practicing the Buddhist way of life for two years. In that time, I can say that my perspective on life has changed a lot, and so has my overall attitude, goals, and motivations in life. Today, I’d like to share how being a Buddhist Monk has changed my life and describe what life has been like since leaving the monastery.
First off, I should mention that my two years within the Buddhist walls were by far the most rewarding and fulfilling period of my life. I learnt how to rely on myself for peace and joy, I learnt the importance of developing virtuous qualities such as patience, diligence, and kindness, but most importantly, I learnt the ultimate meaning of life from the Buddhist perspective, something I will hold forever in my heart.
Most Difficult Decision of my Life
But if the monastic life was so perfect, why did I leave? My decision to leave was an incredibly difficult one to make, but my experience was so profound, joyful and life-changing that I was motivated to leave so I could share my insight with the rest of the world. You see, within the walls, we can only share with and touch the lives of the people who come to the monastery. However, as a lay practitioner, I can travel to different parts of the world and share my experiences and insights with those who otherwise would not have exposure to the wonders of Buddhism. And that is how I have decided to dedicate my life. Let me explain.
Inspiring the Bodhi Resolve of a Bodhisattva
In Buddhism, we learn that time is circular because of the Law of Cause and Effect. Every cause has an effect, and those effects then serve as causes for other effects, creating a never-ending chain of life that has always existed since the beginningless past and will forever exist into the future. On the one hand, a Buddhist Monk may decide to leave this cycle of birth and death, Samsara, and cultivate the Arhat Path. Others however, those of the Mahayana tradition who acknowledges the great suffering experienced by all living beings, initiates the Bodhi Resolve out of great compassion, and vows to forever remain in Samsara to lead suffering beings onto the shore of Nirvana. This is the path to Buddhahood, also known as the Foremost Path.
During the two years practicing and learning inside the monastery, I was constantly touched, inspired and impressed by the great compassion, great vows, great practice and great wisdom of many historical and contemporary Buddhist practitioners, such as my very own master, Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Sakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, as well as many others. These Great Bodhisattvas epitomized the Buddhist practice and set the ideal example of how to live peacefully and compassionately. It was under such role models that I initiated the Bodhi Resolve and vowed to forever cultivate the Mahayana Buddhist Practice, the Bodhisattva Path.
Realizing Transcendence through Life Experience
When a Buddhist Monk makes the Great Vow to liberate all suffering beings and traverse the Buddhisattva Path, out of great compassion he chooses to remain in Samsara. As a result, Samsara becomes his Pure Land, his cultivation ground, and his field of merit, because only when one remains amongst sentient beings is one able to lead them. Consequently, with a firm and strong resolve, to not back away from suffering and death, but instead accepting it entirely, one attains liberation from fear of death and suffering. Not that pain and suffering ceases to exist, but the fear is transformed to willing and peaceful acceptance. One also realizes the advantageous and beneficial aspect of suffering towards one’s cultivation. Pain, when confronted and overcome, builds tolerance and resilience. Stress and anxiety, when faced and conquered, develops patience and empathy. Obstacles and adversity, when met and mastered, increases knowledge, wisdom, and insight. All types of suffering, when perceived mindfully and positively, is a condition for spiritual growth and maturity.
Furthermore, due to the eternal quality of the Great Vow, one learns to make peace with the present moment, accepting the totality of life, with all the good and bad. He has committed his life to one single purpose, one goal, and he is forever precisely where he needs to be, always having everything he needs to carry out his practice. There is no longer resistance with what is, and he makes peace with all phenomena.
The Importance of Learning Everything
When a Buddhist Monk initiates such a Bodhi Mind, one realizes that he suddenly has all the time the universe has to offer. He is on an eternal path, with the liberation of all sentient beings as his pinnacle objective.
So what does one do with all this time? The time of this life, the next life and all subsequent lives after? For the Bodhisattva, he uses this opportunity to acquire knowledge and insight because by doing so, he has a greater capacity to carry out his vows to help living beings. Because the mind of beings differ, one must learn everything in order to help everyone. As a result, one acquires great freedom to do anything and go anywhere because whatever he does and wherever he is, his intentions remain the same, and he is always learning, observing, improving, cultivating.
All situations and circumstances, in every moment of the day, the Bodhisattva acts and responds with loving kindness. His practice revolves around transforming anger into love, greed into generosity, and ignorance into wisdom. Not only does he continuously purify his own mind in every thought moment, his patience and compassion also touches the hearts of others and purifies their minds too.
A Buddhist Monk learns from suffering states of mind, and so transforms suffering into his teacher. He learns from helping others, and so he helps others diligently and selflessly. He learns from being alone and strengthening his mind, and so he cultivates profound meditation. He learns from interacting with others, and so is happy to be among the mass. Whatever he does, wherever he goes, his thoughts, feelings, sensations, the environment, the people, and all phenomena serve as his teacher, teaching him, testing him and challenging him. In such a way, he learns joyfully, energetically, and unendingly. He forever assumes the student role and accepts the universe as his guide and teacher. This is the first great joy a Bodhisattva realizes from cultivating the Bodhi mind.
The Bodhisattva’s Mind of Helping Everyone
Such a Bodhisattva’s decision making revolves around serving, helping, and assisting others. Everything he does, his intentions is clear, to benefit living beings. Even when he eats, it is to look after his body so he can carry out his vows, and when he rests, it’s so he has more energy to work harder. Because his vow is eternal, ultimately to lead every living being to Perfect Enlightenment, he views everyone as his dear family and friend. He is a companion to all living beings and makes it his mission to create affinities with everyone so that in this life or the next, he will always have a chance to help and guide them, until they all eventually attain Buddhahood. Only then is his vows fulfilled. Because his mind feels great compassion towards all beings, everyone is comfortable around him, they cherish his presence, and trust him immensely. This is the second great joy a Bodhisattva realizes from cultivating the Bodhi mind.
The Bodhisattva’s Intention of Giving Everything
A Bodhisattva is not afraid to give anything and views all material objects as having value only if others can benefit from it. He sees giving as an opportunity to create affinity with others, to cultivate virtues of generosity and loving-kindness, and to help others in need, and so he gives willingly and openly to everyone. Not only does he give his material possessions, but he also gives his time, his energy, his heart, and even his life. He doesn’t perceive his body as his own but sees it as a vehicle to serve others and work for the world. Hence, he does not fear pain, fatigue, and suffering because he has accepted it as part of his practice. Because he lives life unattached to form and phenomena, he enjoys great freedom and liberation. This is the third great joy a Bodhisattva realizes from cultivating the Bodhi mind.
Initiating the Bodhi Resolve to practice the Bodhisattva Path does not mean that one no longer experiences pain and suffering, but it does change the attitude one has towards it. Though suffering still exists, it is no longer feared because the practitioner confronts them with courage, wisdom, and compassion, perceiving its benefits and importance to his cultivation.
If I am unable to maintain a loving and patient mind in the face of insult and adversity, it’s a sign I still have much to learn. If I give rise to anger, hatred, or ill will towards any person or animal at any time, I am directly shown my flaws and weaknesses. With such an attitude, one uses suffering as a compass to highlight where there is room for development, and so one does not fear suffering, but is grateful for it.
This Path and Practice has been accomplished by all the Buddhas in the past, as are all the Bodhisattvas traversing it now. It is a path that leads to supreme liberation, all-encompassing knowledge, and great altruistic joy in the here and now. It is the ultimate meaning of life, the foremost practice, and the only path leading to Buddhahood; and the miracle being we can begin this journey this very moment. All it takes is to inspire Great Compassion from within our Bodhi Mind, make the Great Vow to liberate all sentient beings, and practice wisdom and loving kindness forever.
May we all perceive the wonder and miracle of the Bodhi Mind, practice great loving-kindness, and be the source of joy and harmony the world needs and deserves. May all we do be done with love.
Thanks for reading😊