Living with a Monk

Here’s what I learnt …

During my time in SE Asia, I was fascinated by the culture, especially the philosophy of Buddhism and although I had studied and tried to understand what the “original” teachings of Buddha were (I’ve highlighted original because as far as we know the “original “ teachings were written by followers of Buddha from his verbal teachings and therefore scholars are unsure of how much of this is “original” or is modified by the writers) anyway I digress, the original teachings and the current ‘religion’ of Buddhism are somewhat removed, this stems from the fact that many SE Asian countries were originally pagans or animalists, meaning they believed in animal and natural spirits and multiple gods which have interwoven itself into the teachings of modern-day Buddhism.

During my time there I, however, did follow the modern-day traditions, not wanting to be the uncouth westerner. My ego also wanted to show my knowledge of the traditions so as to show off and be praised. Then one day out of the blue, a colleague of mine introduced me to a Buddhist monk. By this time I had become slightly disappointed in monks because many of them simply wore the attire (orange robes with shaven heads) but did not follow the ethos of what it meant to be a monk. Which from my basic understanding, was a very important part of society, in that the monks had chosen a way of life that involved the removal of any modern-day attachments and materialism, including vows of celibacy. In return, they would provide spiritual guidance and leadership to the townsfolk. Unfortunately, many monks in the larger cities failed to follow many of these traditions as far as I could see.

Finally, one teaching that Phrat Ajharn gave me that stuck with me so much was this; “There is no ‘good’ and there is no ‘bad’ there just ‘is’”.

When I met this monk, he was what is traditionally called a forest monk, and although he was very high up the pecking order for monks, he had received multiple offers to work in famous temples and become a part of the Royal family. He had refused all of these offers solely to follow the strict teachings of Lord Buddha in his forest. So to continue on, let’s call him by his name which is Phrat Ajharn (teacher monk). He was probably in his late thirties and was slightly overweight with a gentle demeanour. I tried my best to impress him with my knowledge of the rituals and traditions of modern-day Buddhism and how to treat monks etc. It didn’t take long before Phrat Ajharn called me out on my bullshit by asking me this simple question;

“In various countries, there are multiple versions of the Buddha in various forms of a statue, some are fat and round, some have long ears, many have different features, therefore, which one is the right one?.” Hmm, I thought for a couple of minutes about this question, pondering all of the possible deep spiritual answers that could be. I will ask you the reader which one do YOU think is the right one? Do you know the answer?

Well, Phrat Ajharn then told me this;

“They are all stone. People are praying to rocks” and then he laughed. He then went onto say “There is no real need for religion, this is not what the Lord Buddha taught. This is simply something that man has created to comfort himself. So as to be a part of something that he himself has created as an illusion, to make sense of the world around him.” This hit me like a ton of bricks. It made so much sense to me and even more so because it was coming from a ‘religious leader’. I have to admit though, my first thought was ‘What’s his angle?’ ‘What’s he trying to sell here?’ But that could just be the British in me.

I learnt from this simple lesson that everything around us is not what it seems. In fact it is not as complicated as we always try to make it.

I continued to meet with Phrat Ajharn on multiple occasions, whereby I even began joining him in his local forest for up to 10 days at a time. Here I would eat only 1 meal per day and spend more than 16 hours meditating, walking or in deep conversation contemplating the experiences had during the meditation or walking session. On one of those days, I had been walking in the forest back and forth, (which is called ‘Dern jong grom’) whereby you walk with your hands held in front of you with your palms facing forwards and resting on your stomach. You walk slowly forward in a straight line for about 10 meters or so, turn around, walk back slowly to where you came from, and repeat, all the while focusing on your breathing and your steps, ‘mindful’ of every action.

I did this for some hours every day, with short breaks from Phrat Ajharn to enquire about my mindset, thoughts and emotions. Although I did feel calm, I couldn’t seem to ‘transcend’ as it were. And so like any good student, I dutifully carried on. Let me try to set the scene if I may, the forest we were walking in was an old forest covered with deciduous trees, which kept out the heat of the day but allowed a gentle breeze in. You could hear the sound of nature all around. The sounds of the birds and insects, busy with their own lives. There were no other people around, just Phrat Ajharn and myself. It was perfect. So tranquil and peaceful, the perfect spot for meditation.

Then, suddenly out from the edge of the forest, a local farmer that had obviously packed up for the day decided to blast out his music. From which I can only imagine, was a large sound system or his truck, which absolutely shattered my peacefulness and tranquillity. I was pissed! How dare he! Who did he think he was ruining my zen! So, not wanting to quit, I remembered all of the old modern-day, motivational, leadership advice from all those guru books I had read;

‘Don’t let it bother you Nick’, I said to myself, ‘turn the other cheek.’ Did it help? Like fuck it did. So then I tried blocking out the music. Have you, ever tried that one? Yeah, makes it even louder in your ears because you’re focusing on it. Bollox!

Ok, so the next step is ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. So I try to enjoy the music, that’ll work. Yeah for about a minute, until I got pissed off again. What to do? I could stop and walk all the way over to the farmer, (probably about 500 meters away) and politely inform him of the situation. Then politely ask him to be mindful of others, and turn it down a wee bit.

Why are you laughing? Yeah, I didn’t bother doing that. I then got a grip of myself and thought about what would Phrat Ajharn teach me? Simply focus on your breathing. So that’s what I did. Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out. It took some time. What I can only guess was about half an hour or so. I then caught myself and realised that I was so focused on my breathing, that I didn’t care about the music! I could still hear it. It’s just that it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t grow to like it or try to convince myself to like it. It just really didn’t bother me anymore. Amazing!

So what did I learn from this?

I learnt exactly what the Buddha was teaching and that is; no matter what you learn, in the end, you have to experience it, to truly understand it. Yes, of course, mindset and being self-aware allows you to recognise and receive the teachings, but without the actual experience, it is all just topsoil there is no true substance to it. I notice this every day Back in the UK, with the new online gurus and yoga-meditation practitioners (especially vegans) and some would say even people in my own profession of ‘Life coach’ who meditate every day and yet do not truly experience anything that the Buddha taught.

Meditation and mindfulness are wonderful in the perfect setting, yet it is all an illusion. How will you react when shit hits the proverbial fan, if you haven’t had any serious experiences? Everyone tries to err towards comfort, making life as wonderful as possible. We see this all around us, where we aren’t allowed to speak the truth to people in case it hurts their feelings. The modern-day PC culture and participation awards.

It is good to start your practice of mindfulness in ‘perfect’ surroundings. But then as time goes on, ensure you can use your mindfulness practice in any situation. How you do this is up to you. But a good start is trying to practice mindfulness when you’re out and about. In the real world. Please note while your driving though! I remember confiding in Phrat Ajharn once, explaining about how when I sit in the lotus position it hurts (I am one of the most physically inflexible people I know. But that issue is a completely different chapter on how I changed my stiffness and inflexibility and became much more flexible). And, if I’m supposed to be meditating, should I not be comfortable? He explained to me that sometimes during his training, he had to endure meditating for 12-hour stints with no food, no water, and no toilet breaks. He said that his back absolutely killed him and that he would rather die than give in to the pain! Now, why didn’t you say so, that’s a bit of me! Really I said? I always assumed that when you meditate you had to be all comfortable and all ‘Woosah’ like. Apparently not.

What did I learn from that simple lesson?

Some experiences are shit. Sometimes you’ll have dark periods of your life, but by knowing you have built a solid foundation in your mind and having good people around you, you’ll survive. Not only will you survive, but you’ll also come out the other end with a greater appreciation and understanding of life. Which can give you an edge over others that haven’t got your mindset and haven’t had your experiences? With this knowledge, you can help them with their experiences and life. This isn’t some motivational “If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger bullshit” this is real. And having hard times and not having what you want, make you hungry and keep you feeling alive, no matter how shit it feels at the time.

I have been through some shit in my life and I’m still nowhere near where I want to be. To make matters worse a lot of the shit was self-inflicted and I’ve dragged my wife through it all with me (knowing they were ALL my own doing) but through all that, yep go on guess what?

1. She’s so much tougher now and; 2. When she sees other people’s problems she understands what it takes and so do I.

Finally, one teaching that Phrat Ajharn gave me that stuck with me so much was this; “There is no ‘good’ and there is no ‘bad’ there just ‘is’”.

What does that mean? Let’s say you become terribly ill, no, forget that. Let’s say it’s me and I get cancer! How I react to this doesn’t change the fact that I still have cancer. If I think all positive thoughts (using the power of the law of attraction!) the fact of the matter is — I’ll still have cancer and if I get all depressed and have negative thoughts — I’ll still have cancer. It doesn’t matter what the thought process or my feelings it doesn’t ever change the reality, it just is!

I can, however, study the disease and research all of the best treatments to improve my chances of survival. And with this knowledge, take appropriate action to help myself and assist my doctors. Many people will no doubt disagree with what I’ve just said. Then great they are entitled to their opinion and therefore is a thought and a discussion for another day. I remember seeing a heated debate between a head executive at a large Oil company and a scientist. The executive said defiantly “I just don’t believe in Global Warming!” The scientist simply replied, “Good, because Global warming of the Earth doesn’t give a shit what you think!”

So, guys, I’ll leave you with this;

  • Open your eyes and realise why you’re doing what you’re doing (I did most of my shit for vanity). Become more self-aware and do not judge yourself just appreciate and try to understand why you’re doing it.
  • You can and should learn from every experience no matter how good or bad (the key is to be aware of both and appreciate both)
  • There is no good nor bad there just is. In life and in business your opinion sucks get over it. Look at facts and do what needs to be done. And then you’ll enjoy life.

Has anyone else had an experience like mine? Did you have a life changing moment, a moment of clarity, that just reformed your thinking and attitude on life? What did you learn from it?

I would love to know. Please, let me know in my Instagram account and on my Facebook page.

Want to transform your life?

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

- Albert Einstein

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