The Monk’s and Nun’s Daily Discipline: The Most Natural Human Lifestyle

The First Discipline: Sat Chit Ananda

At Heart Mountain Monastery we consider the monk’s and nun’s discipline, or routine, to be the most natural, most honest and practical human discipline available to anybody, anywhere. Here’s why:

The first discipline or routine is to simply love who you are, what you are, where you are; to enjoy your life, be at peace with yourself and others in whatever way is most appropriate for the moment. When we develop a daily routine of love, of peace and joy – – laughter and good cheer, tenderness, kindness, creative presence – – we feel we have succeeded in experiencing the good life. This is what a monk and nun endeavors to bring  to the world: a demonstration of the good life, the useful life, a life worth living, a life of wonder and beauty. This seems a reasonable goal to have, a reasonable path to follow, yes?

So let’s be very clear: the first discipline, or routine, of a monk or a nun is a discipline, a habit of consciousness, even of attitude, not a physical activity.  This discipline of consciousness, of attitude,  encourages  using our awareness, our attention, to focus on joy, peace, love, ease of being (advaita, or non-duality,) moment by moment,  right now, right here, no matter where we are or what we are doing. This daily focus on love, peace, joy (sat chit ananda) — what we understand to be expressions of higher consciousness– is our first discipline,  indeed  the basic discipline of we monks and  nuns,  again, no matter our activity, no matter the place or  the time. Without adopting  this as our first discipline, we recognize that any and all other disciplines would be mostly useless.

Four Secondary Disciplines

In support of this primary discipline, this primary attitude of love and joy and beauty, we engage four secondary disciplines:  1.) spiritual tuning; 2.) creative activity, e.g.,  some type of personal artistry; 3.) manual labor; 4.) outreach.

In the same way that adopting an attitude of love and joy and peace (three words for the same experience) is the most natural routine of human beings,  so too are the acts of  spiritual tuning, creative artistry, manual labor, and outreach  the most natural activities of the human being. Again, this is why we consider the monk’s and nun’s daily routine to be the most natural of all human routines.

Nevertheless, in our contemporary world we are much tempted toward various distractions: corporate entertainments, personal ambitions for social power, station, recognition, and a wide rainbow of sensory indulgences. Most folks who have come to have an interest in taking up the discipline and routine of a monk or a nun have, in their personal lives, experienced and even indulged many or most of these various distractions, amusements and ambitions that are offered – – indeed encouraged – – in modern life. Most budding monks and nuns (and we are all “budding”)have come to a point in their lives where they have, we have, at least to an extent,  tired of such distractions, at least a little, and/or  found in such distractions only temporary and somewhat shallow substitutes for a life well lived.

For example, a life composed primarily of playing video games or going mountain biking or water skiing during the day and then going to the movies in the evenings and after the movie going to parties offering drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll—such a routine may seem an exciting, fun-filled, even worthy life to an adolescent. A more mature awareness – – which has very little to do with physical age – – eventually yearns for more substance, more depth, more essence in a daily routines,. Not that these common distractions are  forbidden. A videogame, mountain biking or water skiing, a movie or drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll, all or any may be perfectly appropriate in various moments to express love and beauty in a life well lived. Experience shows, however, that a simpler, less hectic foundation – routine – discipline– will more likely elicit life’s deeper essence: peace, love, beauty.  The monk’s and nun’s simpler routine more consistently and more fully  manifest s joy, contentment, peace of mind than will these other, more surface distractions.

1.) Tuning

Generally, for a monk or nun, the first discipline – – routine – – upon waking, and often the last discipline – routine – before sleeping, is spiritual tuning.  To start and end the day tuning to our deeper reality, our deeper being, for us just makes practical, common  sense. Traditionally, this “tuning” comes in some form of prayer and/or meditation. On the other hand, in the morning, the radio, the crossword puzzle, the newspaper generally do not bring attention to the deeper reality. Thus, those who would follow the monastic path are encouraged to spend their first hours on waking – – or at least the first minutes – – and the last hours, or minutes, before retiring— formally moving attention to the essence of life, to consciousness itself, to presence, to love, to peace, beauty, in whatever way one’s life path has brought forth.  Of course, bringing attention to the deeper reality this is the same practice we are encouraged to adopt “informally” throughout the day.  (The monk’s and nun’s life is not a part-time endeavor.)  To tune to the deeper reality intentionally, formally–  to begin and end the day with such tuning– helps us to remember to do more informally throughout the day.

For many of us, to “tune,” we simply sit, and be quiet, or read inspirational materials, or sometimes just watch the sunrise or sunset, watching the birds at the feeder, while drinking a cup of coffee or tea. (Or in the evenings, sipping a glass of wine.)  Often it’s a combination of all of these. For most of we monks and nuns at Heart Mountain Monastery, we experience this first “tuning” discipline not so much as a high-minded necessity, but rather as a somewhat secret, personal indulgence. To take time out to “tune” to the deeper reality here present is a delicious treat of the monastic lifestyle.

2.)  Creative Artistry     

Creative activity – – artistry – – fits naturally as part of every monk’s and nun’s daily routine  simply because, as scriptures report, we are made “in the image and likeness” of the creator, the Primal Artist.  We each create in accordance with our own talents and conditions . Some days,  some circumstances we work on something as magnificent as Michelangelo’s  Pieta. Other days, other circumstances, we work on simply making a pizza.

Nevertheless, creative activity – artistry – is a useful, even necessary part of every monk’s and nun’s daily routine.  And naturally, we endeavor to discover and accept daily vocations, work activities, , which complement and support the “creative activity” discipline.  Almost any vocation can be a “creative” vocation if take up with the mindset of a monk or a nun.

The mindset that creative activity brings about is a higher, more refined, evolutionarily necessary mindset that quickens the advent of peace on earth, not only for the creative artist herself – himself – but for all those around who become beneficiaries, if only tangentially, of the product of that creative activity. It’s good and healthy, not only for the world but also for the soul, to regularly make beautiful things.

3.) Manual Labor

Manual labor – – from sweeping the floor to doing the taxes to mowing the lawn and repairing the fence – gives us an opportunity to practice peace of mind, simple presence, as well as maintain the monastic grounds so that others may enjoy an environment dedicated to peace, creativity and love.  (At Heart Mountain Monastery we consider the entire planet to be “monastic grounds.”)

Manual labor is often the biggest challenge, and can likewise offer the greatest reward, for the monk or nun in learning to maintain peace of mind, equanimity of spirit, humility of mind. Obviously, for some of the monks and nuns at HMM their daily vocation is considered by the wider society to consist of  “manual labor.” Again, when manual labor is approached with the monk or nun’s mindset—with love, peace, beauty—the “job” becomes more than a job, or more precisely, reveals itself to be more than a job. Rather, it is a natural way of life, of experiencing, blessing one and blessing all.

4.) Outreach

We are not monks and nuns for ourselves only. We do not practice peace of mind, gentleness of spirit, mystical surprise, compassion for ourselves and others, only so that we ourselves might live the good life. Rather, our daily discipline is part of the process of bringing peace to earth – heaven to earth – and thus it is only natural to offer an invitation to others to peek into this lifestyle, and/or to enjoy the fruits of the artistic endeavors, or to simply enjoy the company of those who make peace, laughter and good-will-towards-others the basic discipline of their lives. Thus, the fourth discipline for monks and nuns is to reach out to those who have not yet formally recognized the basic disciplines which we practice. It’s as if we have found a pub with free beer and munchies. It’s only natural that we tell our friends and neighbors about our wonderful discoveries.

More practically, outreach is often simply  being of service to our family, friends and neighbors in whatever way might be most useful in that moment. To let others know that we are acting in this way as part of our daily “monastic discipline” is not a necessary part of the expression.

At a different level, “outreach” can be expressing in the marketing of our artistic endeavors. It can be as simple as, come join us for pizza, or as challenging as applying for a Fulbright Scholarship, or offering our artistic products to a wider market. . Although monks and nuns have learned to prioritize what might be considered other-worldly interests – – love, beauty, peace, non-competitive artistic expressions – – we are nevertheless quite clearly part of the wider world and are happy to participate as part of our daily routines, daily discipline.

 

Conclusion:

These four secondary disciplines – – tuning, creative activity, manual labor, outreach, – – often naturally occur when we begin to master the first discipline, the willingness to love, be at peace, enjoy where we are, who we are with, what we are doing. The first discipline, love, is sufficient. All the other disciplines have gone astray if they do not rely on the first discipline as the basic guideline.

A lovely way of life, yes?

We would love to have you join us, informally or formally, in bringing this “new heaven and new earth” into expression. Let us know how we can help.

 

We would love to hear your response, we would love to have you join us, either formally or informally, in making this lifestyle the lifestyle of the planet. Good work, yes?

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