The Cheshire Cat as Monk or Nun

Give up everything but vision and grins

The Basic Renunciation

+++At Heart Mountain Monastery our basic “renunciation practice” is to renounce crabbiness, unhappiness, worry, ill-at-ease-ness. We intuit that the ideal daily life of a contemporary monk or a nun is a life of joy, of peace and especially (with all the wars raging and whatnot) good humor. Whether we engage this practice while living in a cave in the mountains or while shopping at Wal-Mart or working on the trash truck is beside the point.
+++In the monastic traditions, in both the East and the West, (mostly Buddhist or Christian, although the Jews, the Jains and the Hindus also have long monastic traditions) monks and nuns make the decision to “renounce the world” and live a life of poverty, obedience and chastity, generally within a relationship to an institutional framework. Such a renunciation comes as part of the quest for a closer walk with God—or an awakening to the Buddha mind, or simply a deeper understanding of reality, of joy and peace. Such seems a worthy life quest.
+++Of course, traditional renunciation also implied the monk or nun would be given a daily allotment of food, some clothing and shelter, and most often expected to conform to a fairly regimented daily life of prayer and/or service to others without much personal decision-making. (Thus, “obedience.”) Studying the scriptures and histories it’s clear that such renunciation and such an environment “worked” for many exalted souls. The monastic tradition has survived for many thousands of years because it reflects a basic human need.
+++Questions arise, of course, with such a life. First, the tricky question of who will do the regimenting? Who gets to decide who hoes the garden, who washes dishes and who gets to review the latest movie releases to see what’s proper for a budding monk or nun? And who gets to define “chastity?” Who gets the new comfy silk robes and who has to wear the old scratchy one with holes?
+++Early Buddhists came up with 227 specific rules for their monks and nuns, many of them rather silly, such as “do not to keep an extra robe for more than ten days,” or “don’t use money,” or “don’t ask for another bowl unless your bowl has at least five cracks in it.” The Rule of St. Benedict, from which most of the Christian monastic tradition is based, is 73 chapters long, each chapter chocka-block full of various rules, do’s and don’ts.
+++At Heart Mountain Monastery, we recognize that one’s own inner joy, or peace, can be the wise counsel, the true authority in all matters, large and small. This may seem a dangerous practice, since in our contemporary culture following one’s joy is most often associated simply with “stimulating one’s senses,” e.g., drugs, sex and rock and roll. If we have not yet trained ourselves to hear our deeper joy, our deeper peace, then drugs, sex and rock and roll may indeed for a season act as our teachers.
+++In our maturity, however, we discover that there’s a peace, a joy extant within that is not dependent on any outer form or object, circumstance or relationship. This inner peace or joy is not even dependent on our thoughts, or feelings, let alone our new shirt or blouse, or the promotion at work.

James Swartz, in How to Attain Enlightenment, writes, “One is never attached to a house or a car — or even people— although it seems so. We are attached to what these things mean in our mind.”

+++Candice O’Denver, in the Great Freedom teaching, suggests that all of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and circumstances (actually, all phenomena within and without) can be understood as “points of view” rising up in awareness. When we are not attached to our points of view, and simply resting in our natural awareness (which itself is peace and joy), we have succeeded in the “basic renunciation.
+++Even more simply, renouncing, or letting go, seeing through all false identities— renouncing identification with anything less than formless bliss, objectless being — is the basic renunciation offered to mature monks and nuns. It leaves us free to love the universe, and,  akin to the Cheshire Cat, unattached to anything whatsoever, except maybe an easy inner grin.
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