WHY BE A MONK OR A NUN

monkLately, I’ve been happy being a monk.

In fact, when telemarketers call, and start in on their spiel, I often politely interrupt and tell  the economically enslaved person on the other end of the line,  “Sorry, friend, we are monks and nuns here, and don’t . . .  (answer surveys, need new siding, have mortgage issues, etc.) So we are not good prospects for you …”  Most telemarketers, having never heard the “monks and nuns” excuse, will quickly and politely agree then say goodbye.

Telling the telemarketer that we’re monks and nuns is what Al Franken might call, “Joking on the square”— sort of joking but also sort of telling the truth.  My wife and I, and many of our friends, really are, at heart, monks and nuns, though I’m one of the few (so far) with a business card admitting as much.

So okay, the question naturally arises: Why in the world, in this day and age, would anyone want to be—or agree to be—a monk or a nun?

The answer, of course, is that the world, especially in this day and age, desperately needs more monks and nuns, or more precisely, the world needs the clear, natural, compassionate vision of a monk or a nun. (We are talking here, of course, of the generic monk or nun, and not necessarily the monk or nun of any given tradition, be that tradition Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Sufi or NASCAR, though the monastic traditions expressed by these sects are not necessarily excluded.)

In small things and large—from family dinners and PTA meetings to drone warfare and economic injustices— the wisdom vision of a monk or a nun is urgently needed. A monk or a nun is led to withdraw his or her allegiance to the world’s vision in order to discover for himself or herself the true vision of the singular (mono) reality that underlies all appearances. With a direct experience of this underlying reality, the monk or nun then re-enters the world to share the relief and love and healing that reality always offers.

In the contemporary world the true monk or nun is most often anonymous and outwardly indistinguishable from those who live and suffer under a dualistic vision of reality. The terms ”monk,” “nun,” and “monastery” all derive from the Greek root word monarchos  meaning singular, or alone (e.g., non-dual, or, in Sanskrit, advaita.) The best reason for anyone to accept the label and habit (so to speak) of a nun or a monk is simply because that person has had at least a glimpse of the non-dual (mono) nature of reality and recognizes the wisdom and potential artistry of more fully aligning their lives— thoughts, words, and deeds— with this non-dual reality.

In my own case, I’ve had wonderful teachers, be it for a season or a lifetime,  who have offered not only a glimpse but, at least on occasion,  the eye-popping full monty, totally naked raunchy burlesque of non-dual reality. (That’s the other beauty of living in these times— such a rich smorgasbord of authentic (and mostly authentic) non-dual teachers.)

Last Sunday morning a tax-lawyer buddy-monk and I were talking over these matters and he mentioned that in the tax business a distinction is made between “Recognized Gains” and “Realized Gains.”  A recognized gain is when you’ve made a good investment, say for example in the stock market when your stock has gone from $10.00 to $20.00, but you haven’t yet “cashed out,” not yet sold it. So although the investment looks good right now, the price could suddenly plunge and we’d be vulnerable.  A realized gain, however, is when yes, by gum, we’ve made a good investment and have the actual cash on the barrel head to prove it. Even if the price plunges, we’ve made our bundle.

We saw this as a nice metaphor for our own “monk (and nun) experience,” and the experience of many of our teachers. Many of us have indeed recognized, maybe on many occasions, the non-dual nature of reality.  We’ve made  good investments in our practice and learning. And then something happens that plunges us back into the dualistic vision (which is another term for the suffering vision.) We’ve recognized, but not necessarily realized ( at least not fully) non-duality.  And we’ve had a few teachers who likewise turned out to be recognizers, rather than realizers, clearly having lost their locing vision of reality. But that’s a story for another time.

So who would want to be a monk or a nun. “God has a planted the seed of a monk (or a nun) in every heart,” wrote the old Gethsemane Abbot. It happens to you, watch out, just by reading essays like this to the end!

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