A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.
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JamesTheGiant
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A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by JamesTheGiant » Thu May 07, 2015 9:33 am

I am a novice monk (almost six months now) and this is a fairly plain account of my day, in an English-speaking monastery of the forest tradition of Ajahn Chah. The monastery will remain anonymous please, and you can call me Bhante Lucky.

Those of you who have stayed at monasteries will not find anything new here, but to those who are perhaps considering ordaining and who have not stayed at a monastery, this may be interesting.

4.00am I am woken by my alarm, and semi-concious I drink the cold instant coffee I had put beside my bed the night before, in an old jamjar. 3 tsp sugar, 1tsp coffee. Ugh. Then I go back to sleep.

4.30am I wake up again and turn off the alarm clock which is on the far side of the room, so I have to get out of bed to do it. Otherwise I will be tempted to snooze for another hour or two. I really hate mornings.
Then, fortified by caffeine, I dress warmly and go outside to do 30 minutes of walking meditation in the dark, with a candle at each end of the walking path.

5.15am Back inside to do 30 minutes of sitting meditation now that I am safely awake.

5.45am The night sky is slowly beginning to lighten but I still need a flashlight and candles in the hut. I potter around preparing for the day, tidying up, putting things in my bag, gathering my robe, bowl, mug, etc. I try to do everything mindfully, both now and through the whole day, mainting awareness of what I am doing and why, the sensations, perceptions, habit patterns, etc. I tend to use the very relaxed mindfulness style taught by Sayadaw U Teijania.

6.00am I set off through the forest for half a mile, to the toilet building, with a flashlight to light the way over the difficult parts - over roots, around boulders, etc.

6.15am Shave, toilet, and change into my work clothes - an old stained lower robe, a patched jacket, and safety boots.

6.45am Breakfast with the other 20 monks. We dress formally in our robes and eat silently together on the floor in one long line along the wall, senior to junior.
At the end of breakfast we wash our own bowls and spoons, while the anagarikas (lay-men wearing white, who are doing one year of duty before ordaining) put away the uneaten food and clean the kitchen. The kitchen is really busy, full of steam and noise, so the monks try to stay out of it.

7.15am Work meeting for monks, anagarikas, and lay-guests. Today I am given the job of cleaning leaves and muck out of the roof-gutters, as the rainy season is coming soon and we collect all our drinking water from those roof-gutters. A lay-guest is also assigned to work with me on the task.
We are reminded by the work-master-monk that all tools must be returned to the workshop at the end of the week.
The abbot reminds us there will be a group of student nurses coming to see the monastery at 10:30am, and to learn a little about buddhism in a Q&A session at about noon, so we should avoid the dhamma hall at that time if we don't want to bump into them.
And finally we are told that there will be the weekly vinaya class in the evening, where we will learn more about the monk's rules and discipline.

7.30am Off to the workshop. We collect gloves, scrubbing brushes, a ladder, and a hose.
Up onto the roofs, some two stories up, on slippery tin... a few nervous moments on the ladder, but generally it is a trouble-free few hours of scrubbing and rinsing. We don't talk much during the work period today. Some morning work periods we chat about dhamma (and worldly nonsense) nonstop, but today we are working separately on opposite ends of the building so there is little talk.

9.50am We finish work and return the tools to the workshop. My work clothes are filthy, covered in gutter-muck and soaked with water, so I quickly go to the shower block to shower and rinse my clothes.

10.15am I dress in my robes formal-style with a single shoulder bare, and walk over to the monk's dining room. I take my place near the bottom of the line, sitting as before senior to junior. I meditate while we wait for lunch to be offered. It is nice to sit down and have a still mind after the work period.
It has only been three and a half hours since breakfast, but there will be no food for the rest of the day so we must eat regardless. A few of the monks are very skinny, with ribs showing and gaunt faces. I am much thinner than I was too, but normal thin, not too thin.

10.40am The bell is rung, we all bow to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and arrange our robes to cover both shoulders for the rice offering. We file out and along the rice-offering line where about 60 visitors wait to symbolically put a spoonful of rice in each of our bowls. There are more people than usual today, due to the class of 20 student nurses doing a cultural-education part of their course.
At other monasteries in this tradition, the monks usually walk for alms-round in a nearby town, but this monastery is 20km from the nearest village so it's not very practical to do that.

10.45am We circulate around the buffet tables, again senior to junior, and put the food we want into our single bowl, where it gets a bit mixed up. For example, I often end up with my banana-cake covered in hot beef curry or something like that.
Every day there is a huge buffet, as each of the 60 visitors brings food to share. Today there is... well, everything! Rice, curries, stirfried vegetables, stews, chicken, sandwiches, whole fish, noodles, roast beef, pizza, burgers, frenchfries, salad, breads, cheese, spreads, chocolate biscuits, fruit, cakes, candy, and juice. The food completely covers seven large tables. It is easy to be a vegan or vegetarian here, but you could also eat nothing but meat, or just fast-food and candy if you wanted to. Self restraint is the key.

10.55am I go the monk's dining room and find my place again, remove the cover from the bowl, rearrange my robes over one shoulder, bow three times, and sit while the abbot gives a little dhamma talk to the visiting laypeople. Today he briefly explains the meaning of the offering ceremony, for the benefit of the visting nurses.
Then the laypeople chant the offering chant, and bring their groceries forward to offer to the monks. (the monastery gets all its food from generous visitors and never has to buy food.)
That done, the monks chant the "anumodana", a blessing and recognition of the offerings.

11.10am We eat! First we contemplate the food and reflect on why we are eating it. For fun? For pleasure? Or for fuel, for living the monk's life?
We eat in silence and keep our eyes down on our own bowls. I force myself to eat the vegetables first, otherwise I would be full by the time I finished the other yummy stuff, and would not bother to eat my greens.

11.30am Lunch is finished, and I take one of the senior monk's dirty bowl and utensils to the bowl washing area. As a novice we are expected to do things like this for the senior monks. I go back to get my own bowl, then wash them both and dry them in the sun. I will take both bowls back to my hut and set it out for the senior monk the next morning.

11.45am A cup of sweet thick tea, ahhh. Six or seven monks often gather after lunch to have a cup of tea and a little conversation.

12.00 noon I walk back to my hut half a mile away in the forest. I put away the bowls, hang up my robe neatly, and proceed to do walking meditation for a bit. Otherwise I will fall asleep if I don't keep moving after the big meal.

12.50pm I give in to drowsiness and snooze for 30 minutes on my bed. I set my alarm so I don't end up drowsing all afternoon; I have found it is entirely possible to drowse the whole afternoon away, wasting hours and hours in cozy semi-consciousness.

1.30pm Wake up! I feel good, lucid and aware, so I sit on the floor to meditate for an hour. The meditation is often good at this time of day, but today I find my head nodding at about the 50 minute mark. I end it there and go outside with a couple of books to read and meditate for the afternoon.

3.00pm I am currently about halfway through the Samyutta Nikaya, and I am also reading a useful book about Buddhism and depression. The day is clear but cool, so I sit in the sun outside my door. I read a bit and meditate a bit, just sitting and being aware of everything. Birds are squawking, insects are chirping, the breeze is rustling the trees gently, and I can hear a very distant Harley Davidson motorcycle, miles away.

5.00pm Hmm... the afternoon stretches on. What to do now? Meditate I guess. If in doubt, meditate. I meditate sitting in a chair for about 30 minutes, and then walk.

6.00pm I wander through the forest to use the toilet, then go to the dining area where "tonics" and "medicines" are served at 6pm. This sounds potentially unpleasant, but the tonics are juices and tea, and the medicines are candies, crystallised ginger, and dark chocolate. Ooh I have a sugar overload today! Every day I eat too much sugar... and every day I make a resolution to eat less sugar the next day... and every next day I go and eat too much sugar again.
Six or seven monks are here, and the conversation around the tea and candy is not too interesting tonight, mostly about the new building we are working on, or about the recent ordination of one of the anagarikas, or a new monastery opening in another shire some distance away. No dhamma-discussion tonight, but that's okay, there'll be dhamma another evening.

6.45pm I leave early to go to the hall, to sit and meditate for 25 minutes before tonight's vinaya class. It is now dark, so I turn on the lights and quickly set up the hall along with another novice: a raised seat for the teacher, and cushions on the floor for the rest of us. The classes are compulsory for anagarikas and monks with less than five years seniority, so about 16 people attend tonight.

7.15pm We arrange our robes across one shoulder and bow. Tonight we are studying the nissaggiya pācittiya rules, numbers four and five. Which are:
4. If a monk asks an unrelated nun to wash, dye, or beat an old robe, he incurs a nissaggiya pācittiya.
5. If a monk receives robe cloth directly from an unrelated nun, except if he gives something in return, he incurs a nissaggiya pācittiya.
The origin stories behind the rules are quite funny and bizarre, and cause a lot of laughter. These are good classes and I enjoy them immensely. It is nice to have something to study intellectually and really give my brain a workout on. Much of the monk's life is sitting around practising being still, so it is nice to have some active reasoning thinking-work to do.

8.50pm The vinaya class went on a long time tonight. It was so interesting we got carried away with discussion and questions.
Now I walk back to my hut though the darkness. There is no wind, and I can hear little bats hunting insects just above me, their ultrasonics sharp and precise in the still night.
Back at my hut I light four or five candles and relax on my bed with a vinaya book - the homework for next week's vinaya class. I get bored of that within ten minutes and decide to meditate instead. Just a quick 20 minute meditation takes me to 9.30pm. Today I did not meditate as much as I normally do, due to the vinaya class. Usually the whole evening is free for meditation or whatever but not tonight.

9.30pm I'm tired, time for bed I think. I prepare tomorrow morning's wake-up coffee in an old jamjar and put it beside my bed.
For bedtime reading I am reading on my kindle Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World - science as a candle in the dark", and have just finished Christopher Hitchen's "God Is Not Great - how religion poisons everything". The Hitchens book was fantastic, he's an entertainingly angry fellow. Even Buddhism gets blasted alongside the big monotheistic religions.
I sometimes feel I should not be reading such non-Buddhist books, but I enjoy them, and even the very thoughtful and wise Lung Por Pannavaddho (one of my favourite teachers) used to read educational non-fiction books.

9.50pm Eyes drooping, time for sleep. Zzzzzz...

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Ben
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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by Ben » Thu May 07, 2015 10:55 am

Thank you for sharing!
With metta,
Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

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in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
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alan
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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by alan » Thu May 07, 2015 12:52 pm

Sounds absolutely horrible.

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by Zom » Thu May 07, 2015 1:16 pm

Sounds absolutely horrible.
What exactly?

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by Sati1 » Thu May 07, 2015 1:51 pm

Wonderful and very interesting!

Thanks for sharing, Bhante.
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by denise » Thu May 07, 2015 3:29 pm

thank you ....very good

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by dhammarelax » Thu May 07, 2015 8:58 pm

Bhante Lucky wrote:5. If a monk receives robe cloth directly from an unrelated nun, except if he gives something in return, he incurs a nissaggiya pācittiya.
The origin stories behind the rules are quite funny and bizarre, and cause a lot of laughter. These are good classes and I enjoy them immensely. It is nice to have something to study intellectually and really give my brain a workout on. Much of the monk's life is sitting around practising being still, so it is nice to have some active reasoning thinking-work to do.

9.30pm I'm tired, time for bed I think. I prepare tomorrow morning's wake-up coffee in an old jamjar and put it beside my bed.
For bedtime reading I am reading on my kindle Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World - science as a candle in the dark", and have just finished Christopher Hitchen's "God Is Not Great - how religion poisons everything". The Hitchens book was fantastic, he's an entertainingly angry fellow. Even Buddhism gets blasted alongside the big monotheistic religions.
I sometimes feel I should not be reading such non-Buddhist books, but I enjoy them, and even the very thoughtful and wise Lung Por Pannavaddho (one of my favourite teachers) used to read educational non-fiction books.

9.50pm Eyes drooping, time for sleep. Zzzzzz...
Thanks for sharing, Sadhu sadhu sadhu. Is so inspiring for me to read this lines, how many lay people watch the monks in the holy life and wish they were there as well? Maybe later or in other lifetime.

I remember listening a Sutta where the Buddha describes himself finding out about the different links of dependent origination before his awakening, I think that might be a stimulating brain work out.

This Hitchens fellow is quite interesting, not sure if its is in this book or in another where he tells the story of his visit to one of Oshos meditation gatherings and there was the huge tent in India where people were lining up for shoe control and at the entrance of the tent there was this sign: "Leave your mind outside", that was all it took to make him go away, is Buddhism telling us the same? I don't think so.

smile all the time
dhammarelax
Even if the flesh & blood in my body dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, I will use all my human firmness, human persistence and human striving. There will be no relaxing my persistence until I am the first of my generation to attain full awakening in this lifetime. ed. AN 2.5

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by Khalil Bodhi » Thu May 07, 2015 11:54 pm

Thank you for this Bhante!
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by mr.c » Fri May 08, 2015 1:12 am

alan wrote:Sounds absolutely horrible.
I found that this kind of descriptions can be rather deceptive to the unsuspecting reader... after all a monk's life is not about doing things, is it? If you came here expecting to encounter an engaging tale at thriller pace, you surely feel deceived. Nevertheless the "important" parts are there in bhante's report: the various sitting and walking meditation sessions, the study hours, the unrelenting sabai mindfulness pervading the text, the eventless days (day, after day, after day...) that you force to confront with your sense-stimulation-addicted-mind. Look at it in this way: all of the bhante's day experience is an unending meditation session. In the same way that we try to clean our minds of noise and thoughts to be able to see what is really happening while meditating... So, horrible? Not quite...

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by retrofuturist » Fri May 08, 2015 1:38 am

Greetings Mr.C,

It's interesting you say that because for me, the most "horrible" sounding part was actually the "doing things", rather than the absence of them.

To me, this daily log raises the question of externally-enforced discipline vs internally-enforced discipline, and to what extent (and in what circumstances) one may be preferable or more profitable than the other.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by alan » Fri May 08, 2015 12:54 pm

I can get up on my own and have real coffee, then go to a beach for walking meditation.
No one tells me to engage in menial labor, but if the gutter needs to be cleaned I'll do it.
I'll have lots of time to study or meditate,and will also take care of the body by doing Yoga and the appropriate amount of exercise.
When it comes time to eat, I'll prepare healthy meals that nourish the body. No pretense of asceticism, so I'll eat again later--and won't feel the need to indulge in sweets later on.
In the evening I might go take another walk in nature, or sit, or read. One thing I will absolutely not do is go hear people read off a rule book to me, because that would be boring and depressing as hell.

So then, if I can live like this, why become a monk?

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by Anagarika » Fri May 08, 2015 1:13 pm

Alan, I feel that you are describing what Bhikkhu Bodhi once discussed about who each of us needs to practice according to our own personalities and aptitudes. In your community, you are likely an excellent exemplar of a lay practitioner, and your example is a terrific one that many in the west could follow.

I've been a novice monk in Thailand, and can say that "Bhante Lucky's" experience, for him, will have real value. He is part of a Sangha, and is experiencing the discipline, routine and practice of a community of monks just as the Buddha structured his Sangha. He is engaged with the lay community, just as the Buddha recommended. And so, each of you are practicing in a manner endorsed by the Buddha for those training on the Path. My only perspective on this is that the life in the Wat suited me. I enjoyed being in a community, despite chanting at 430 am and alms round in bare feet ( actually enjoyed this too, despite the condition of my western feet after the first week). I enjoyed being in a community of experienced monks who were sound teachers. All of these routines at the wat were challenging, but ultimately, very pleasing to me. When I disrobed after the novice training to come back to the west, I truly missed the life in the wat and my colleagues there.

Yes, Bhante Lucky's days seem overly structured and simple, but I can recommend such an experience, evn for only a temporary ordination as I had done. Just experiencing this life does implant an element of perspective and mindfulness that you really can't teach yourself in the lay west, IMO. It cultivates a measure of respect for those that have gone forth and live that life every day. And it suggests, at least to me, that the Buddha's path of training for both lay and ordained has stood the test of time, which has bolstered my faith in his Dhamma. So, I say well done to both you and Bhante Lucky, both good examples of a mindful life in the Dhamma.

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by mikenz66 » Fri May 08, 2015 10:50 pm

Thanks Bhante Lucky and Anagarika. I've not been a monk, but most of my retreats have been at a Wat with a similarly simple routine (though without the work or the lessons). This sort of simplification can certainly have benefits.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by Alobha » Fri May 08, 2015 11:11 pm

Thanks for sharing Bhante!

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Re: A day in the life of a novice Buddhist monk

Post by Shuun » Sat Jun 13, 2015 11:51 pm

Thank you for sharing! Very lovely! :D

Few questions:

- Why are you choosing to read over meditation?
- Did you study suttas before you ordained?
- What kind of mediation instruction are you following?

Thanks! :)

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