I have been at monasteries and meditation centres for a total of 6 years, at Bodhinyana monastery for 4 years 6 months, two years as a full bhikkhu, a year and a half as a novice, and a year-and-a-bit as an anagarika. I've spent more than a year and six months in intensive silent retreat. And now it's time to go!
Why? Three main reasons:
(ONE:) After 6 years living in various monasteries and meditation centres, I have decided that I am Buddhist, I am a meditator, but I am NOT an ascetic, or renunciant.
I just don't like asceticism, renouncing the worldly world. I like the occasional beer. I like music and films and poetry, and great books. I like the company of women. I enjoy hiking up rugged mountains, riding bikes, exploring new places, swimming on a hot summer's day, and growing vegetables in the garden. I would like to go sailing with my father, while he is still alive and healthy enough. And I want to go hiking with my mother, who has just turned 70.
(TWO) I used to love coming to the monastery and staying for a few months each year, when I was a layperson. Now it seems like a bit of a chore. I used to love meditating, but now that it is my job I don't like it so much. I want to go back to that time when I liked being at the monastery and meditating without pressure or outside expectation. I want to get away from this feeling of obligation and the "duty of a bhikkhu" to be like this or that. It's not possible to chill out and act natural. I have to be so composed and artifical all the time. No burping around laypeople, no loud laughter, no humming a happy tune. No running from place to place from simple exuberance and energy, or having a normal innocent conversation with a woman.
I have to pretend to be "nice", when most of the time I don't feel like being "nice" at all. I'm a "real" person, not a "nice" person.
I'm tired of playing the role of "Restrained Ascetic Theravada Bhikkhu", and just want to be myself.
I know Ajahn says "Don't try to be the perfect monk, just be yourself", but when you actually do that, people raise eyebrows, frown and tut-tut.
(THREE) Back in my home town I had a really great group of friends. We cared about each other. At the commune if someone was having a hard time, or got into trouble, my friends would be concerned and there would always be someone to help out. We were connected. There was compassion. There was always someone to have a yarn with, deep into the night... either talking enjoyable nonsense for hours about nothing, or talking about deep stuff like spirituality or emotions or relationships. We really cared, and wanted to help each other.
At monasteries each of us have a few genuine friends, but most of the people are just like workmates or colleagues. People who are nice, but you only spend time with them because you work with them. That's not enough. I want to return to the community I left, and rebuild those friendship connections.
SO WHAT'S THE PLAN?
Go back to New Zealand, get a temporary job, maybe tour-guiding? Then spend a year at university getting a Post-Graduate Diploma in Primary Teaching, then become a schoolteacher.
Buy a sailboat! Live on it, and sail a lot. I would like a huge yacht, but my budget probably extends only to a 8.5m keeler, with one bedroom, a kitchen-lounge, and shower and toilet. It's like living in a big caravan, except it floats.
The monastery said I'd be welcome back any time, and I left them on very good terms. I'm still Buddhist and a meditator, just not a monk. So who knows... maybe in a few years I will be reminded of how meaningless the "real world" is, and will go back... maybe!
I'll end this on a positive note: There are many things I still like about monastic life, even though I have left:
- > A feeling of brotherhood, of being in community.
> A sense of purpose, of shared meanings.
> A longer outlook than just one single life.
> Lots of time for meditation and just being.
> The bliss and peace generated by meditation.
> Sometimes it feels like it's a holiday every day!
> Good food.
> Living off the grid.
> I don't have to work at some pointless job 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for someone else.
> The potential of enlightenment in this life.
> Not buying into the bulls#%t of worldly values = social status, fancy house, nice car, the best toys.