A Lapsed Buddhist
I used to be a devout would be Buddhist.
Thirty years ago when I first came to this country I got all involved in the religion. I was not a practicing Christian to start with but when I began looking into Buddhism I liked what I read and saw and decided to take it a step further. I entered an upcountry temple for a limited period of time to study meditation and learn all about Buddhism from the abbot and other monks.
I decided to live in the temple where they put me in a hut, sleeping on the hard floor with two other monks who could speak some English and could understand the many questions I asked them during my stay. I slept on the floor, had only one meal a day and did the rounds with them early in the morning. During the day I helped with all the chores around the temple which included carrying bricks and mixing cement as they were building an extension to the temple.
A couple of times a day we did chanting and meditation exercises… I found it very difficult to sit cross-legged for more than 10 minutes at a time and had to shift positions frequently.
As they were meditating in the lotus position and noticed my discomfort they advised me about a “walking meditation” technique which I found much easier to use and actually achieved some success in focussing my mind at the task.
All in all I spent 2 weeks living a Spartan life and waking up each morning with stiff limbs after trying to find a bearable position to get some shut eye. I’d describe the two weeks as a form of torture both bodily and mentally as the state of mind required was totally alien to my normal lifestyle.
Nevertheless and despite the fact that I lost about 7 kilos in two weeks I’d say the it was a rewarding experience in so much as it recharged my batteries to face the demands of my Western existence.
During my stay there I had no other stimuli than what I described here, no newspapers, no telephone calls, no contact with the outside world. That in itself was a blessing in disguise… We don’t realise how much the stresses of our existence takes out of us. Since that experience I’d regularly take out a week or so of total break from my routine and found it essential for re-invigorating myself.
The most appealing aspect of Buddhism I found to be The Middle Way. That is not to do anything in the extreme. In our Western societies we live a fast life and engage in extremities for instant gratification. This can be a cause in stresses and anxieties we suffer from. Buddhist meditation can be a great tool to alleviate some of these problems in our lives.
As you can see I did learn useful things that I could employ in my everyday life but still I started out up the top by saying that I was a “would be” Buddhist.
Why? Well you see I got disillusioned.
A few years after my two week sojourn in that upcountry temple, I returned to say hello to the abbot and his monks. When I got there I could hardly recognise the place. What happened in the 6 years or so during my absence was that the abbot had become a household name all across the country due to his meditation teachings and as a result he received untold riches by way of donations. He then decided to spend all that turning the temple into a marble monolith the likes of which was unprecedented for hundreds of miles around. A sort of a tribute to himself.
To my way of thinking this was a totally selfish and un-Buddhist like venture. Instead of helping the poor congregants and spreading his newly acquired funds for the benefit of his community he decided to build an edifice to show off!
So that was the beginning of my disillusionment with the Sangha, the Buddhist clergy.
But it did not end there. There had been numerous reports of instances in the press about monks who’d strayed from the righteous way end engaged in activities like sex, intoxication and scams and corruptions even putting politicians to shame.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing of this detracts from the teachings of Lord Buddha in any way but the problem is for lay people that the image of the orange robe is demeaned by these acts. I guess for me the best thing is to just use what I learnt from my initial experience with my first temple stay and turn a blind eye to the indiscretions of the clergy. I think most people in Thailand do that anyway, don’t you?
I'm truly agnostic and doubt I will ever "seek" religion but that said, I am happy to admit that there are certain things about "pure Buddhism" that it is hard not to admire.