Life of a Modern Monk
December 14, 2019
The Green Lion
By Signe Henriksen, Denmark
Words such as karma and nirvana are part of the languages in Western culture but originate from Buddhism. We use them every day and I could not help but wonder – what are these Buddhist philosophies all about? I was curious about this religion, which is so different from the beliefs in my own culture, and I thought maybe there would be something I and other people in the West could learn from this ancient and mysterious religion. What would be a better opportunity than to live in a Monastery, teach English and learn from the monks themselves?
After a 12 hours drive through barren mountains, golden rice fields and luxuriant valleys, I arrived at Serlo Monastery close to Mt. Everest. The beautiful white buildings with fascinating colorful symbolic details lay isolated surrounded by wild and unspoiled nature. As soon as I entered the main entrance I knew that I had just entered the world of the sacred.
Every day I was so privileged to wake up to the sight of Number Mountain from my window and the interesting sound of drums and horns from the monks’ daily morning puja. As English is not a part of the monks’ schedule, they only receive English education when there are participants like me. As a result of that, I felt my job was important and that I had a great responsibility in teaching them something useful. I am thankful for the teaching experience I got from this, but what means the most is every little meaningful conversation I have had with the monks of different ages.
Before this experience, my view of a monk was that he is a man who has chosen to dedicate all of his time to religion and lives a simple life without any materialistic and unnecessary things. This prejudice was invalidated immediately, as the older monks own computers and mobile phones. The monks also combine traditional ropes with modern clothing; such as windbreakers. But it turns out they use electronics as tools to get more knowledge, and as one monk said: “Without the electronic devices we would be excluded from the rest of the world. It is 2019 after all.”
He also pointed out that mobiles and social media also have disadvantages, and that it is important to be aware of one’s usage, which I think is an important pointe.
“What are the Buddhist philosophies all about?” was my question before my fourteen days in the monastery, and now I know so much more. It would take me hours to explain, but one monk presented this metaphor: Enlightenment is what the monks want to achieve. Enlightenment is like the sun, but sometimes clouds block the sunlight. These clouds represent the five poisons: attachment, aversion, ignorance, pride and jealousy. Therefore, meditation is all about avoiding, and if possible, removing these clouds, or bad characteristics, if you will.
I dare to claim that all of us can learn something from Buddhism. To be less attached to our phones, to not add too much value to social media, because nothing good comes from jealousy and finally remind ourselves that lasting happiness never comes from the things you can buy. It does not come from materialistic things and prestige from the outer world – you have to find it inside yourself. And one final tip from a monk; happiness also comes from helping others.
Just remember that all of your actions will influence your future in some way – Karma.