Dedicating your life to pursuit of Nirvana
I'm in no place to judge how what a person dedicates their life too. However, meditation and archaeology have both been crossed off my list. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THE first few days consists of simply following the crowd, having a general idea of what you're supposed to be doing and then wandering in the same direction as the crowd.
Foreign laypeople are not the epicenter of the monastery as might have been assumed. It isn't a meditation retreat. It is a functioning monastery at which the monks seek Nirvana though Vipassana Meditation. We are the yellow jellies in a fruitcake: there is room for us to fit into the system, but if we weren't there, nobody would notice.
Signs have been up for couple days now informing everyone that a Full Moon Ceremony will be held at 2:30pm July 20, which the westerners assume means no meditation.
On July 18, a group of nuns and local women came up to the upper meditation hall, chatting like little birds as they created an enormous flower sign to go in front of the reclining Buddha image upstairs.
When the full-moon day came, the hallway of the Sangha Office was clogged with dozens and dozens of donation boxes. Surprisingly uninterested in the ceremony, I watch as more than a hundred well-dressed locals, women in their ankle-long colorful skirts and blouses, men in their well-tied longi make their way up the stairs to the meditation hall.
After hours of chanting, the monks began their decent from the meditation hall bags in both hands, heavily laden with alms; it must feel like Christmas.
During the extended amount of free time created by the ceremony, I take to walking. A bag full of magic tricks that I would love to practice sits, untouched, by my bed in the room. Though there is nothing that strictly states I can't do magic, it seems against the spirit of the entire experience, as does juggling or any of my other hobbies that can so easily be conducted in silent solitude. So, I walk.
Veering off the road, I step onto a dirt path that winds through the rubber trees. A creek runs through the plantation, which has a healthy undergrowth of wild plants. Several small purple flowers, growing close to the ground are in bloom. I stop to watch a few bugs, listening to the pods of the rubber trees falling from above, sporadic hail.
Back on the road, watching the monks, I can't imagine dedicating my life to the pursuit of Nirvana. Though there is an indescribable bliss that comes with attaining certain levels of inner peace, it is not for me. It's the exact same realization I had my junior year while studying underwater archaeology at Indiana University.
The development of museums, the discovery and even the ethics involved in unearthing human history was fascinating, but it wasn't something I could dedicate my life to. When the time comes for me to cough my last cough, I can't imagine my legacy being some obscure papers on the development of stone tools. It was a tough realization, as I was not in a place to judge those who have made such detailed work the pursuit of their lives.
Standing among the monks, the feeling resurfaces again and again. Though it's something I have always know, my legacy, or what I would like my legacy to be, is that of any animal: offspring. I can think of no better focus for my life, which for a number of reasons means that forever entering a monastery will not be a path I walk. Smiling, I picture myself sited cross-legged in the wee hours of the morning, deep in meditation with a baby in my arm, my wife smiling at the two of us; the baby peacefully back to sleep after crying out at 3am.
The day after the full moon, when the monks renew their vows, they are given new robes and new rectangular meditation cushions – all donations. That night, the young monk who I've watched learn to wrap his robe properly in order to accept morning alms holds out an extra meditation cushion to me.
“Do you want a meditation seat?” he asks.
Gratefully, I accept it, knowing that this will encourage me to meditate in my free time.
It's the unscheduled time that is the most difficult to deal with. After the four-hour session of meditation comes to an end, I eagerly await the evening meditation, despite having often counted down the last minutes of the afternoon session, ears perked for the sounds of people packing up. However, with nothing else to do, there is nothing else to excitedly anticipate. So, each day, I look forward to the morning and evening meditations. Now, however, with my own cushion, I will be able to fill my free time with shorter sessions of 30 minutes. This doesn't mean that I'm actually able to meditate for even the entire short session, my eternal narrator spinning yarns far too complicated and long.