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Kickin it in the Kath- The monastic life

When I left the International Buddhist Academy about two weeks ago, my initial reaction was a sigh of relief. While I had greatly enjoyed my time there, the constraints, structures, and closed in climate of the monastery had begun to wear on me. I craved the regular freedoms and responsibilities that come along with my day to day life back in the Kath.

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, my friends and I have returned several times to visit and play basketball with the monks who we befriended during our short stay. What I find surprising about every visit, is that I find myself missing it more and more every time I go back. Just getting a brief glimpse back into the monastery is enough to remind me about the simpler lifestyle, free from stress, and all of the many distractions most of us face every day.

When I first came to Nepal, I really had no idea why anyone would ever willingly choose the monastic lifestyle. While I respected the men and women who devoted their lives to studying the Dharma, and while I understood the appeal of the intellectual and introspective climate the monastery provides, I always believed on some root level that it was really just a waste of time. I thought, ‘whats the point in living if you are spending all of your years staring at the same stone, wood, or cement walls, never truly seeing the world?’ Since then, however, my view has drastically changed, as I both realized the appeal of this seclusion, but also the realities of monastic life.

While many of the monks will spend most of their lives within the monastery, on some level I think they are getting more out of this life than most laypeople. They are able to entirely devote their time, free of distraction or worry, to understanding the nature of the mind, life, death, and all of the other incredibly vast questions Buddhism raises. I’m sure most of them will find a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that I can only hope to achieve by the end of my short life.

As my friend and I were talking by the side of the basketball court today, watching the monks play a truly friendly game of basketball- laughing and smiling all the while, I realized what kind of atmosphere the monastery is able to create through its seemingly strict and rigid system of rules. It is an environment largely free of the dishonesty, aggression, and competition that plagues and controls our day to day lives.

As I watched the monks playfully tossing the ball, I totally understood the appeal of monastic life. It is a life in which you are totally supported in your pursuit of freedom from suffering. It is a life in which you are free from the normal responsibilities attributed to a living being, a life in which you can totally devote yourself to internal discovery, and learning about the nature of the world around you. And while in some ways the monastic life is one which is constrained and regulated, in another sense, it is the most free way in which you could live.