*** As a quick introduction to this letter I wanted to give some explanation. This letter was written by me in the final weeks before moving to the monastery, some two and a half years ago now.
This was a hard time on my family, their only son and oldest child leaving their lives, and so there was fear, confusion, and self-blaming. There are few times in my life where I have been as honest and bore my full inner “self” out in words as I did in this letter.
For three points of explanation that are relevant to this article, I was married in my mid 20s and helped my wife through a fight with cancer that eventually took her life over 10 years ago, and as a child I was deathly afraid of aliens and use to have dreams nightly that the greys would come for me and entertained thoughts of not being fully human. I also lived with and helped raise my nephew from the time he was 1 till age 10.
Some of my revealed thoughts may be taken in a bad light by some readers, but that is the price and vulnerability of being open. I promised myself long ago that I would be as open and honest as possible with my practice and who I am, to avoid hiding myself behind too thick a mask as humans tend to do, afraid to be open and honest for fear of rebuke. I want to do my best to live as an open book, with strengths and weaknesses out in the open.
I decided to do this because I know that brings benefit to others, as the few people who were willing to be open and vulnerable helped me in my practice. We are often so self judgemental and critical of our thoughts and feelings, thinking we are so horrible and different then everyone else, but my experience has shown this to be quite a false perception.
I was reminded of this letter recently in speaking with a friend who is looking at following the same path, and now I present it here in hopes it may be of some benefit to others.***
You asked for “the truth” of the reason why I want to renounce and become a monk. I have struggled for years to try and come up with a short answer that can be understood by the average western person, but the truth is there is no short easy answer. I will be as truthful and blunt as possible in this letter.
It’s no secret that the “conventional” world has never held me in much sway. I have never felt part of the “normal” world, never really wanted to be a part of it, and I always felt destined to rise above it in some way or another. I often wonder if that is why the whole “alien” thing came into play when I would jokingly say stuff like I was an alien. I think that was me trying to understand my feelings as a child.
While it’s true growing up I wanted to have a family, I also wanted to be someone free to do what I wanted and go where I wanted, free of the constraints of “conventional” society. The older I got the more I realized this was the idealistic dream of a young naive person.
With my experience being married and helping to raise Anthony these 8 years, I now understand much more about what it means to have children and raise a family, and I have zero desire to subject myself to that bondage as it has not brought me 1/10th the peace and happiness that my Buddhist practice has given me.
As far back as I could remember, I always felt a certain “dissatisfaction” in life. Even though I’ve had a great life, there is always something in the background, something I feel I’m missing, that kind of leaves me incomplete. I was never very attached to the “concept” that society tells us is how to live our lives and what should make us happy.
I think I was intuitive and understanding enough from an early age to recognize much of it does not bring happiness.Indeed it was in my early adolescent years when I first started experiencing the Dalai Lama on TV and books that I thought to myself ” why are these guys so happy, they have nothing.. whats going on there?”.
The years with Jackie also taught me much. Aside from the whole cancer situation making the marriage somewhat extraordinary, just the daily every day experience of “married life” lost its appeal to me as time went on. It may sound horrible but in a way when Jackie died part of me was happy to be free from marriage. I’m not sure if she had lived that we would of been married until death do us part, it’s certainly possible, but just as possible could of been an eventual divorce.I’m not saying I did not have love for Jackie, I did, but even still it did not bring me complete fulfillment.
While on the Topic of Jackie I wanted to address many peoples Hollywood assumptions that I am doing this because of my experiences with Jackie. If this were the case I would of tried to “run away” somewhere in the first year or two, but what did I do? Got a career and moved forward, even started dating and seeing other women again, until my meditation practice brought me to the point where I no longer needed such relationships.
I will say one thing however in that I will admit that Jackie was the tail end of a string of deaths that helped me see reality more clearly and opened up a deeper spiritual search that lay dormant inside me. Indeed as someone who has experienced more death and been to more funerals in 35 years then most people twice my age, how could it not? Life is short, why waste it on frivolous pursuits that don’t bring true peace and happiness?
For much of my life I have done my best to escape this world through movies and video games,but now I know to truly escape this world you cannot do it by running away, but by facing it head on.
You may think the average person faces the world head on, and becoming a monk is escaping the world, and I will probably not be able to change that, but those who have seen beyond understand.
This “conventional” world IS a movie, it IS a video game, it’s an illusion of our own creation, and we are just running around blind like chickens with our heads cut off trying to avoid things that bring us pain and suffering while trying to find happiness, pleasure, and peace in outward things like family, friends, entertainments, etc, when it has been my experience so far that the only true lasting peace and happiness I’ve ever experienced in this life comes from within.
If this is the case you do not need anything else, relationships, entertainments, and the various experiences of the “conventional” world, etc, because none of that will bring you true happiness and eventually will change or end, causing sadness, where as the steady happiness remains inside you and stems from you.
My whole life I searched for something that fit my world view, explained my experiences and the nature of life. It was not until I found Theravada Buddhism and the words of the Buddha that it all clicked… it all made perfect sense. This was the first time in my life I felt the missing pieces of the puzzle were found and placed in their rightful spots.
The Buddha taught about how we experience life and how there is a better way to experience life through changing how we perceive and interact with the world in a way that brings a person and those impacted by that person much peace and happiness.
This path has gone a long way in lessening the feeling of unsatisfactoriness I have with the world, which is the Buddha’s first of four noble truths, that there is said unsatisfactoriness, the second truth being the cause of this, which is our craving/clinging, the third truth being that there is a way beyond this unsatisfactoriness, and the fourth truth being the path of practice leading to that way.
This is something that calls to me, connects with me, and makes much more sense then anything I ever experienced in 12 years of Catholic school, being an altar boy and all those other experiences in the catholic church ever could. Instead of going through the motions and pretending to be something I am not, I can now be free to follow my heart to the utmost degree.
I have been lucky enough in my short 36 years on this planet to experience and gain wisdom from situations most people deal with over the whole course of a whole life. I am thankful for all of these experiences as they have shown me a way towards peace and freedom. I intend to take that path as far as I am able to take it.
I am not taking this path because of what anyone else has done or not done, there is no “blame” to be placed on anyone for me taking this path, nothing that someone else could of done or not done to “keep me from going”. This is all negative, fear filled thinking that has no grounding in truth and views my decision as some sort of affront to other people or that is some negative experience someone else is forcing me to do. This could all not be further from the truth.
This is a natural progression of the practice as I lessen my attachments, make peace with the world, and begin my journey beyond it.