Things I Learned at a Buddhist Monastery

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This summer I ended up at a Chinese Buddhist Monastery in South Taiwan for one month of meditation, vegetarianism, and leading a semi-monastic life. Random – no chance. Causes and Conditions man!

Why did I choose to do this?

Since visiting the ancient city of Sarnath in India one year ago, I began to become increasingly interested in Buddhism (Sarnath is where the first turning of the ‘Dharma Wheels’ took place by Sakyamuni Buddha himself). This fascination with Buddhism as a philosophy, religion, and practice grew and I wanted to learn more.

Hailing from Vancouver I’ve been exposed to a lot of yoga and meditation, but everything I was seeing seemed pretty commercial and trendy. Yogalates – no thanks. So, enter monastery life.

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What was it like?

Nothing like I expected. I was driven to the monastery by a monk while Iggy Azalea played on the radio… huh. Aside from my initial confusion I was amazed by how modern Fo Guang Shan monastery was. Wow electricity, plumbing, Wi-Fi, AC, etc… I must have expected to be living in a jungle based on how surprised I was. I also spent a full week in silent meditation for an ‘intensive retreat’. We meditated for about 6 hours a day. More on this later.

Here are some shorts quips of things I learned:

Monastics are people too

The first day I arrived at the monastery I saw a monk checking Facebook… I really did think that renunciants meditated all day and shunned society. While some do, many of the folks at Fo Guang Shan are actively engaged in the community and the world. It’s known as humanistic Buddhism where the idea is to integrate Buddhist practice into daily life and try to make the world a better and more peaceful place. I’m not kidding… a Venerable just Whats-Apped me this morning :P

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It’s good to shut up.

I realized almost everything we say is useless and pretty egotistical when shrunk down – I’ll speak for myself on this! Silence is power and allows for knowledge to grow in its place.

We don’t need meat.

Yes, I’m from Alberta and love my Alberta beef. I really thought it would be some horrifying experience to not eat meat for a month. Really, it’s fine. You will survive. Being a vegetarian or just eating a little less meat might actually change your life. I lost weight and felt better. That and it’s better for the planet :)

You can adapt to anything.

…even waking up at 5am. Handwashing your clothes. Being a vegan. Living in a foreign country. Sharing living quarters with HUGE roaches (this came post-monastery). Being broke. Being alone. It’s fear that keeps us from being happy when, no matter the situation happiness is already there if we change our perspective.

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Hard work is good work.

At the monastery we have to participate in community work. This includes anything from sweeping the grounds, to carrying supplies, to washing the shrine. Most of it is tough, and most of it is in the scorching hot sun in the middle of the afternoon. The first few times I dreaded the time for work. It was exhausting! But I soon realized that there was joy in doing things that were difficult and monotonous. As sweat dripped (more like poured off of my body) while sweeping, I cultivated a feeling of gratitude for the opportunity to help and contribute. Talk about a powerful shift.

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We don’t need much.

I’m fortunate to have grown up in Canada. I believe it really is the most wonderful place. That said I’ve also been very privileged and and developed material expectations that are completely excessive and out of touch with the rest of the world in addition to the limits of this planet’s resources. Every day I become more conscious of this and through the lessons of impermanence ‘stuff’ has become less and less important to me. In fact I realized how much ‘stuff’ is holding me back in life, rooting me to a place and sometimes clouding my ideas of success. Venerable Hui Feng gave a Dharma talk where he said, “We have to realize that one day when we die, someone will walk through our home and decide what to do with everything we’ve collected – it doesn’t last and neither do we.” In life we spend time collecting and accumulating, but for what?

These are just a few of my thoughts that from time at Fo Guang Shan. More to come later.

And no. I did NOT shave my head.

Ciao

FGS

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