I have a good friend who is a monk from another Tradition and he migrated here some years ago from Asia. He told me this story a few years ago.
After some years here he was hired by a University in the city and given a very good job. It was around that time, he met a lady with whom he fell in love and they were making plans to marry but in order to do so, he would first have to go back to his monastery in Asia and obtain a dispensation from his vows as a monk. So he left during the summer holiday and regained his monastery where he had a meeting with the abbot. The abbot was very happy to see him and asked many questions about his life in the city. The time came and he told the abbot the reason why he came to see him and asked to be relieved of his vows. The abbot looked at him and said, “we are so honored that one of our monks was nominated in such a post at the University which is so well renowned. We want you to keep this post at the University and we are not allowing you to be dispensed of your vows.”
So the monk came back to the city and he said, “I went to see my lady friend and told her I had something important to tell her and she said, “So do I.” She insisted that he tells her first what he had to say and so he did and with her head down a bit, she said, “Now here is what I have to say: while you were away I was able to reflect and I came to this decision, I will not continue to have a relationship with you.”
I dont remember at what age I came to realize and to accept this as a fact of life: for every decision I make, there will, of course, be consequences. Once I have made a decision, I assume the consequences and its responsibilities, whether good or bad, no one but myself is responsible. So when I was but merely 23 years of age and I gave up a very good job and left all to join a monastery, I knew then that whether I felt at some point I was wrong or made a mistake, I had no one to blame but myself.
The first dozen years of my life in the monastery I was happy and had no regrets and when I asked to leave for a period of 2 years, I felt that this was an experience I needed then and so I assumed the responsibility and accepted the consequences. So now the 2 years were expired and I had given my word to re-enter and I knew that re-entering would require a certain adaptation and that of course there would be difficult moments and I felt able to face it!
The time had flown faster than I could have imagined and like a dream, here I was back in Montreal and talking to my superior on the telephone and asking where should I go. “You will come here to this monastery” he said.
This was the ‘head-office’ and in the city,except not in the down-town area but within easy reach by public transportation. I was asked to be a receptionist for the door and telephone operator for so many hours per week. There was an elderly brother who was in charge and he was happy to have me work with him and he was of good character and it was easy working with him. I was inspired by his piety and also by his good humour.
He told me one day that the doctor said he had some health problem and would not live long and although it has been over 25 years, since he told me this, I can still see the expression on his face and remember his words. “Little brother’, he said, “ you know I am 75 years old and at my age, there is hardly nothing I have not seen or heard in this life, and you know what, I have seen enough. What is there so wonderful on this earth that I should want to hold on to? If God calls me, I am ready to go!”
I remember after my return to the monastery at times feeling so lost and lonely, especially in the evening when at the and of the working day, most of the brothers sat around the TV in the recreation room and all conversation was centered around it. I wanted to be able to go walking with someone and to be able to share some of what I lived and to speak of some of what I felt difficult in readjusting to.
I came slowly to realize that after 2 years outside and after all the things I lived and the people I shared with, I was no longer the same, and these brothers seemed to have gone back a few years. We did not meet, so how could we share? How would it be possible to be happy with them if I could not go back to where they are and if they could not come to be where I was presently.
I had to do something, otherwise I could be like the man who had nothing really to share with his wife except food and certain comforts but the real exchange as husband and wife go much further than the material.
One day I was working in the garden of one of our monasteries in the country and a man came and asked me if I could spare a moment as he had a problem. He showed me a bible and asked, “would this be a good book to read in order to convince someone of my beliefs?” He then explained to me that this ‘someone’ was his wife no longer shared the same religious beliefs as when he first met her and in their first years of marriage life. He said, “she has joined this fundamentalist group and has changed so much that its like sleeping with a stranger and I can no longer share the same bed with her.”
It seemed that the life of the city had eaten away the contemplative dimension which was so important for the founder, Francis of Assisi as it was so for me now, especially after my contact with the monks in India. I needed to find that community to which I had a commitment years ago. I began turning to friends in the city who I knew before moving to Toronto and they welcomed me as they were anxious to learn about my travels and about the life of the Tibetan monks.
They were also concerned about the values of the world of today and what was our role and how could we be meditators etc.
It was, that I still had a community with which I could share after all, but it was not the community under whose roof I slept and ate and prayed. It was another decisive moment in life.
Someone said that they believed that the community life of a monk was like marriage, and I explained that in marriage, you married someone, you did not marry a community or a family for that matter.
In the religious life, I never married a community! I made a commitment with God and I chose to live it in a community and if that does not fit, I move away but I can still stay committed to God.
I can become a hermit or I can really become a monk, as the word monk comes from the Greek word “monos” meaning alone! But the fraternal dimension of a Francisan community is of vital importance and I had to find a solution.
So, after speaking with a spiritual advisor he told me that our Order had a small monastery out in the country about one hour outside Montreal where the accent was on prayer and contemplation and they were very open to dialogue with people of the same interest. He advised me to go and visit them I did and began feeling more and more at home there, I finally asked for a transfer. They welcomed me and I began a new life with them.
Today I live alone. I believe that my ‘community’ has grown. We do not live under the same roof, nor do we eat the same food and share the same rules and we have no vows but we have one thing in common, we are all on a path trying to live and serve truth and as they say today, quoting Ghandi, trying to ‘be the change we want to see’.