Inspiration is like a bright star that shines among the dim. In Monastic life, there are few monasteries or monks that really inspire people. Following the vinaya (or rules) inspires people. It is tried and tested.
This was an old picture when I was in a vinaya monastery that follows all of the rules including the “basic ten rules” that a 7 year old beginner monk is supposed to follow. “Varanasi” is the name of the monastery which is a learning monastery that was started by an Ethnic Nepalese Myanmar community. If I do not return to Hawaii in June, I might consider going there to continue my studies after I my planned 6 to 8 week mediation retreat during April and May. The conditions of the monastery are secondary to being inspired by monks who follow the rules.
I lose faith and inspiration when I am not with my fellow vinaya monks and need to make my own faith and inspiration. That is why I go walking for alms on my days off even though the food quality and conditions are less. When I go to a new village, like I did today, the villagers were not ready for me, but the compassion is always there. I get inspired by people who smile with joy when I tell people who want to offer money, “paisan makhainboo” (I do not deal with money) which seems to be a popular and probably preferred “alms food” for monks. However, I am different from the other 98+% majority of monks because I do not like the taste of money nor like to touch it.
Living outside of the vinaya monasteries is like running the 26 Mile New York Marathon with only 5 friends and nobody else. It can be done, but it is not easy. In fact, it is rare for someone who is training for a Marathon to run more than 18-20 miles alone. The push of the crowd running with you, is what carries you to the finish line. I have never really lived outside of “vinaya” monasteries before this year. I have been outside and have decided that the small bubbles that exist are rare and precious. They are difficult to create through proper means and are fragile when they exist. I know this from Kaua’i, Hawai’i.
Varanasi Monastery was filled with ethnic Nepal monks early on, but that failed. There were not enough Nepalese monks who had “stayed” in robes long enough to sustain a monastery even though there are 300,000 ethnic Nepalese in Myanmar. However, a small and Buddhist educated class of people in Myanmar seek out vinaya monasteries and the monastery has still grown with local Myanmar people from all over the country. Not every parent would like to send their kids to a monastery that does not serve dinner or even a snack after Noon. There are only few choices for monasteries that follow the rules and Varanasi monastery is on that map. If you look closely, I am in 2014 picture of the Varanasi alms line.
A quote that sometimes fills my mind from long ago. I could only remember a few lines until I looked it up. I have always believed it was a song about saṃsāra or the rounds of rebirth. But now that I see the full lyrics, I see that it is about those who are different and shine the way.
“Terrapin Station: Terrapin Station”
Inspiration, move me brightly
Light the song with sense and color,
Hold away despair
More than this I will not ask
Faced with mysteries dark and vast
Statements just seem vain at last
Some rise, some fall, some climb
To get to Terrapin
Counting stars by candlelight
All are dim but one is bright:
The spiral light of Venus
Rising first and shining best,
From the northwest corner
Of a brand-new crescent moon
Crickets and cicadas sing
A rare and different tune