Probably the #1 question we get is, “Why did you become a monk?” That question has many factors and answers. However, a better question is, “How did I actually get the nerve to become a monk?” I had a lot to give up. I was a computer programmer and really enjoyed my job. It did not feel like work actually and I was also making more than 15 times what someone on minimum wage was making at that time. I had gone through the “Should I stay or should I go?” routine many many times but never really committed myself to monkhood.
Below is an excerpt from Going For Broke which explains the second of three tipping points for me. The first tipping point was to leave my job because of an animal rights issue came to light with the blood analyzer I was working on. The last tipping point was when I came to terms with the “deal” I made below, and knew in my heart that it was the right decision.
While I was in Kauai and Fiji, it was quite evident that I was losing my Buddhist path. You may have questioned my writings and said to yourself, “Is he really going to follow through with this monk thing?” You may have asked this question once or twice, but let me tell you that the question has plagued me throughout the entire trip.
So the story…
When in Fiji, I was in the ocean showing these two travelers how to play “Shark Attack” and “Whale Breaching.” “Shark Attack” is a simple game where you pretend that a shark is eating you alive, like a scene from the movie “Jaws.” Each person takes turns trying to perform a more realistic or humorous shark attack. In “Whale Breaching,” you jump out of the water and then flops onto your side just like a whale would do during mating season. These are some of my favorite games to play in the water, and they surely kick butt over the usual “Swim to Nowhere” or “Marco Polo.”
After returning from the water a few hours later, I looked at my wrist to find out how much longer we had to wait until tea time and noticed my watch was missing! It seemed I had lost it while playing “Shark Attack.” A member of my “Shark Attack” audience said they saw something fly off my wrist as I submerged and waved my hands for help during my Oscar performance, “The Fijians Are Not the Only Ones Who Eat Humans.” Unfortunately, that audience member passed off my airborne watch as seaweed and did not mention it to me. OOPS!!!
I immediately got some snorkel gear and started searching. It was not to be found. After dinner, when it was low tide, I decided to take another look… Still no watch. I told some Fijian kids I would give them lots of money if they found it. They looked around for a few minutes and gave up, thinking it was silly to look for a watch after it had been lost in the ocean for four or five hours.
Losing the watch was quite symbolic for me since it was most useful for waking up early at the monasteries and timing my meditations with its countdown timer – that is, whenever I reserved the time to meditate. The frequency of meditation sessions during my trip had quickly dwindled, and so did my Buddhist path. Losing my watch was a big message for me. I wondered if it was possible to recover what I had lost… and that ain’t the watch I’m talking about either!
Later that very night I had trouble sleeping. I happened to wake up as the sun was starting to rise. The sky was red, the beach was empty, and the water was low. As I was walking, I asked myself, “I wonder if I can find my watch this morning?” As I approached the shore, I thought about how impossible it would be to find a watch lost in the ocean for a whole day and a whole night. I said to myself, “If I find my watch, I will definitely become a monk! No more games – I will really do it.” Almost immediately from the distance I could see something flip-flopping as the calm morning ocean waves lapped the shore’s edge. As I walked closer, I saw that it was the black Velcro strap of my watch floating with the face half-buried in the sand. The water was still passing over it. I hesitated for a moment, smiled, and felt something like a defeat or possibly a surrender. There were no more games I could play to excuse myself from ordaining.
Standing in front of my watch, I thought of the impossible “If I find my watch…” promise I’d made, which I thought I would never be held accountable for. Nobody would ever know if I just kept on walking, but finding the watch was just too much of a coincidence to let this moment of truth simply drift away. I lowered myself down to pick up the watch. I had to be true to who I was, or what I was to become. As I picked it up, I felt it was one of the heaviest things I had ever picked up. Change and destiny, especially my own, bore a lot of weight. After this, the only question was when I would become a monk, and that was only a matter of time.
The third tipping point happened at Sai Babba’s Ashram. It is also from the book Going For Broke1This quote has been slightly modified to give more detail.
…It was an experience to go see Sai Baba, and during this experience I finally made up my mind about when I would end up in Thailand.
I am a Libra. As you may know, Libras have a very hard time making decisions. In the past I used a little trick to help make decisions, flipping a coin and calling heads or tails. Although it sounds like the familiar trick, I do it a little differently. I flip the coin and if I do not like the results, then I choose the opposite, the one I liked. This method lets me get in touch with my heart and what I feel I really want to do. Recently, I had made a similar test for whether to go straight to Thailand. Rather than flipping a coin, I used my “flippies” (flip-flop thong sandals). It was appropriate because I was using my shoes to decide which path I would take!
On my first day at the Sai Baba ashram, a Westerner told me to get a different (cheaper) pair of shoes before my Tevas got stolen outside the temple. Not everyone who comes to the ashram follows the Universal Rule (love and respect others). Luckily, I heeded his advice, for within 24 hours my 50-cent “flippies” were stolen during breakfast. One of my friendly roommates jokingly told me that someone outside the ashram was probably wearing my shoes. I responded that I really pitied the person who has to walk a mile in my shoes!
After a few days of putting my shoes is places that would be less likely to be stolen, I challenged myself that I would go straight to Thailand the next time my shoes got stolen. I became fearless concerning my shoes. I started to leave them neatly together near the entrance of everywhere I went. Eventually I was putting them right in front of the exit and facing the right direction so that one only needed to slip his feet into them and walk away. “Go ahead and take ‘em,” I would say to myself. When I would come back and find them still there, I sensed some disappointment. Later, I realized becoming a monk was now in my heart. I could make a decision finally under my own power. With this in mind, I made up my mind to rush through India and Nepal and then fly directly to Thailand before my 30th birthday. For the first time in 11 Months (has it been that long?) I have an itinerary! I’m now a tourist rather than a traveler. I recently gave my compass as a gift to my camel driver. I no longer needed my compass at this stage since I finally had a clear direction in my life.
And so that is what happened. I ended up in the monastery on October 5th, only one day before my 30th birthday.