Published in Inspiration Input
I had left Wellington without a destination. Late at night, in the condition others call "lost" but I call "exploring," my headlights shone upon a massive wooden gate and a sign reading "Bodhinyanarama Buddhist Monastery."
It was clear to me that, though I had not intended to end up here, it was no accident. In the morning, the gate was open when I awoke; I dressed and walked up through it.
I found two men building a set of dirt-and-log stairs up a bush-covered hill. One of the men had a shaved head, and was wearing golden-coloured robes and sandals. The other had on jeans, a T-shirt, and gumboots. The monk - I later learned his name was Sucinno - told me to talk a walk further up the hill to see the stupa, or reliquary, which was under construction.
The walk to the stupa was the beginning of a set of discoveries within myself which I hope will continue for the rest of my life. I had had no previous contact with Buddhism, though I had heard of it and read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. So I sat, and listened, and read in the library.
I discovered that the Buddha, who was a real person of whom there are historical records, taught four Noble Truths: the existence of suffering, the causes of suffering, the alleviation of suffering, and relief from suffering. His main idea was - and is - that the issues which most concern humans (enumerated as birth, death, aging, separation from the liked, and association with the disliked) all result in, and cause further, suffering in the world.
The more I read, the more I was convinced the Buddha had it inside out: life was not suffering but joy; suffering was caused by human imperfection and behavioural flaws manifested in search of joy.
The Buddha further taught that Enlightenment, relief from suffering, could be had only by individual searching of the inner and outer worlds. He taught that inquiry and investigation were the way to seeing the world as it truly is, which is how he defined Enlightenment. This involved detachment of emotional ties from people, places, and things. The monks chant, "All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise, will become separated from me." The impermanence of things, beings, and feelings is key in Buddhism. What is is the only constant, and it lies behind the veils of what we think is.
I agreed with a great deal of this thought process, particularly in its encouragement to see through the smokescreens we create around ourselves, changing who we are into who we think we want to be, or who we think others want us to be. But I also felt that the push for individualism was a bit overdone.
Beyond the basic belief structure, I also had some problems with the lifestyle. There is lots of sitting meditation (2 hours a day), not much eating (only before midday), and an incredibly intellectually rigorous environment (the hard part is figuring out how to ask the many questions which arise). My legs like moving too much, my stomach likes eating too much, and I sometimes need a break from inquiry to recharge my mental batteries.
I found a passage in a book by a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Munindo, which said that he felt joy and suffering were inseparably linked; that breaking through suffering resulted in joy. I reflected that none of the thing which had ever made me feel joyous were without a share of suffering at some stage. However, it was not the acceptance of suffering but its rejection which drove me through and beyond the hard parts and, ultimately, to joy.
And so the journey continues, with much more to think about than before; I go forth in search of joy.