Unique Experience-LiveIamA long distance hiker. I've hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015, Pacific Crest Trail in 2016 and planning on the Continental Divide Trail in 2017. AMA!
Oct 29th 2016 by sohikes • 19 Questions • 197 Points
Hello friends. I'm a 38 year old American who started meditating around age 27, became a Buddhist at age 30(in 2008), and around age 33 my practice lead me to desire to become a Buddhist Monk. It took some years to shut down my life though as I had an almost decade long career in (CPS)Child Protective Services, as well as a photography business and various debts like a car payment that I had to clear before renouncing the lay life.
I am a Bhikkhu, a fully ordained Buddhist Monk of the Theravada Tradition(found most prominently in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma,Laos). in 2014 I moved to a monastery in America and became ordained there, without any need to go overseas. I plan to stay in America and help others like me who were searching for truth to find the dhamma as I did. I also like helping spread awareness of Buddhism in the west, and I view doing things like this AMA as a way, not to convert people, but for the average American to gain a better understanding of what Buddhism, and being a Buddhist Monk, is all about. Going out in public as a bald headed man in robes always brings about a lot of questions from people who are not use to seeing such sights.
This is my first time attempting to post in AMA, I've tried this twice before in casual iama and was overwhelmed by the response and all the questions. As before I will do my best to take the time to answer every question thoughtfully, although I can't stay glued to the computer forever, It may take some time to respond but I'll get to each question if i can.
Here is a photo :
in addition to a long running youtube channel : www.youtube.com/studentofthepath
Prevous Reddit Casual IAMAs: (first one done upon leaving to the monastery, second done upon lower ordination to Novice Monk)
After hiking the Appalachian and Pacific Coast trails, what is a food you hope you never have to eat again?
What are some of the most common misconceptions Americans have about Buddhism?
Cliff bars are pretty boring, same with Luna bars. I got pretty tired of Idahoan Mashed Potatoes that I ate almost every night on the PCT.
There are quite a few. Firstly I'd like to state that "Buddhism" covers a wide area both geographically and in time, and just like there are a variety of types of Christianity that developed over time, so to are there a large variety of Buddhist traditions, some of which have little connection to each other except for some of the most basic teachings of the Buddha. I will try to be as general as possible in my answer but I do admit to coming from one particular tradition which holds importance on the oldest teachings, so much of my answer may not be 100% accurate across all traditions.
One of the Biggest is regarding the Dalai Lama,whom most westerners, including myself in my pre-buddhist days, viewed as a sort of Buddhist Pope. This is in fact far from the truth as he represents only one school of Tibetan Buddhism which accounts for about 6% of all Buddhists. Like most westerners however the Dalai Lama was my first exposure to Buddhism, and is a respected monastic and public figure.
There is no centralization of power in Buddhism, with the exception of some Buddhist countries like Thailand where government and Religion are so intermeshed that monks hold government ranks and get titles. These powers however hold no sway outside of said countries and have no relation to the actual monastic rules of living passed down for 2600 years. Generally speaking every monastery, and every monk, is a "free agent", so long as they are following the basic vinaya, rules for the monks, and this is essentially done on the honor system. There are no bishops and cardinals and popes, no inquisitions and no excommunications.
Another large one is that Westerners get hung up on rebirth and other things related to the teachings. I think this stems from a judeo-christian upbringing. I myself did 12 years of catholic school, was an altar boy, youth group leader, the whole thing, so when I speak about these things I'm including myself and my own misconceptions as a westerner. In these religions you had to believe, or else you were a sinner, going to hell, etc. I'm a Buddhist monk, and i can't say I 100% believe in rebirth, and thats ok. The Buddha teaches us to question even our most deeply held views and beliefs, like the belief in a soul, a permanent self, let alone something like rebirth. We are called to come and see the truth for ourselves by examining our own experience deeply, and with insight begin to see things as they truly are, not how we wish them to be.
I suggest to many people who are interested in buddhism but get hung up on these kinds of things, that it is ok to shelve them and practice, as you will see the benefits of meditation and living by virtuous principles in the immediacy of your daily life as your mind changes and you become less judgmental, of yourself, and others.
I'll close out by also saying that due to the previously mentioned Judeo-Christian backgrounds, people are looking for something that is "like" a religion, but what you can try to get away with and not call it a religion, but a "philosophy" and things like this. Buddhism has come down to us in Asia through 2600 years and has become a religion, complete with all the trappings of it, rituals and ceremonies etc.
Each person doesn't have to take Buddhism on as a religion, and in deed people can remain whatever religion they were raised and take aspects of Buddhism that help them, this is common.
You also see today in the 6 Billion dollar mindfulness industry that it is also common to take the teachings of the Buddha and make them clinical and scientific. There is a wide range of practice going on, from the religious to the secular to the scientific, all of which stemming from the teachings of a bald headed guy in robes 2600 years ago.
What did you do in the Marines? Do you think your time in helped prepare you for long-distance hiking?
I play a level 6 elemental monk in d&d. What's the difference?
I was in the infantry. Being a grunt definitely helped. I got used to walking long distances with heavy thick clothing as well as over 100lbs of gear on my body.
Going from that to hiking with thin and moister wicking clothes on, shoes instead of boots and a pack that weighs less than half of that was amazing.
Also zero chance of stepping on a bomb
It depends on whether the monastic as developed the powers that come with a highly concentrated mind, like being able to use fire to defeat dragons etc, read peoples mind, bend earth, teleport etc, although these kinds of things are usually for level 10 and above, I'm only at about maybe level 3 or 4 myself.
btw I use to play D&D, was a huge gamer and pc nerd, played and loved TT/pc/console RPGs since the 80s, love the question.
Looked to be deleted from the blog. Mind giving us a copy pasta?
Are you worried one day you may not be able to turn back to lay life and live normally again? I.e you may be past the age of relationships kids careers etc?
? I still see it.
I was married in my 20s and long before I became a monk the practice lessened my need to attach to another person and I became quite content with myself. I kept myself open to the possibility of a relationship happening, but I never felt the need to go searching for one.
I was also 36 when I moved to the monastery, even if I had a kid now I'd be a senior citizen by the time they graduated high school. I also know that if I ever decide to leave the monkhood I have my previous skills and experiences to fall back on to get by. I'm not worried at all if I have to leave, although this is a fear for some which might keep them in robes even though they don't want to be.
What has been the hardest part of monastic living for you?
Did you follow the eight precepts regularly before becoming an anagarika? If not, was that a big challenge for you?
No I didn't. I vaguely remember trying to follow the 8 precepts a few years back but then I realized they are just not really compatible with a regular lay life and were not something I felt was that important to undertake. I was coming to the monastery for retreats of visits every 2-3 months and doing my daily practice, I felt that was enough.
The 8 monastic precepts are really only meant for lay people living at a monastery, or when they practice on uposatha, not for regular daily living, although it is true that there are some rare lay people who do follow it for however long they feel is necessary.
The hardest part of monastic living has been pretty much everything related to food, and getting use to living with other people in tight quarters again.
What, from all your travelling, has been the most important lesson you've learnt? Also where's the most beautiful place you found but didn't expect?
Also you're like a god to some of us ngl. Long distance walking has always been a dream, a little different over the pond though...
Hmm. I think the most important thing I learned is to get out travel as much as possible, to experience something. Get away from the cubicle, get away from the internet, the media that tries to brainwash you, all that crap.
Being on trail cut off from society made me realize how fucked up the world was. I'm assuming you're not in the US so you might not understand it. I remember on the AT I took a couple days in town and when I turned on the TV all I heard about was people debating over the color of a dress. Seriously, I couldn't believe it. Every news channel was talking about this as if it really mattered. I couldn't wait to leave the hotel.
On the PCT every time I got into town something terrible happened in the real world. First the shootings in Orlando, the next time in town it was the shootings in Dallas, then when I got into Oregon it was the shootings in LA.
It's much more peaceful and easy on the trail.