Author - LiveI am Dacre Stoker, great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker, expert in all things vampires and author of Dracula the Un-Dead, Ask Me Anything.
Oct 30th 2016 by DacreStoker • 23 Questions • 287 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)
What do you think is the one important feature of dracula that gets the most overlooked when people talk about the book?
What are some of the most common misconceptions Americans have about Buddhism?
I think a message that Bram was telling us all was that evolving science and technology in the Victorian era was a good thing, and in the hands of the right people, like the Crew of Light, it can show us a way to a new future in the modern age. It was used to battle the supernatural from the old world, aka Dracula, but at the end, faith in goodness still reigned.
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's your biggest piece of advice for those considering becoming a monastic?
I've seen from your tumblr that you have a variety of meditation styles like vipassana, mindfulness of death, and metta practice. Do you think it's important to have some level of competence in each of these styles to practice alongside your main meditation technique? (This second question wasn't meant specifically for a those who are monks)
Finishing writing a book - that feeling of putting it to bed is great.
Also, being so engrained in gothic culture means I get invited to some amazing places and events. At the moment, I'm writing this in the shadow of Bran Castle as part of Night At Dracula's Castle, which has become an overnight, worldwide phenomenon. Being part of this, and other things like this, are very satisfying as I'm playing my part in keeping the genre alive.
The Biggest piece of advice is not to rush. To take your time and really find examine your experience, ask yourself if the monastic life is right for you. Get to know monastics and ask any monastic you can what their advice to you would be.
examine also your reasons for wanting to become a monk, aversion to the world is not a skillful reason(aversion is quite different from disenchantment/dispassion), for one example, nor is lack of job prospects and other worldy reasons.
as for the second part, all of those "meditation styles" are part of the overall schematic of the buddha's teaching that can be found in the Sattipatthana sutta, anapanasati and the like. These are all meant to be part of a wholistic approach to right effort, abandoning unskillful habitual tendencies, and abiding in skillful ones.
Do you have any hobbies? Can you play video games or watch tv every once in a while or are those things you were required to give up?
video games, tv etc are all entertainments. It is against the rules to partake in these kinds of things as they are distractions. They are however among the most minor of rules, even among the minor rules that are confessed.
Sometimes when you are out in the world, or visiting family and friends, you can't really escape these things, so its really more about desire and intention.
I've known monks to watch movies, but it's not something that is really condoned. Some traditions of Buddhism are much more loose though and there are Shambala monks who watch movies, play baseball etc.
it is fine though for monks to watch non-fiction. We can watch stuff about history and science and things like this, but even still we have to watch how we are using it and how much. there are monks who go to college and get their degrees and even PH.Ds.
Monks can have hobbies, I've known a few that draw, some tinker with mechanical stuff, others write. I was told by a senior monk when asked for Advice that a hobby is a good thing for a monk to have.
most of what I do is buddhist related, I do videos, write on a blog, work with a media team for the monastery etc. I also like to learn about astronomy and science. I'm currently learning spanish as well as the buddhist language of Pali for ancient text learning.