Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Monastery Within

Gil Fronsdal's new book is out. A gem, if only because of its title. "A Monastery Within" very much resonates with how I have been feeling lately. I used to fantasize about leaving my life behind and joining the monastery. That fantasy was a trap, I realize as it was yet another way to delay the work to be done. It has now become clear, there is no need to wait. The monastery is right here, right now. Opening the door of the monastery means meeting each moment with full attention, knowingly, and with openness. This can be done any time, anywhere. It's just that I am not used to that way of being. 

Today, gifted with lots of time to myself, and hardly any distractions, I had ample opportunity to observe the times when I dwelled in the monastery, and those when I didn't. I saw that the times within were few and far between. It was hard to stay in the monastery. 

Although a most wonderful place for sure, the monastery requires from oneself great discipline, and surrender. In the lay life, distractions abound, that continually test one's resolve. It is important to know which ones one is most susceptible to, so that conditions can be set to minimize them, therefore making it easier to stay in the monastery.

On the list of distractions that take me out of being present: computer, iPhone, eating, daydreaming, multitasking, working too much and too fast, reading, moving around . . .  What are your distractions?

The main motivation for staying in the monastery is the intuited sense of the happiness that it beholds. It is also the realization over and over again of the suffering from the many string of moments not really lived, and avoided instead. At some point, the wise one says enough, and armed with new resolve, sets out to create the conditions for longer and longer stays in the monastery. And of course, there is always the possibility of refuge in an outer monastery, once in a while, to help solidify the structure of the monastery within. A luxury for most nowadays, and one I am contemplating. 

Until today, I always thought of the monastery as a place to get to, and enter. Now, I see it more as a place to enter and stay in. Not leaving the monastery is the big challenge. 


  1. When I told my Tibetan teacher of more than 35 years that I was thinking about going on a 3 year retreat he agreed with me completely .

    When asked him which monastery he said it would be better to do it in cave.

    When I asked where the cave was located,he replied "in your living room".

    I have been on a retreat my living room ever since.Although I leave it everyday to ..volunteer,shop for groceries, cut the grass in the summer/shovel the snow in the winter, visit with my 90 year father,my children and grandchildren, play with the neighbors kids and take my cats to the vet as required.
    Lama Karma Thinley was very wise when he gave me that advice and it benefits me everyday!!!


  2. Norman - great response there and great wisdom and advice from your teacher.

    Marguerite -

    The one main distraction that takes me out of the monastery is fear. This is the one I continue to work on and nurture.

    I really like Gil a lot and I always make it a habit of listening to his talks. I'll have to check out his book. More and more I'm beginning to understand that the monastery is the world we live in. It's not about escaping from the world by turning inward, but instead more about gaining a greater sense of wholeness and connection to the world by turning paradoxical as that may sound :)

  3. Thank you Norman. What an inspiring story! Is he still your teacher?

  4. Your comment reminds me of comment I heard from Mingyur Rinpoche during Joy of Living retreat I took with him. "Make fear (or any other perceived obstacle . . .) the object of your meditation." Rinpoche knows quite a bit about fear as he suffered from panic attacks for many many years, before he was able to overcome it through meditation practice.

    May you dwell in your fear, and may you be happy!

  5. Tashi Delek Marguerite

    Yes Lama Karma Thinley has been my root guru and only significant teacher for all these years.Going on 4o years now.

    Through him I was introduced to the 16th Karmapa Rigpe Dorje and received a teaching from him.

    When I was going through cancer I had to deal with fear. As you say in your comment re Mingyur Rinpoche,Karma Thiney taught me to place my awareness on fear.That fear was actually and literally a form of energy.

    Through working with the Canada Tibet Committee I have met many remarkable lamas and monks who had suffered extreme unimaginable and incomprehensible punishment and torture by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution.

    They all attributed their ability to survive due to the Dharma teachings about fear.

    By the way,the Dharma teachings also appears to have given them the skills to come out of the experience as beings who are the personification and embodiment of Lovingkindess.Remarkably their only feelings toward their captures is one Compassion.
    They actually pray for them .

  6. Beautiful, Norman! Thank you so much for sharing, and for the gift of inspiration.

    In gratitude,