So for someone considering going forth and living the Holy Life*, what would you say are the benefits?
AM: Spaciousness: mental, emotional, relational. You have permission to move through the world, touch it, sense it, observe it, without being defined by it. That’s the most direct answer. And three other things come to mind. The first is to do with consistency of practice. Have you ever seen someone try to start a fire by rubbing two dry sticks together? If they take a break when they get tired, the heat doesn’t build up sufficiently for the fire to ignite. ‘Going forth’ is making a public statement of our commitment to live the celibate renunciant life for the purpose of purifying the heart. This effectively puts you in a position that makes it hard for you not to keep practising, to not keep firing up the furnace of purification. We all know what it’s like to feel enthusiastic for a while and then find the energy passes, leaving us unmotivated. Having the robe on stops you from doing things that delete the goodness your practice has generated. It stops you from backsliding. I recall many years ago one teacher told us how he had been in robes for about thirty years but he had only been a monk for about nine; he had only really practised for nine of the thirty but during the intervening twenty-one he hadn’t fallen backwards. So one benefit of going forth is what it stops you doing.
The second thing is what it gives you. Sangha life provides the optimum environment for delving into dukkha (fundamental suffering, or ‘unsatisfactoriness’). If we want to wholeheartedly, single-mindedly inquire into the process of ignorance, then we need to be able to draw on a huge reservoir of goodness. Attempting to transform our suffering without access to a lot of well-being is doomed to failure. The Holy Life as set up by the Buddha is a goodness generator. All our activity – body, speech and mind – is guided towards enhanced integrity and expanded compassion. We learn to expect from ourselves, and others expect from us, that we continually increase in goodness. These expectations are helpful. The values of the casual culture in which we live condition expectations that do not accord with Dhamma. They aren’t helpful – quite the opposite. Wearing the robe of a samana (religious renunciant) elicits free energy, so to speak, by way of what people project onto us. Even in a country like Great Britain that is not predominantly Buddhist, most people recognize a monk when they see one and expect us to be kind, patient, considerate, friendly, wise. It makes it a lot easier to live simply, harmoniously and contentedly.
This reflection by Ajahn Munindo is from the Forest Sangha Newsletter, April 2008, p. 9.