At its heart, a monastery is sustained as a spiritual sanctuary. What creates a monastery is that everyone who comes through the gate undertakes to live by a certain standard, to conduct themselves in a certain way in terms of honesty, nonviolence, modesty, restraint and sobriety.
Within that zone, it’s a safe place: no one is going to rob you, to chat you up, to try to sell you anything, to attack you, to lie to you, to be drunk. It’s an environment that maximizes the supportive conditions for helping you to cultivate kindness, wisdom, concentration – the whole range of wholesome spiritual qualities.
There are also teachers available. You might think that a great master like our teacher, Ajahn Chah, may have spent his life up in the mountains, meditating under a tree. He did that for a number of years, but once he opened a monastery, he spent much of the next thirty years sitting under his hut receiving visitors from ten o’clock in the morning often until midnight. That’s the teacher’s job: the doctor is in.
Not every monastery functions in that way, but it’s generally the job of certain members of monastic communities to be available to anyone who drops in. If you want to talk to the Ajahn, you don’t schedule a private interview, you just hang out until there’s an opportunity to ask your question.
In this respect, intrinsic to a Buddhist monastic life is the fact that you can be called upon to some degree or another to share with other people the wisdom and understanding you have developed. Whatever good is developed in the lives of the inhabitants of the monastery is made available. Of course, some people are not disposed to be teachers. Yet just aspiring to control your bad habits and get your mind a little bit clearer is in itself a great gift and a blessing to others. It’s a beautiful example.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, The Dhamma and the Real World, (pdf) pp. 9-10.