Why be a Monk? The Art of Having Less and Loving More

Explorations of Buddhism and Modern Takes on Tradition.


Gong… gong. You wake before the sun, from light sleep to the darkness of the early morning. On your way to prayer, you stop to breathe in the rays of twilight that break through the horizon and bleed through the trees. You speak with no one. You take your time. You start in stillness.  

The western world is overflowing with noise, plagued by the “HyperNormalisation” of political chaos. So many of us, surrounded by everything and anything one could truly need, walk the streets, asleep. Trying to quench an undying thirst for material possessions. If we stopped for a moment, we would see material desire for what it truly is… a bottomless pit. We have been raised in a society that is attempting to engineer us to function as cogs in a very dysfunctional machine. We may throw around phrases like “money can’t buy you happiness” but still get caught up in the rat race of pursuing economic reward, status, and stability. Meanwhile, our planet, physical and mental health is taking a back seat. A monk lives on the charity of others, choosing an end to entitlement, no “mine, mine, mine,” no endless desire for more, but a deep appreciation for what is. 

If we stopped for a moment, we would see material desire for what it truly is… a bottomless pit. We have been raised in a society that is attempting to engineer us to function as cogs in a very dysfunctional machine.

How do Buddhist monks live? 

Buddhism is an encompassing term for a huge diversity of practices and lifestyles that have evolved in a number of different cultures to form the Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna lineages we see today. Buddhist monks take full refuge in “Triratna”, a Sanskrit word that translates as “three jewels”. These are: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.  

Buddha means “enlightened one,” referring to a state that can be experienced, rather than an individual. Dharma is the teachings of the Buddha and Sangha, the community. Dharma, also “cosmic law” or “phenomena,” reminds us of the nature of impermanence, teaching monks to accept flux and flow, freeing them from Dukkha. Dukkha (or Duḥkha) is suffering, and Buddhists believe it is caused by aversion to natural laws or the craving of alternative states from which we are ignorant. Various forms of meditation are practiced in different traditions to overcome Dukkha. The enlightened one does not take change personally, to them, life is impersonal everchanging phenomena and they retain union with this understanding. By taking refuge in triple gem, the monk takes shelter, not in a material sense, but an inner shelter. They accept that true utopia can only be experienced through the liberation of our minds.  

By taking refuge in triple gem, the monk takes shelter, not in a material sense, but an inner shelter. They accept that true utopia can only be experienced through the liberation of our minds.  

Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha, was raised in riches from which he renounced all. Beneath a tree, he was born, achieved full enlightenment and passed away. Such significant events of his life took place immersed in nature, and it is fitting that Buddhists form strong relationships to the natural world. Many Buddhist monks apply their beliefs of non-violence, love and compassion to all beings and go to great lengths to respect and care for nature. When it comes to taking food, monks are to cause as little harm as possible. Even the life of a plant should only be taken for the highest purpose of necessary nourishment.  

Naturally, when you stop looking to materials and devote your life to the cultivation of deep internal happiness, your carbon footprint is very low. Monks do not own things, they do not need to travel and they eat what they are given. By taking refuge in Sangha, monks live in communities that allow for a more sustainable use of resources, to give many people only what they need, with little to no waste. Ask yourself if the high you receive when you purchase an item is worth the enormous energy that created it? Do you think that temporary feeling of excitement amounts to the steady joy of a monk? The monk knows the art of simple living.  

Ask yourself if the high you receive when you purchase an item is worth the enormous energy that created it? Do you think that temporary feeling of excitement amounts to the steady joy of a monk? The monk knows the art of simple living.  

For the householder  

The thought of giving up all the things that we consider a part of who we are, is terrifying to most. It would be incredibly unrealistic to expect such a transition in modern times. But there is much wisdom to be taken from the lives of monks that can be incorporated into the lifestyles of householders. In Buddhism, if you are not a monk, then you are a householder, and with the societal responsibilities we choose, it is harder to retain union with natural law. However, we can take inspiration from the noble path of monks with small changes that could amount to drastic transformations. Here are my suggestions: 

Dharma & Sangha 

Many scientific studies advocate the power of meditation for our well-being. If meditation has not worked for you, know that there are a number of different methods and that it takes time and determination to get results. Some people find they are better suited to more active forms of meditation found in martial arts or yoga. If practising yoga, make sure it is authentic and not a westernised exercise class.  

We can also strive to cultivate a healthier relationship with nature by changing the way we perceive it. Nature is not separate from us and does not exist to be exploited for the production of resources. We need to live with nature, harming no part of it other than for the highest of purposes. Instead of looking for visual stimulation in technology or purchased goods, go out and experience the beauty that is given to us for free.  

Sangha can serve as inspiration to form our own sustainable communities. We can make more effort to share our possessions, food and time with one another, to help the external world to become a little more utopic.  

Check out pgLang 

Artist, Kendrick Lamar, has launched an exciting new company called “pgLang,” which will transform ancient spiritual concepts into artistic mediums that resonate with a modern audience. The visual mission statement can be seen here and the website here

Vipassana 

Across the globe there are vipassana meditation centres where you can go and experience the life of a monk for a short time. Vipassana centres are completely free of charge, to spread Dhamma and to allow you to know what it means to live on the charity of others, humbling your ego. They offer silent meditation courses, without any contact from the outside world. Vipassana is not sectarian, and anyone from any religious background can attend. The meals served are vegan/vegetarian. More information can be found here

Minimalism 

We can also take inspiration to live more simply by embracing the beauty of minimalism. Below are some tips to help you rewire your habit of consumerism by getting rid of unnecessary items and preventing accumulation.  

  • Put items you are unsure of keeping in a box, seal it up and place in storage. After a couple of months, you will know if you really want it or whether it made little impact on your life. Perhaps it could be used and more loved by someone else?  
  • Ask a friend to walk around your room and question why you want to keep certain items. This forces us to confront why we keep things and to evaluate if there is valid reason to do so. The decision is still ultimately your own! 
  • Don’t make immediate purchases. If you are about to buy something you don’t exactly need, practice waiting a while before finalising a purchase.  
  • If you really want to buy something, consider having a “trade it out” rule, so that whenever you buy something new, you give something you already own to a friend or charity 

Art by Oliver Walter

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