“…I will finally see that the path, just as it’s always been and always will be, is right there in front of me.”
That’s how I ended my first book, The Narrow Way. It was meant to be a teaser. A hint at the grander things that I hoped would come. The thing is, I really had no idea where that path would ultimately lead.
But then again, maybe I did.
From the beginning, all the way back to that first trip to India in 2008, there was a part of me that knew that someday I was going to become a monk. I’m certainly not clairvoyant, but I remember a clear vision of myself, as clear as an open-eyed dream, of some not-to-distant future.
I was dressed in red robes, head shaved and shiny in the sun, sitting (I remember green grass and clear sky) legs crossed and smiling. I looked genuinely happy.
I always held that picture in my mind as a carrot at the end of a stick. A goal to look forward to as I took on the sometimes daunting tasks of writing books, trying to cultivate some understanding of the dharma, and learning a new language. All of that in-between hopping across the oceans, to and from, India.
But for the longest time, I kept the “vision” mostly to myself. I would whisper hints to my close friends and family from time to time. But always I’d end with a shrug of my shoulders and a coy “Yeah, but we’ll see…”.
I think I just knew how serious of a choice it was. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a fleeting whim. I mean, I was talking about taking the monastic vows, after all. Promises to commit myself to the Buddhist path, to see it through to its ultimate end. I didn’t want to take them lightly.
Seven years past. I flip-flopped from time to time, thinking that maybe I would wait until retirement to take the vows. Or maybe I would just wait until some future life.
But the feeling, the pull, the longing (for that’s what it was and more), kept coming back.
“You must become a monk,” a voice kept saying. “It’s the only way to make the best use of this precious human life. Anything else will just be marking time.”
And as I thought these kinds of things, I would realize that my lips were turned up in a smile. The same smile I imagined in that vision of my future self.
So back in March I made up my mind to finally ask my Lama, directly and decisively, for permission to take the vows of a novice monk, also known as Getsul vows.
He looked around the room as if he were thinking. Then he asked me to think about when I wanted to take the plunge.
But there was no need to think.
“As soon as possible,” I said.
There were some ups and downs after that. Quite a few downs actually. Was I making the right choice? Would I be able to uphold the vows? Would I ultimately fail?
But these were just echoes of my fears. Some old, some new.
In the end, I went for it. I can’t be too particular about the details of when, where, and how. Politics, ya know?
It was beautiful, that much I can say. It had been raining for days. Snowing in the high mountains even at the end of August. There had been magic and mystery a plenty on the trip so far, but for that hour, as I sat in front of my preceptor reciting the promises to spend the rest of my life (and more) on the path of liberation, there was just stillness and waiting.
And then it was done. I was a monk. Easy as pie.
It’s been about a month now. I’m almost comfortable getting dressed in the morning. The robes are tricky things to learn how to wear. My hair is growing back from that first shave but I’m already looking forward to cutting it again.
I’m down at Namdroling Monastery in South India now, taking the first few steps on a journey of deepening my understanding of this new life I’ve decided to live. I will be resuming my study of Tibetan, as well as learning how to be a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
But they’re just stepping stones really. The real lessons I think, will be in learning to let go of myself, my fears, my personal agendas and desires. All the things that keep us bound and tied.
In any case, and as always, I’m looking forward to sharing the journey.