I told the story of the monk Shantideva, who wrote the classic text “The Way of the Bodhisattva”. We can all find some inspiration in his story.
Shantideva was not a popular guy. He lived at a monastic college with 500 other men and had no friends. Everyone thought he was a lazy jerk and they looked for creative ways to bully him. They were wrong about him. They thought they could make him so embarrassed that he would leave forever. Instead they got one of the greatest spiritual teachings of all time, The Way of the Bodhisattva.
Buddhism is sometimes seen as a path that is governed by strict rules of discipline. There can be a tendency to see the ideal student of the Dharma as someone who endures great hardship in the name of practice, as the Buddha did before he discovered the Middle Way
In the early days of the Buddhist order strict rules for behavior were developed for monks and nuns. In many traditions these rules, called the vinaya, are still held in high regard and adhered to.
The Mahayana approach, however, often stresses a more flexible approach to behavior. The five precepts are considered the most important part of ethical conduct: Not to kill, not to steal, not to enage in sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to drink intoxicants. Although these have been set as rules, their purpose isn’t to shame us for breaking them, but to encourage the conditions that can help us come to an understanding of the Empty Mind Ground.
In the Mahayana tradition we are expected to be motivated by the viewpoint of the compassionate Bodhisattva.
I have met a lot of Buddhist monks from many different branches of Buddhism and there’s something they have in common.
I have met Zen monks who have renounced worldly life but still live in the world with the rest of us. Most Zen monks don’t take vows of poverty, but some do.
I have met Tibetan monks who spend almost all of their time living a life of quiet contemplation in monasteries. (aside; a couple years ago when my son was one year old, a group of Tibetan monks were surprised when they saw him. They had never seen a redhead before.)
I’ve also met a former Theravada monk, but I’ve never met a current one.
The monks I’ve encountered seem to have one thing in common. They all own iPads and iPhones.
Obviously they are useful. A monk can carry hundreds of sutras with him in an iPad. It’s not like they are using them to play Angry Birds.
But it does seem strange to have a vow of poverty and an iPad, doesn’t it?