Thursday, March 08, 2007

Homeless, Unemployed Bum

I've received a lot of strange criticisms from Westerners since becoming a monk, starting with the King of Uganda but certainly not ending there. The general idea, I guess, is that we monks are nothing more than homeless, unemployed bums. Well, let's see what Oxford has to say...

Homeless (no definition in Oxford):

Homeless means without a place to live (cp. home). Kind of like "sugarless". Only you don't see advertisements for "sugarless" gum. It's "sugar-free". And, that's what I am. I'm home-free. Free from all the worries and cares that beset those who undertake the quest for a home external to their heart. Free from children, free from mortgages, free from fear of loss, free from busyness, free. Home-free.


adjective 1 without a paid job but available to work. 2 (of a thing) not in use.

Unless monks are "things", I don't think this applies. Indeed, we work our jobs unpaid in material terms. I worked a 5 to 9 job (5 AM to 9 PM) this February, and will again in April, and never get paid a dime. But available to work, no. Not unless you would have me work another job from 4 - 5 AM or 9 - 10 PM...

Bum (2)

noun N. Amer. 1 a vagrant. 2 a lazy or worthless person. 3 a devotee of a particular activity: a surf bum.

I assume we're talking about the second type of bum, as the first is unlikely to find itself homeless or unemployed. A vagrant. Hmm... Have to look that up. Vagrant: noun 1 a person without a home or job. 2 archaic a wanderer. Yes, no home. No, we do have jobs. Study, practice, teach. Personally, I don't often wander. I usually travel with purpose, like most people.

Lazy, worthless. This is a judgment call, I think. Maybe, if you consider sleeping six hours a night lazy... some meditators consider it so, and when I meditate more than 12 hours a day, I sleep around four hours, or not at all. Or if you consider how worthless this body and mind is, but that is true of any body and any mind. Useful, maybe. Worth anything? Nah.

Devotee... yes, that's it. We're Dharma bums. Home-free, unpaid Dharma bums.

"Maybe I'll be rich and work and make a lot of money and live in a big house." But a minute later: "And who wants to enslave himself to a lot of all that, though?"

-- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

"yatha yatha khvaha.m bhagavata dhamma.m desita.m ajanami, nayida.m sukara.m agara.m ajjhavasata ekantaparisuddha.m sa"nkhalikhita.m brahmacariya.m caritu.m. Ya.mnunaha.m kesamassu.m oharetva kasayani vatthani acchadetva agarasma anagariya.m pabbajeyyan"ti.

"Verily, as I understand the dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is not an easy thing to do while one dwells in a home to live by the holy life in all its entirety, in all its complete purity, polished as a shell. What is it to me? I shall shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes and go forth from the home life into homelessness."

-- Ra.t.thapala Sutta, MN 82