Saturday, March 06, 2010

Swallowing the Middle Way Pill

Buddhism is certainly the hardest pill to swallow. Everything about us screams out against the middle way, trying always to find some way to make things permanent, satisfying or controllable. We push and pull, trying to make things go our way, never realizing that we are but dust in the wind, tossed about by storms of our own making.

The middle way forces you to give up everything about who and what you are. This is the hardest pill to swallow. It is hard not because it is wrong, but because you are wrong. Everything you cling to is painful, everything you stand for falls over, everything that has meaning to you is meaningless. It is the ultimate test of selflessness.

All of that is very dramatic, I suppose, when relating to the events of today... we did manage to compromise on the issue of opening a new center in North Hollywood under Wat Thai. I think the solution is really the best... it didn't seem right anyway to make such a young monk the head of the meditation department at such a big monastery with such big and powerful monks, and a couple of times at the meeting I suggested that the best thing for me would be to just leave and find a place more suited to my way of practice. So, we swung back and forth, me trying to explain how difficult it is to run a meditation center when you are nothing more than a resident teacher under the authority of people who know very little about meditation centers in general, and they trying to tell me that everything would be just fine doing exactly that.

There were other complaints as well, like how I don't make effort to get along with the other monks, not going to the daily chanting, etc. Actually I do go sometimes; not often, though... part of this is just laziness on my part, what with all the teaching and stuff. Another part is that I didn't grow up Thai, and so I don't understand what the big deal is about chanting in general unless it is for the purpose of memorizing something, or as a specific meditation practice. Finally, much of the chanting is silly anyway, stuff about living in a cage made up of the various characters of the Buddhist religion, extolling the praises of the Thai king, etc.

The best argument I heard, though, is that it should be easy to run a meditation center if you are virtuous and pure; this is always something that hits home to a Buddhist meditator... we can always improve in these areas. This is surely a part of the problem; as long as one is not fully enlightened, there will always be conflict, always suffering. But given the blatantly obvious differences of culture, practice, understanding and opinion between me and the people I am supposed to work with, I think the comparison between my difficulties and the apparent ease with which Thai monks are able to run things is a bit of a stretch. Anyway, this is one I'm going to have to work on; I know I'm not perfect, and that if I really could see things perfectly clear, there would be no difficulty in this project or any other I could undertake. Such, though, is the path of practice.

So, in the end, a couple of them understood and the rest were willing to concede to my demand that they give me some sort of position of authority to run the place I am supposed to be running, while I conceded to their claim that to turn the position of meditation head over to me, when the vice abbot currently held it (no matter that he has never taken any interest in the position), would be potentially hazardous to the general sense of harmony (or what's left of it) among the monastic community. And actually, as I said and the more I think about it, it's a really great solution. I have no delusions of grandeur; I am a young, foreign monk with a lot to learn about being a good monk, let alone running a meditation center. I'd rather just have the monastic community at Wat Thai forget I exist than become some big shot head of a department, but what I tried to make clear is that if you want me to do a job, you really have to give me a position.

At first, they thought I should be content as "Ajaan Vipassana". I refused. They've agreed to add "ผู้บริหาร" to the mix, a title that means "administrator" or some such thing. That's about all I really want, but I know how these things go. They say to me that they're going to make this perfectly clear, but when it comes time to meet tomorrow I am sure it would have been far more muddled had I not held my ground - such is politics. So, I was stubborn, and said "we'll see" when asked if I was satisfied. I really like some of the board members; some of them seem really sincere and have really worked hard to help keep the monastery going. Some don't seem as dedicated or as sincere, but such is the way of things. The head lay man requested that we have another meeting with the monks in LA to talk with them about it, so all is clear and they don't feel slighted. I think that's a great idea, and I said so. If there's one thing I like, it's constructive meetings - the Buddha was clearly of such a mindset as well. They said I should go to the monthly meetings of the monastery as well, and I said I was more than happy to from now on. I'm still not decided about the chanting though; I am just fine without the cage, thank you very much.

Tomorrow, the real meeting.