Monday, September 24, 2012

Monk Geek

When I was 6 we got our first computer, the Apple IIe (yes, I too used to be an Apple fan - I got over it).

I remember one of my earliest introductions to the power of personal computing, when my father taught me my first program, written in illustrious Apple Basic:

10 PRINT "Noah is a turkey!"
20 GOTO 10

I think my father might also have something to do with my sense of humour, come to think of it.

I was home schooled until grade nine, and the computer did probably as much to shape me as it does people nowadays, though in the time before modems became popular.

Geek is part of me, I guess, something I have to accept. It could be worse - I almost decided to become a theoretical mathematician.

But monk has also been a part of me since I can remember. I had a terrible dream when I was about five I think. In it, my brother killed my father with some kind of magic stick. Crazy dream, meaningless, really. But the death part of it scared me a lot. I remember mentioning the dream to my father while we were lying in a field of tall grass together, but I couldn't bear to tell him the content of it.

I remember once, around the same age, picking a wild flower for the house - and by picking, I mean pulling it out by the roots. My father scolded me, explaining that the flower would never grow once it was uprooted. Funny how difficult that was to understand, and I'm not even sure it is related, but human death was equally difficult to understand. I think I was about eight or so when it really hit me that everyone has to die.

I still remember that night. I walked downstairs and saw my mother typing on the computer - she was using a newsletter program, I think; she made family newsletters and sent them out to family and friends (yeah, I have cool parents, deal with it). I was in anguish looking at her from behind, knowing she would have to die one day. Then, one by one, I thought about all of my family members in the same way. They would all die one day. It was enough to make me terribly want to cry.

The (wannabe) psychologist in me thinks that that was the reason why around that time I found it impossible to sleep alone at night. At the time, I think it wasn't so clear - all I remember is that when everyone was asleep, I felt like I was alone in the world and that scared me a lot. I think I must have thought the rest of my family was dead, though maybe I'm just drawing conclusions. Maybe not. Anyway, it became a veritable neurosis - for a few years of my life, I couldn't take part in sleep overs - I would call my father to come pick me up; once my grandmother had to call a taxi for me.

Anyway, sorry for the sordid details of my childhood life, but it is my weblog after all - sometimes surprises me who reads this stuff. The point is, death meant a lot to me, and so did philosophy, though I've never really studied it. I'm sure I read something somewhere about how life is just a chain of events that leads you to be dying without having accomplished anything (school>job>money>retirement>death kind of thing), but I haven't the foggiest what it was. I just don't feel like I came up with it myself, even though I ran with it. It occurred to me that the key to my life would be in not becoming anything, for becoming something was to enter the current and be dashed against the rocks at the end of the river of mindless life (okay, it wasn't so poetic at 11... indulge me).

Oh, and togas and women's clothing, they were important. My brother once caught me trying on my mother's dresses. I still remember how embarrassed I was, especially when my mother tried to defend me. I think she was trying to defend the fact that I was effeminate, which, though true (see my flower child picture), was not the reason for liking dresses - I just liked dresses. I remember overhearing my parents worrying about whether I was gay; I think I was just pre-monk.

Today, monk is an obvious part of "me", more important than geek for sure. So, much has had to change. So far it's been more about quality than quantity, When I first started meditating, I gave up computers entirely; didn't even want to touch them. Lasted a month or so. Fast-forward almost 13 years and I'm a webmaster, GNU/Linux user (I have a script that uploaded the flower child picture from the command line, after I ssh'ed into our server to look for it and couldn't find it), and novice programmer in at least three computer languages (my PHP is better than my Pali).

I did an interview over email earlier in the year about my use of technology as a monk. A monk read it and, after telling me I'm the subject of much consternation among real monks, said he hopes the interview never gets published.

Why am I writing this? Some just for interest's sake; thirty-three years of me has had its interesting parts. But I'm coming to something.

It's not really that I want to stop my online activities. The Internet is cool, even for a monk. In fact, with all the craziness out there, the Internet offers us the best hope for ushering in a utopian future of the sort that the Buddha envisioned as the setting for the arising of the next Buddha. Without the right direction, it also offers the potential of bringing upon us what the Buddha predicted would come before the utopia - a hell on Earth where rape and incest were the norm and war and crime were mainstream sport. The Internet offers both futures; it is infinite potential and infinite danger. I don't have any predictions for the future, but I know that if we don't work to bring positive influence to the world (and by world I mean it in the sense that the Buddha meant it, as experience, of which the Internet now plays an important part), hell is right around the corner.

So, no, I'm not really despairing of the online world, just readjusting myself is all. Somehow I can't bring myself to make more videos just for the sake of putting them on YouTube. It feels too much like proselytizing, though I'm not sure if many people can understand what I mean. Spreading Buddhism is not a goal, it's a part of life. I don't eat when I'm not hungry, and spreading dhamma feels like it needs a similar impetus.

And no, I'm not thinking of moving, just trying to settle down, maybe looking too hard for stability in an unstable world. But really, I insist that it's only for helping others that stability even becomes an issue. If it seemed truly possible to forget about helping others, I wouldn't see the problem with wandering.

What I do see happening are the following:

1) lots of people coming next month (actually a German meditator in three days)
2) daily talks to meditators, I'll try to record audio and post on my audio page
3) Going to Thailand - lots of people expressed interest in joining me there.
4) Making two more videos for kids, maybe another one on how to meditate for adults
5) finishing my translation of Cakkhupala and putting together a Pali textbook/workbook, and maybe one day doing an online Pali course

That's all I can think of now.

Ah, and I updated the article on "Proof of Rebirth", so if you made it this far and are still hungry for more me, go there and read that again. I think I would have written more here if I hadn't spent all my energy there. If I sound depressed, as I think I must, it's just brain freeze. All is well :)

Peace :)


  1. Charline Cormier3:11 PM

    Thanks for sharing. It was very interresting, personal and intimate. It's nice to know a little bit more about a person you listen to everyday. It may not be a very "buddhist" thing to say, but seems like you've always been a very special person :)

  2. Dulmini Silva3:10 PM

    This is just beautiful. Thank you Bhante for sharing !..You're just a very very talented monk. Amazing ! ...I just finished listening to your talk " A comprehensive practice" and everything was so beautifully explained. Love your teching style. May you be well :-)

  3. viscid2:32 PM

    I think the reason for why you evoke consternation from other monks is why your blog is actually interesting to read.

  4. Nicely defined thoughts about your death fears I think many children have. I know I did as well. Buddhism indeed puts things into perspective. Good read. Thanks.