A Monk Rethunk

Kathmandu, Nepal

Man. I am nervous/reluctant to even write this. I hope this doesn't offend anyone who has an impression in their mind of Buddhist monks - like I certainly did - that they were men of the holiest ilk, men who chose a life asceticism and monasticism thanks to some higher calling or extreme religious devotion...

But after talking to multiple family members of monks in both Nepal, Thailand, and beyond, I started to get a sense that this might not entirely be the case. Based on the first several people I talked to, Buddhist monasteries started sounding suspiciously like a choice of last resort, almost like the eastern equivalent of sending your disobedient child off to military school. Then, as I talked with more people, the stories began expanding to include men who went off to be a monk because they were in crippling financial debt... or women who joined as a way to escape an abusive relationship. I heard stories of people in dire straits joining for a whole assortment of various reasons, except not once did I hear any reason given that sounded remotely religious.

That was the only common denominator across all these accounts - not one person I spoke with even so much as hinted that their loved one became a monk for reasons of intense religious conviction. In fact, it never even came up. The omission was so obvious and consistent, that I got the feeling it was almost implicitly understood. It felt like something everyone else knew but me; like a tacit understanding that, of course, people only join a monastery when they are in between a rock and a hard place, and becoming a monk is the softer of the two hard options.

Granted, this is all heresy and anecdotal, but personally, I had one of my SIXTH SENSE moments, as these conversations turned my world topsy turvy, and had a dramatic impact on the way I understand Buddhist monks.

I'm not saying that there aren't monks with deep-seeded religious beliefs or ones that develop spirituality and faith over time once they join, all I'm saying is that I had many conversations in multiple countries that led me to reevaluate my previously held conception of a thing, and I simply could not resist sharing it here.

This is, obviously, also combined with my own belief that people don't just wake up one day and decide they have had a religious calling so strong they need to abandon their life (along with everyone and everything in it) and go live in ascetic isolation with a group of strangers. It makes sense to me that there would probably be an inciting - and very compelling - incident.


To lighten things up, why not visit these monk children HERE and HERE!