|Forest Sangha Newsletter||July 1991|
Another Going Forth
You've been a monk for nearly 20 years. What are the things that made you want to disrobe?
When I first came in contact with the teaching of the Buddha, it had a powerful effect on me, and I had a strong desire to pursue it in as whole and complete a way as possible. I was aware that one could become a monk and that was something that I was really inspired to do. Thinking back, that inspiration always carries you for a time and then there comes a time when that starts to fade and you're dealing with the problem of the struggle to live a life of restraint, restriction and a very high standard of discipline.
It was just too painful, so I had to put it all down and wait. And it was after that that the decision just appeared.
|We're all challenged - having doubts and problems with certain aspects of the discipline and so on - and, of course, it's in coming through those periods of great struggle and difficulty that one gains great strength and staying power. So this constant renewal and deepening of commitment is something which has really carried me through all 20 years. Things had never come to the point where I had to ask myself whether it was right to leave. I was never challenged or backed into a corner where I really had to make such a decision.|
Things only came to a head during the last six months, when I was faced with having to make a decision. I feel strongly that every monk and nun is faced at some point with this decision in monastic life. I'm sure it applies to other lifestyles - commitment in marriage, occupation or whatever. You come to a point of 'This is it'. I think it is much more intense in monastic life, because it is such a complete commitment. Your focus is very clear. You know why you're living this life and that there's nothing else that really interests you. And that has such strength that doubts and longings are really peripheral, and not seriously pulling you in any direction.
During the very challenging period of this past winter retreat I was pushed into a corner, and I forced myself to stay in that corner until something gave. It was either I had to stay or I had to leave. There could no longer be a 'one foot in, one foot out' kind of situation. It hadn't always been that way, but it came to where I saw that I did have one foot in and one foot out, and I had to either get both in or both out . . . there could no longer be this vacillation. I was wobbling with indecision and looking back at all the time I had invested ... and then looking ahead, 'What will I do?' And at the end of the day, I could nor consciously make this decision. I couldn't do it.
|But I had to struggle for a good month, and go through a stressful and really horrendous period of trying to decide - and it was the pain of that trying to make a decision that took me to a place of surrender. It was so painful, it was thrashing me so severely that I could no longer follow that doubt. It was just too painful, so I had to put it all down and wait. And it was after that that the decision just appeared. It kind of unfolded, as it were; I quit trying to rationalise and look at the benefits of staying - all the time I had invested and all the people I would be letting down. And in the end I realised that I had to take responsibility - and that I couldn't be staying because I wanted to keep people happy. I had to be staying because my heart was in it. And with that, everything took care of itself.|
So, over a 24-hour period, the solution whether to stay or to leave just unfolded. I had a meditation and it just said, 'Yeah, it's right. I'll be all right.' I just needed to feel that I would be all right, because there was such a kind of . . . guess a fear, of stepping into the unknown. I'd be leaving something I feel very secure in and something I have given 20 years of my life to, this institution that I really love and respect - and a part of me didn't want to leave. But overall, the rightness in leaving overruled everything else, because this was the next phase of my life.
This is now. . . .
I have certain skills in life that I can now take and use in something else. Looking back to 20 years ago when I left America to go off to Thailand to become a monk: all I knew then was that it was the right thing to be doing and I really trusted that - even though I didn't have a clue what I was letting myself in for. And with this move there's that same kind of confidence and faith that this is what I should be doing but, then again, not knowing what I am letting myself in for.
Life is truly a dream.
Bhikshu Heng Ch'au
|So, how do you feel about the Sangha? Do you feel that you deserted them or that some kind of gulf has appeared between you and the monastic community? |
Maybe I could answer that by relating an experience I had on the first morning after I disrobed. I was doing the breakfast dana in memory of my father's suicide, and I got into puja at 5 o'clock in the morning and I was at the back, for the first time. It was quiet, just a nice time of the day. Sitting there . . . the chanting started, and I was really feeling good, and as I started to chant, I just started to look at the Sangha and I wasn't seeing personalities . . . I was seeing human beings in robes. I was looking at the Sangha and the Buddha-rupa, and all of a sudden I just started to get incredibly emotional, and it was a combination of sadness and joy.