Asked to introduce myself during a seminar recently, I said that I live as a lay monk in the Soto Zen tradition. I used “lay monk” as short-hand as I’m not a monk in the commonly-understood way, someone under such vows as obedience, chastity, and poverty. Yet I think of myself as one. In the Buddhist tradition, guidelines for living an ethically authentic life include not to do harm, to use sexual energy appropriately, to speak honestly, and to be of service.
I often wake up to the awareness that I’m given another day (or moment) to be alive; when this occurs I smile and bow towards the bed. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground, says Rumi. “If the first thing you think of in the morning when you wake up is God, then you are a monk!” says Br. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and interfaith activist. According to Fr. André Louf, a Cistercian abbot in France, “a monk is a person who every day asks, What is a monk?“
“The monk in all of us,” writes cross-cultural thinker Raimon Panikkar, “aspires to reach the ultimate goal of life with all his [or her] being by renouncing all that is not necessary to it, i.e., by concentrating on this one single and unique goal.” Panikkar speaks of the inner monk as essential to our humanity. And it doesn’t require an overtly religious context, he claims: “The monastic vocation as such precedes the fact of being Christian, or Buddhist, or secular, or Hindu, or even atheist.”
sources: For a general discussion and the Steindl-Rast and Panikkar quotes, I’m grateful to the late Wayne Teasdale, himself a lay monk in both the Roman Catholic and Hindu traditions. In: Teasdale, W. (2002). A monk in the world: cultivating a spiritual life. Novato, CA: New World Library, pp. xxiv-xxvi; also Panikkar, R. (1982). Blessed simplicity: the monk as universal archetype. New York: Seabury Press, p. 16. image: a youngish Dom Louf.