GUEST POST by Rob
Someone suggested I tell my story, so thought I’d write a bit here about my time in the NKT, in case it’s interesting or helpful to anyone. There’s nothing incredibly scandalous or juicy, but why not.
I got involved in the NKT at a young age: 19. I first discovered Manjushri Centre at a low-point in my life when I really needed an escape. The atmosphere of kindness was very new to me, and I was hooked in almost immediately because of that. I didn’t know a whole lot about the different traditions of Buddhism at the time, so this was also the time I fell in love with Buddhism, without realizing what I had found intertwined with the good stuff.
After I returned home from a working visit, I meditated on my own and felt my heart chakra lit up for the first time in a special way, which I felt was the presence of Buddha at the time. This experience confirmed to me that everything was true and good. (I think this is one of the main ways we get hooked into traditions. We have spiritual experiences, and this leads us to adopt the associated beliefs with less questioning. At least this is my experience. Like a Christian who feels the “holy spirit”, then adopts the bible because of it.)
I then got involved with my local centre in Preston. I starting attending the pujas and GP classes, not really knowing what was going on at the time. A couple months later I was encouraged to move into a centre, and so I moved into the centre in Lancaster. Due to the meditation experiences I was having at the time, I never really questioned anything for a long time. Meditation in general and chanting can have a big effect on the mind, no matter what tradition or religion you’re in. In my mind, everything I was being told was true, because the practice felt really good.
I soon became the resident teacher’s lap-dog, and she joked with another nun that I was like Milarepa, and I felt like him (thankfully without the back-blisters!) Though I had been a lazy person in general, so I was thankful for the kick up the backside. I was scared of spiders, so I had to clean all the spiderwebs from the gompa, and capture the spiders and release them in the basement. The agony! I designed the centre publicity, with her over my shoulder, having me scrap one version after another and redo, over and over again (like Milarepa! but admittedly, a bit easier, heh.)
I was always taught to keep a pure view, so I had become to believe she was a Buddha and I ignored any mistakes or strange behaviour I saw. Looking back I know she was very young herself and inexperienced. Running a dharma centre after 6 years experience. But she was a good woman and person, but very indoctrinated.
I ordained at the age of 21, having only lived in the dharma centre for 1 year. I was entranced with the robes. I guess inside I wanted to be “special” like that, like I was getting into some kind of secret society. I really don’t feel I was mature enough at the time to make that decision.
As a monk, I never really felt 100 percent a monk. The lifestyle didn’t feel “monk-like” enough. I felt in-genuine. If I saw monks from the original Tibetan traditions, I would feel like they were proper monks, and I was a pretender. I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself, and yet, in a way I was right. It was all too easy to get robed up, without having the real motivations behind it.
Over time, due to working closely one-on-one with my RT, I began to develop attraction and feelings for her. So I decided to move to the centre in Preston. Where it was not long before I was enrolled on TTP and teaching a branch GP class.
I always felt a lot of guilt in my practice, that I was never doing enough. Every time I saw Geshe-la speak, he would give us a new practice and tell us to do it every day. And I really tried. I had all the hours of the day mapped out, and my daily practice became intense. Combined with the stress of TTP and teaching my GP class, I became like a time-bomb. I was doing too much and pushing myself too much. But I didn’t feel like there was any other way. I was frightened of entering the lower realms, dieing before my time. And I’d made all sorts of commitments to different practices, and I didn’t want to break them. I felt trapped.
I began to see my practice as this big, complex struggle, that I had to go through every day. It all seems so complicated, when the whole point was supposed to be inner peace. It just didn’t seem right. I began to sit out in the garden at night, and just sit and do nothing at all, and my mind would go quiet and I’d feel at ease.
I discovered a Theravada teacher online, called Ajahn Brahm, and I watched his videos, and his teachings made a whole lot of sense, showing a maturity that I didn’t see in the teachers of the NKT. “Pure view” had stopped my from seeing that. There was always a voice in the back of my mind, when Geshe-la was teaching, that told me he was basically reading from a book. Geshe-la teachings were never that inspiring to me, now that I think back. He sounded like he was just parroting his teacher, just like all the NKT teachers parroted him. Ajahn Brahm, on the other hand, was not a parrot. He spoke from his own experience, person to person. He knew the essence of the teaching, so he didn’t need to recite his own teacher’s words, word for word.
I attended the protests against the Dalai Lama in London, which I sincerely regret now. I don’t feel guilty, as I had no malice at all, but I regret it. I remember at the time, shouting the words with the others. I don’t even remember what the words were now. When I saw the supporters and students of his holiness walking by, after his teachings, I felt a lot of peace and love emanating from them, and I knew there was nothing wrong about them. I even saw the Dalai Lama in his car, and he waved to us all, as if we were dear friends. Some of the monks protesting with me seems pretty angry and aggressive. Some made a point of being peaceful, but there were a lot with aggression. One in particular was my own RT at the time, who is a well-respected monk. I suppose he thought he was being “wrathful”?
The leaflets we were given during the time of the protests were quite shocking, and caused many doubts among practitioners. The issue was that our propaganda brochures appeared to be written by an angry baby. The wording was very immature. We wondered, “had Geshe-la written this himself? And if not, surely he has at least approved the brochure?”
Going back to my life in the centre, my practice began to crumble, and I dropped out of TTP and stopped teaching GP. I began watching DVDs in my room instead, of Dirty Harry and the like, heheh. Luckily, I had a friend in the centre. A “non-Buddhist resident”. He’d spent some time with Theravada monks years ago, and had a “distaste” for the NKT. I’m wondering if the whole reason he moved into the centre was to rescue people from the NKT. He acted like a father figure for me, and was there for me, and backed me up when I was developing my doubts and considering disrobing and leaving the NKT.
I wanted a simpler path. And I began to question all the things I’d been believing blindly. Then there came a time when I decided in my mind that I had disrobed. As soon as my RT found out, he wanted me to leave the centre the very next day, without giving me chance to sort somewhere else out to live. Luckily my friend had some knowledge of the law, and told me they couldn’t do that. So I refused to leave, and carried out another month, mostly staying away from everyone except “the non-buddhists”.
When I finally left, I fell into a bad depression. All my beliefs were stripped away through what seemed like an unstoppable process, and I was left knowing completely nothing, and I was scared. I didn’t know where to turn, what tradition or religion, or what. I didn’t know what to believe anymore, but all the NKT stuff was still ingrained, and for the next year or so, and even now I suppose, I feel like there’s something I should be doing to avoid the hell realms, or something like that. And Sometimes I randomly worry that I’ve made the wrong decision, and I don’t want to accept it if I have, as I “abandoned me spiritual guide”, which equates to a billion aeons in hell or something. It sounds ridiculous, but the beliefs really get ingrained. The mind gets familiar, as the NKT would say.
I really feel lately, as I really feel like a child. I don’t know anything at all. Everything has gotten so complicated, and life seems really challenging. I don’t know who is right or wrong, how I should live my life or what.
I also seem to have developed some level of realization of death. It was one of my main practices as a monk, I did it every day, but never had a feeling for it. But now I think about death every day, in a spontaneous and frightening way. Like the raw, reality of it hits me in the face, like a very sober awakening, but I don’t know what to do with it. With no faith in anything, there’s nowhere to turn with that fear. I feel paralysed in my life, and I’m slowly wrecking everything. I don’t have a job, and I’ve been getting sanctions on my benefits. I’ve even been smoking weed. I just don’t have any ambition any more, or any clue as to what to do with my life, and I just can’t find an answer.
To wrap it up, some positive things I got from my time in the NKT:
I learned a lot about acceptance, and it’s a skill I can still use to deal with any situation, even pain. Though this was due to my own constant practising and contemplation, learning to notice the way the mind resists, and releasing it. I wouldn’t say it was down to anything written in the NKT texts, aside from the initial few sentences that got me thinking about it.
I learned to still my mind with concentration, and my ability to do this in meditation is still in-tact, post-nkt. Though again, I kindof feel like I learned this in-spite of the NKT. The whole practice never seemed that conducive to concentration to me, as there were just too many different objects to concentrate on, that it seemed ridiculous in the end.
Though now that I think about it, I think I had to basically re-learn meditation after the NKT, as for a long time I just couldn’t do it. Later I came to realize that meditation wasn’t taught that well at all in the NKT, after I listened to other meditation teachers, who clearly had a lot more genuine experience, which they spoke from, rather than para-phrasing books. Now I’ve learned to be at ease with myself, and it is a big difference to the constant struggling I experience in the NKT.
Ajahn Brahm had explained about Goal-Orientated paths and Source-Orientated path, and the NKT is a goal-orientated path. There is a lot of striving, at least that is my experience. Which is not very conducive to peace in my opinion.
It is nice to have let go of all that.
Anyway, hope this wasn’t too long and boring. Forgive me if the writing is a bit scattered.
(Oct. 4th, 2012)