Rigid Alms, Shaving My Head, and Some Thoughts

Today is Day 6, Thursday April 16th. I’m up at the normal 2:40 and I feel great, not tired at all. During the morning meditation and chanting I’m able to relax and get that tight feeling back in my chest again. After sweeping a bit I go on alms round. Alms round is supposed to be like a walking meditation for the monks and they have precepts not to talk unless necessary, but I think the people here take it too far. I don’t understand why they don’t talk with the people giving food on alms round. They don’t even look at them either! That’s going against principles that I’ve been taught my whole life and I don’t agree with what they’re doing at all. I think they should get over the specific rules, which were probably changed somehow over the past 5,000 years somehow anyway, or they were meant for a specific group or generation of people that don’t apply any more. All I know is that the basics of the teaching in Buddhism and all other religions talk about loving and connecting deeply with other people. How is it showing love and deep connection if they don’t even look at the people let alone give a smile or a short sentence to make the other person smile or laugh. If I was steering this ship, I would be smiling and joking with the people and maybe even ask them about their practice or something about their life. I would get to know the people who are supporting my practice. Then, instead of them just giving alms to make merit, it would be a time where they could relax and release a little bit of their everyday tension. I watched people faces very closely in this exchange and the villagers have a terrible tense and lack even the smallest bit of happiness in their face. It looks like the face of a baby who is being force-fed some vegetables it doesn’t like.

After the meal I go to the guest monk and ask him about some of my experiences last night after meditation. I tell him about relaxing and feeling the tightness in my chest and he just confirms the obvious when he says he thinks that is where I hold tension and it’s just something that I couldn’t feel until I got relaxed and quiet enough to listen. That’s good at least that it’s not a big problem yet, but something that I want to continue to learn how to release and learn how not to store tension there again. I told him about my experiences with the standing meditation and my vision changing. He looks a bit surprised and said that is very common and usually comes when people have high levels of concentration. That sounds nice, but I’m not sure I totally agree. I still have plenty of distraction that comes in to pull me away from whatever I’m concentrating on. Either way I’m not doing this so I can goof with my eye sight, I’m doing this for a much deeper reason, so I’ll just keep practicing and be comfortable that someone didn’t just drug me if I ever get to that part of practice again.

Today, the monks are all shaving their head, so I’ve decided to shave in line with their schedule. The monastery asked me to shave before my eighth day anyway, so I figured it would be nice to do it with everyone else’s schedule. One of the novice monks told me he would help me to do the razor part as well. I brought an electric razor with the side burn shaver on the side. I use that to make my hair as short as possible before I get help from the monk. After getting most of it off I go over to the work shed where everyone shaves their heads and washes/dyes their robes. The monks at the shed are telling me not to shave my eye brows because I’ll look like an alien, but I if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all the way, plus I’ll probably never do this again. The novice uses a razor with one blade and the safety broken off to get my hair down as close to the skin as possible. After he’s done I shave my face and then go to the mirror to take a look. My first reaction when I see my self is “Hey, it’s Uncle Doug!” I go to feel my smooth head and find out it’s not smooth at all. If I rub in the direction the hair grows then it is, but if I go back against, it feels like dense, sharp sandpaper.

My head is done so I thank them and leave to go back to my kuti to sweep. I can feel the breeze on my head which is a strange feeling I’ve never had before. After sweeping I feel really hot, so I go over to the water spicket next to my kuti and wet my face and my head. Almost instantly the water starts to evaporate off my head and pull the heat away from my body, I’m in total ecstasy. This maybe the most refreshing thing I’ve ever felt on a hot day. I relax for a bit and think about staying here long term in September again. I’m feeling better about this place after the discussion yesterday with the crazy evangelical monk, but I’m still ify about staying here. Ajahn Chah and some of the Buddha’s lectures talk a lot about needing to find a spiritual teacher and I just don’t feel like there are any here. It feels more like everyone is working together to use Ajahn Chah’s words as their guidance. Well, I have a huge problem with doing that. In fact, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves about institutional religion. I personally don’t believe in following exactly, the words of these leaders who came thousands of years ago, or even their disciples who came after. There’s so much room for interpretation changes by the languages it has passed through, the people who’ve been translating, cultural meanings, and so many more factors. With all that said, let’s say that they were all tracked very well and done in a skillful way that didn’t lose much. My biggest issue is that I believe these teachings, from any religion, are just a signpost pointing to something much bigger. They point to something that can’t be fully described in words. Can’t be described into words like a parents love for their children or explaining color to someone who’s never had sight. You can try to explain those things, but it will never be the same as the experience itself. I think that’s partly because some things are just too complex for language, but more so I think it’s because they’re so personal. I think if this weren’t true and we could understand and pass religion through words, then everyone who reads the bible or scripture from the Buddha, or any other religion, should have realized the same spiritual progress. As we all know that’s not true. They have to read the scripture and then put it into practice and realize it for themselves. A big part of teaching that process requires the leader to have gone enough down the path themselves, by putting the readings into practice, in order to be able to look back and help those still traveling the beginning parts. Someone like that doesn’t exist here because all I hear them say is quotes from Ajahn Chah or the Buddha. It’s fine to talk about those general lesson and themes, like I do as well sometimes, but to quote things like which foot to start walking with is absurd to me, without actually having realized that lesson and understanding why. At some point we have to put the scripture away and just teach/learn from our own hearts and experience, other wise we’ll just be studying the sign post and without ever actually reaching the destination where it’s pointing.

We have a big sweep where everyone goes around the whole monastery. I see one of the top Ajahns and of course he looks at me and then looks quickly away, like oh I can’t interact with the peons, I have to act like I’m mindful. He sweeps in the opposite direction in a very hurried manner and his path isn’t thoroughly swept either.

At tea time I walk over to sit with the other laymen. I keep scratching my head really hard and forgetting I have hair. You’d think after the first time I almost scratch through my scalp I’d learn, but I keep doing it!

At the tea everyone gives me a strange look because it’s the first time some of them have seen me with a shaved head. I don’t mind the looks as I don’t think it’s a big deal at all. One of the laymen talks about some of his amazing experiences from meditation and it makes me think about my own last night. I also remember what the guest monk said about the experiences that made me more determined to keep practicing and less attached to those experiences when they come up again in the future. He told me those feelings are wonderful and a sign that you’re reaching higher levels of concentration. He said it’s okay to be “blissed out” for a bit and enjoy them and even gave an example of the Buddha doing the same; uhhh huh. Then he said if we keep stopping at these feeling and indulging in them, then we will have missed out on the point completely. I’ll use an analogy to explain what he said next, mostly because he said it in a boring way. It’s like someone handed you a key (being your concentration and bliss) and told you that you can use the key on the door (analyzation of life and gaining of wisdom) in order to leave to your freedom (The next step or level of depth in practice). If we just hold the key and don’t use it on the door, it will have been pointless to have gotten the key in the first place. The point of this practice is not to gain super powers of concentration or just feel amazing all day. Instead, it’s a tool to gain more wisdom about ourselves and life in general. Then, hopefully through that understanding there will come a more sustainable peace that might then be useful to others on their own paths.

Back at my Kuti I open all my windows and my door. I have a four pane view of the forest and it’s stunningly beautiful. I can only see one Kuti and can’t hear anyone, so I feel very secluded also. I sit down to meditate as the sun is just beginning to fade. I listen to the sounds of the forest change as I’m guessing the sun is going down. Then after some time I open my eyes and it’s totally dark outside. That was a pretty cool transition. Time for sleep to prepare for another day.

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