Monk Note: Stand and Deliver…

Here is one response that answers a lot of questions: Is it Good?

This is one of my Abbot’s usual replies when people ask him if they should do something. To be sure, usually they are trying to access some divine portent when asking him if they should open this business, or move to that place. It is not an easy job being an Abbot – subject to all those projections, dashed hopes and fervent prayers for intervention.

Within the temples, the job of the abbot is not highly sought after.

Most monks I know in fact, dread the limelight. Even the Thai monks, many of whom have taken a ‘public speaker’ course in Thai that trains them to deliver dhamma talks. But still they won’t do it. No course can get you over that hurdle, that choice to stand up and deliver, or go back to your room, your practise, your books … Many of the great meditators live and die unheralded. The public never get to know them.

This is not always the case. Sometimes the opposite is true, and you can’t get the guy off the mic, even long (loooong) after they should have stopped. But mostly monks are like regular people and avoid the stage fright, and that gnawing feeling that you don’t have anything to say, that you are unworthy to pass on the teachings of a teacher so great as the Buddha.

…you learn courage in different situations: the first time onstage, when you wish you had never agreed to do it, you curse your pretensions and lament your ego, and want only to go back into the corner. But somehow you don’t; you step out…. Each step is fearful, yet each refusal means not only remorse at an opportunity missed, but worse, despising yourself for not even summoning up the courage to try… –

While he doesn’t enter into too many Dhamma discussions, this telling paragraph is written by Tony Blair in his memoir ‘A Journey’.

Putting yourself in the spotlight, knowing the criticisms that will follow is not easy. Some Western monks I know even avoid contacting me when in town because they are afraid I will put them in front of an audience. Many more will only talk or advise in the comfort-zone of their own temple. Even the Buddha seemed reluctant to teach in the beginning. The story goes he had to be persuaded by the God Sahampati, who convinced him saying “there are beings with but little dust in their eyes“.

In the forest and urban traditions of Thailand, generally monks and nuns will prefer the safety zone  of the monastery. If you want to invite them, sure, you can send a car, feed them and set everything up. It is your business, not theirs.

When it comes to Bangkok, forget it! This is the place beyond the borders, out in the hinterland where things are rough and uncompromising. All these great Mahayana meditators who have sworn to forsake enlightenment for the sake of saving all world beings .. But not in Bangkok. Everything is noisy, moving, stimulating to the senses. Why go there? It is a place to pass through … This is the Wild West of Buddhism where civilised monks and nuns fear to tread.

But there is always some cowboy (in every sense of the word?) willing to boldly go…

Now, ‘The Grass is Always Greener‘ kind of thinking never profits. Of course there are probably lots of places you would be better off, but in none of them can you be sure you are in the very best of places. Sooner or later you must look at one place, and try to be happy there, and do what you can. For myself, that happens to be Bangkok. No one forced me to be here, but it is not exactly by choice either. I could get out on the trail, retreating in beautiful retreats in central Europe, where the weather is crisp, and I get toast for breakfast. Or finding cabins in the thousands of US temples and centres without caring if I mistake a peaceful surrounding for a peaceful mind.

But I am here in Bangkok, at least for the present. This week I go back on the stage again for this year’s Dhamma Talk series. After countless dozens of emails trying to get the PR out there, hours on photoshop knocking up graphics of varying dimensions for different uses, and getting together all the paraphernalia that is needed – including 90 chairs, posters, leaflets ‘n leaflet holders, sign-in sheets, clipboards, mats, cushions, speakers and wires, mic, mic cables, wireless mics, batteries, amp, extension cable, plug strip, donation boxes, 2xcamera tripods, pens, laminated signs, sticky tape to put the signs up …. and a bunch of other stuff – the talks are the simple part.

But it is easy to say why do it? Because it is good.

Thanks to everyone who has supported or encouraged – especially Khun Vararom and Kim who have provided the space for us at the Dance Centre, on top of a myriad of other kinds of help. Everything is in place now, but if anyone would like to help, we’ll need a few hands setting up the room at about 5pm every Monday.

For other (fairly rare) personal comments of mine click here for the Monk Notes.