Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Rule

A hermit is a monk living by a rule of his or her own authorship. This differs from the more familiar cœnobites, who live by a rule written by someone else, such as St. Benedict, St. Francis, or Dogen. Cœnobite vocations are typically patrolled by a single living brother or sister (their abbot, master, or teacher), who claims sole right to interpret the founder's intent.

Notwithstanding we founded monasticism, (as well as most religions), there has always been tension between hermits and cœnobites. The latter often rebuke us as frauds, slackers, or lunatics. (In fairness, we judge them as well, as predatory hypocrites enslaved to worldly dharmas.) Profane society in particular looks upon eremitical monasticism with a jaundiced eye; it is a great believer in credentials.

Meanwhile, I am a great believer in practising what you preach, and also in not wasting my time. Hence I am a hermit.

When I became a monk, the rule I took was I am determined to live properly until I die. It may appear simplistic to some, or over-general. But I have found that the greatest temptation, and the most deadly, is to leave the path. To take another apart from, and often contrary to, the founder's teachings, by way of comfort or expedience. The most pernicious are those that sell themselves as a bridge back to the core teachings. (Hence the draw of the monastery.) Yet the founders have all said that the true path is through the river. There is no dry-footed enlightenment.

Within days of taking it, my Rule sprouted two dependent vows. And those vows generated subvows.

1. I will remain a monk for the rest of my life.
    a. Nothing will end my practice.
    b. I am the final authority in my practice.

2. I will honour my karma.
    a. I will not own a bed.
    b. I will not initiate courtship.
    c. I will not work at violent or harmful tasks.
    d. Fear of consequence will not rule my decisions.

A day or two later, a third surfaced: I will not record any more vows. I didn't record it, nor any other of the twenty-odd that eventually formed my one-man constitution. Written law invites sophistry.

So I could not, if I tried, recite them all. But they come when called, potent and unwangled, and always judicious: I will do what I can. I will leave others to their conclusions. I will practice Zen.

That last one is a killer. Try it.

I dare you.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of ISAKA Yoji and WikiMedia Commons.)
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