What is a Monk?

Images arise: sandals, tonsure, a rope for a belt; fat, jolly friars partial to frothy beer; gaunt, hooded ascetics with a fondness for self-flagellation; Saint Francis as a perch for birds, a lone figure silently standing in a garden; saffron robes mottled by a green forest; red robes chanting the sutras in ornate temples. Some images are true. Some are fiction. Always male. I guess women who follow The Way are referred to as nuns.

But as Saint Jerome once said, “Interpret the name monk, it is thine own. . .”

To be a monk is to follow an uncharted path. It is a journey of discovery, a quest to find the source of the river. Along the way, he or she may stop to test the water, to gauge its clarity and determine what direction to take.

A monk, however, doesn’t stop to build a church along its banks or form an organization to advance the expedition. The quest leaves little time or energy for worldly matters.

A monk will forsake a personal family but sees all people encountered on the journey as a brother or sister. Nevertheless, a monk often walks alone. A monk has few friends. Few companions are willing to also search for the source of the river.

A monk is celibate so to be blind to the world of duality, seeing neither male nor female, neither old nor young, neither beautiful nor ugly, seeing not the flesh, but the light of the soul.

A monk lives simply treating possessions as cumbersome burdens. Though grateful for all that is given, he or she remains detached.

A monk is imperfect. Only God is perfect and a monk seeks perfection through God.

A monk is a child who will stumble. Monks know they will trip over his or her mistakes. Chastity, simplicity and devotion are all practices and like someone learning a musical instrument, the wrong note will often disturb the harmony but the monk continues to practice.

The Way of the Monk is difficult. Obstacles get in the way. Sacrifice is painful. Confusion lurks at every new turn in the road. Nevertheless, the monk will continue to walk and stumble because the monk is homesick. Home for a monk is not a place but a state of being.

Some will see the monk as mad or foolish. Some see only the images found in picture books and movies. Look closely and see the scarred bare feet from thorns trampled underfoot. Feel the ache of loneliness when no one listens, the tear-filled eyes that have seen suffering in the world, the broken body that has struggled to free itself from the trap of trivialities.

Look closer, however, and you will also see a smile. For the monk who has found the source of the river is given “what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, and what has not arisen in the human heart.”

The Way of the Monk is difficult. Obstacles get in the way. Sacrifice is painful. Confusion lurks at every new turn in the road. Nevertheless, the monk will continue to walk and stumble because the monk is homesick. Home for a monk is not a place but a state of being.

Some will see the monk as mad or foolish. Some see only the images found in picture books and movies. Look closely and see the scarred bare feet from thorns trampled underfoot. Feel the ache of loneliness when no one listens, the tear-filled eyes that have seen suffering in the world, the broken body that has struggled to free itself from the trap of trivialities.

Look closer, however, and you will also see a smile. For the monk who has found the source of the river is given “what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, and what has not arisen in the human heart.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s