Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


The World Is My Monastery

Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, California, USA

April 8, 2008

"I do live in a monastery. My monastery is the whole world."  ...   answering the question "Have you ever lived in a monastery?" 
This essay, The World Is My Monastery, was written at the same time as


Gyudmed Monastery, Hunsur, South India
My monastery is the whole world.

It's cloisters are the cities. It's resident monks, male and female, are the entire human race. Its spiritual practice of meditation is languaging. Everyone meditates here. It's a requirement. The gongs waking us for meditation, the reverberating bells reminding us to live from our true nature, are the morning commute traffic sounds. The beeping of impatient horns, the squealing of over zealous brakes chime the call to contemplate. Its physical practice of meditation, its discipline of menial chores, is daily life. Washing dishes, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, ironing shirts are its chopping wood, carrying water. Everyone practices this discipline here. It's a requirement.

I entered this monastery in order to learn the path of Zen from a master and become enlightened. The first lesson he taught me was not to practice one discipline if I intended to master something else. He got me to see I was practicing meditation so I could master living well. He suggested, instead, if I wanted to master living well, then I ought to practice living well. He got me to see if I was practicing meditation in order to master living well, then practicing meditation was distracting from mastering living well.

I hadn't met a Zen master before. I was fascinated by him, even if I wasn't really ready for him. But his idea - that it works better when you do what you do when you're doing it  rather than doing something else  when you're doing what you're doing - really works. His idea is one of those stupidly, blindingly simple ideas which make me say "Why didn't I think of that?". But I didn't think of it. He did. That's why he's a Zen master.

In my monastery, my neighbor is a Zen master, the man who bags my groceries at the Safeway  checkout counter is a Zen master, the girl who swipes my membership card at the gym is a Zen master, the sweet old lady with blue hair who waits on me and pours my coffee in the local diner where I sometimes treat myself to their hearty "Denver" omelet  for breakfast is a Zen master.

That Zen master! He catches me by surprise. As I'm complacently sweeping the floor, he jumps out of a nearby closet and whacks me with his stick. As I'm driving along the freeway exceeding the speed limit, he comes up behind me, flashes his red, white, and blue lights, and gives me a citation. He's even there waiting to bring me back to reality if I make a mistake on my tax return. He's very polite albeit insistent I get back on the straight and narrow. And what's interesting is my first reaction is to argue my point with him. But in the end, I always get to a place where I see his way works better than mine.


with Lama Lobsang Tsering
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all about my monastery is how my tenure here ends, how my moment of graduation comes. I came here to learn the path of Zen from a master and become enlightened, and by the time my sojourn replete with plenty of whacks, many citations, and corrected tax returns ends, I've found out I came here enlightened to begin with. There was nothing to learn. There was never anything to find out. There was no different way to be. The Zen master knew it all along. It was only I who didn't know it. Enlightenment, it turns out, is nothing more (and nothing less) than giving up the notion you're unenlightened.

I'm going to take a stroll now, around the immaculate grounds of my monastery, down its sidewalks, along its streets, over its toll bridges, through its malls, by its tenement halls and apartment buildings, next to its fast food outlets, and on past its used car lots. I like it in my monastery. I intend to stay here and be a monk forever.



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