October 14, 2012

Goodbye Monk Idea

I am not a monk.
I am not a monk. I am not a monk. I am not a monk.
This was obvious all along in my life. I never entered a monastery. I never publically identified with a religious order. I never took on vows of poverty or celibacy. I never committed in any systematic way to spiritual practices, even to more mundane ones such as prayer or meditation. I hardly ever sat still even for fifteen minutes with my mind focused on God or the Universe. I found that too hard. Maybe even more importantly, I found it too bizarre and other-wordly, as if it was voodoo magic.
Nonetheless, I felt within me that I was a monk, or on the path of one, or had the calling of one. And I felt that my philosopher identity was inseparably connected with that monk identity. Here was one of the reasons I had trouble identifying with the philosophy profession from early on. I got bent out of shape in my head about silly things such as how professional philosophers are always doing philosophy over drinks, or at nice restaurants, as if it was just another job. Somehow I imagined that the public philosophy I would be a part of would involve things like fasting or restraining from indulgences. Not that I ever did this myself. Though I tortured myself about it with pangs of guilt, as if I were a weak-willed hedonist. And I tortured myself about how I could be part of a profession which did not exhibit even the need for any such habits.
When I left the philosophy profession a part of me thought that I was now truly embarking on my monk path. That is, even though I was married and I was not part of any spiritual institution. So outwardly not a monk. But somehow, inwardly, finally, truly on the path of my monk calling.
But I realize now this whole monk thing in my head is over. Many of the questions I have been raising to myself about the philosophy profession--in particular, how it is compatible with everyone excelling at philosophy--are ones which apply equally to any monk role. If a philosophy professor is not universalizable, a monk is even less universalizable. I almost can't believe why I ever thought otherwise. Somehow for me being a monk was always equivalent with being on the side of the everyday joe. But, of course, monks have their structures of power and privilege, even if it is not explicitly in terms of money or fame. Monks were the product of an older time when they were seen as the spiritual shamans, who did, as it were, the spiritual work in the community, and which everyday householders could not do. In this sense, being a monk meant being initiated into a special, privileged knowledge, which was not in the purview of the everyday person. In our democratic age, can this idea still have a resonance? I don't think it can in the same way it did in the past.
Goodbye monk idea. I don't know how you came into my life, but it is long overdue that I said goodbye to you. Farewell. I am off into a new world without premeditated concepts constraining my sense of myself.

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