Almost four years since the beginning of my monastic journey (five years if we also count the first one as a trainee), I was experiencing a rare inability to relax at night and a high frequency of nightmares, of the kind I fell down precipices, or murderers were chasing me or I appeared naked in public places. In addition, it seemed I had forgotten how to meditate; all I could do is to contemplate with growing frustration my inability to calm down during the formal sittings.
One night I woke up thinking that I was going crazy. Standing in one corner of the small room, in the dark and scared, I finally discovered the cause of my anxiety. As when the valve of a pressure cooker opens, just one thought released immediately all the pressure inside my head: “I may not be ready to live as a monk the rest of my life.”
Although it must have been simmering long before at deeper levels, this was the first time since my decision of becoming a monk that that thought surfaced in my mind. That night I was finally able to rest. During the period of sitting meditation of the next morning, I could calm myself as I used to. Just that thought was able to release the anxiety I gradually accumulated as the ceremony of my ordination was approaching and, instead of joyful anticipation, I just felt apprehension.
Fortunately, the winter retreat, with its week-long recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name followed by three weeks of intensive meditation, was coming and, likewise four years ago I had decided to become a monk at their conclusion, now I had the opportunity to ratify my decision or to consider another path for my life.
The recitation week ended with an especially beautiful sunset on a line of leafless poplars. Under a light drizzle, a group of deer stood motionless at short distance from the monastery. I approached them and, when I was just a few feet away, I began to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. Reciting the name of this Buddha is the most devotional practice of Mahayana Buddhism. Devotees wish to be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha because there the attainment of enlightenment is easier than on Earth. The next day I noticed that two monks were chatting in front of the monastery, and then one of them headed towards me to ask, “Please bring a shovel to dig a pit.” A deer had appeared dead exactly on the same spot I had been reciting the night before. “Would it have been reborn in the Pure Land?” I mused to myself as we buried him, facing west. We recited Amitabha Buddha’s name for a few minutes and then returned to the monastery, walking quietly in the cold drizzle.
In the meditation hall, nothing seemed to have changed from previous winter retreats. However, I had changed. During this retreat, the vain attempts of everyone to stay awake and all that physical and mental effort, rather than seeming commendable, it seemed tragically empty. Sorrowfully, I discovered that most of the participants believed that meditation, and in general all spiritual practice, consisted in enduring stoically all kind of ascetic tests. I did not feel wiser or better than any of them, but it was during this retreat, without having to decide anything, that life chose another path for me. I wouldn’t get ordained.
PD: Thank you Tito for sending me the link of the video.