Real Monks in Bodhgaya

July 29th, 2011

Yesterday I was sitting under the Bodhi tree–I know, right?–watching the various people walk by. I’d noticed a guy with blond dreadlocks around the corner from before, and when he passed I said hello. He greeted me back, with an American accent, the two of us in the wide world of India.

Then he said, “Hey, a warning for you. Watch out for those monks over there. They aren’t monks, just trying to scam you out of money.” I agreed, mentioned that in the Theravada tradition monks aren’t supposed to accept money, and I wouldn’t be fooled by them.

I’d heard about this before, but somehow my last two times in India I hadn’t seen fake monks. But then a while after Dreadlocks and I parted ways, I walked past a handful of teenage boys in monks’ robes who said, “Hello sir” in the way Indian touts do when they want your business. And it only took one moment to tell: these are not monks.

I can’t point to a facet of their looks or behavior that specifically was non-monkish. Monks come in all shapes and sizes. But here’s the thing I learned: the deep practice of the Buddha’s teaching turns you inside out. You become fully, honestly, inescapably, who you are.

I’ve seen monks and nuns who’ve polished their core like this, and every one finds a different jewel inside. There are grumpy monks and cheerful monks. There are timid nuns and bold nuns. I mentioned to another friend that a few Korean monks and nuns I know have a very earthy vocabulary–in other words, they cuss like sailors. Whatever their personality, it’s a solid commitment to tautology. You are what you are. And when other people practice, they’ll see it too.

Of course it’s not only Buddhists who emanate this sense of being good at being who they are. I’ve known people from all walks of life who give forth this energy, this dropped resistance. But for me, I know but one way to do it, which is to practice the Eightfold Path and let go of those practices that aren’t being me.

The impostors are struggling, trying to be something they’re not to gain something they aren’t sure they deserve. It’s sad and it’s unnecessary, but it is the predicament the Buddha wants us to overcome. We can be who we are.

These two monks in the picture are real monks, not impostors. See if you can tell.

Two Monks

3 Responses to “Real Monks in Bodhgaya”

  1. Kajottel says:

    My friend and me will go to Bodhgaya in january 2012. Can we stay overnigt in Bodhgaya in a Zen-Temple there? Please tell us.


  2. Bija says:

    Hi Kajottel! Are you looking specifically for Zen temples? I only know of one temple in Bodhgaya in the Zen tradition, and I’m not sure if they have overnight guest rooms. (This is the Japanese temple near the big Buddha statue. They have nightly Zazen sessions that are definitely worth attending.) There are other Buddhist, but not Zen, temples in Bodhgaya that have dorms and guest rooms. The Burmese temple and the International Meditation Centre both have rooms. I didn’t stay in a monastery there, but I did stay with the Mahabodhi Society in Sarnath. Mostly for the monasteries, you have to show up and see if there’s a room–they don’t do a lot of booking in advance.

  3. Kajottel says:

    Thank you for you notice. In the meantime, we are back from India. We stayes in Bodhgaya in a hotel and we were happy, when we can leave Bodhgaya after 3 days. We didn’t like Bodhgaya. It was like Buddha-Disneyland.

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