Any concern of a set of rules should be considered eminently practical as a guide for establishing expectations for conduct. When they are associated with a spiritual practice, known as a canon of conduct, they become a set of guidelines that offer a shield of refuge from an ordinary way of living to one that becomes extra-ordinary. In all monastic traditions reverence is all pervasive in how we engage a structured practice. In ways we study, perform ritual actions of bowing chanting or recitation, the way we keep silence, treat others, or engage our daily work, it is our focus on how to behave humbly and with a mind of generosity that bring such rules to life. The rule is a building plan. And while they offer choices, they are the common backbone that transforms an individual into a monk. More specifically, living under a set of monastic rules is one of the major difference between a monastic practice and a secular one.
Rules of conduct may differ between individuals and traditions allowing for unique foot prints on the path, but the ground we all tread is the same. There are many paths up the mountain after all, and some of those paths may even have different lanes. When we are awakened to this reality we should discover a great deal of comfort in that we are not alone. For centuries men and women, both Buddhist and Christian, have discerned a vocational life of monasticism.
Our monastic rules act to structure a daily life-practice. For after all, Buddhism is a philosophy that shines light on the psycho-physical dimension of what it means to be human so that we can awaken to a life full of wonder and the nature of the spirit that can enrich our ability to perfect human flourishing. Our own and for others.
Monastic spirituality is first and foremost practical and without a spiritual element our meditative and contemplative practice would be missing a critical component that helps structure a deeper engagement of the Dharma. A monastic practice is one of social interaction that is one of the ways we can show our understanding of the nature of Buddhist thought. Monastic’s adopt the attitude of “Show, don’t tell.” It is within the rules that we can learn how to perfect this showing nature of our practice.
Monastic life is a challenge for us living in the 21st century as it is by it’s very nature counterculture. One way this is demonstrated is through a monk’s compassionate behavior that is woven into his daily life; compassion and serenity. A way of living that seems diminished in our current culture’s ability to reflect understanding of the importance of social justice and acting for the common good; all major tenets of a daily monastic practice. The key to such a practice is to remain mindful of the rules we have vowed to maintain as we engage our daily experiences. Such a life does not need to be led behind traditional walls of a monastery, but can be lived anywhere as long as there is respect for the monastic vows we have dedicated our lives too uphold. A monastic practice is an engaged practice.
Living under a set of monastic rules of conduct gets us ready to engage our world with a sense of confidence that we have a support system that is not only a refuge but also a tool of engagement. A mature monastic practice bears witness to an understanding that the rules act as a spring board to new beginnings. Each experience we have is a chain of experiences that are expressed in beginning after beginning. For every ending there is a brief conclusion and an opening that transitions to another beginning. Our monastic rules help support us during this ceaseless flow of causal realities.
Note: The Monastic Rules of Conduct & Customary may be made available for study upon request.