(Well, as in many of my posts, this wound up being a lot longer than I had expected, and I know not everyone has the stamina to read, especially when it comes to someone else's life experiences. However, I think my story is important for young practitioners, to know that a life in devotion is, in fact, and option. I split the whole thing in sections, so you can read parts at a time. The most important parts are the following beginning paragraph, and the last few paragraphs, marked starting by the multiple asterisks.)
If you are reading this, and you are a young person, and you have some connection to a Buddhist center which in turn has an affiliate monastery. If you are without direction, without purpose, without cause... then please consider becoming a Monk or Nun. I realize the thought of completely devoting yourself to Buddhism is a scary thing- and indeed being scared is the natural reaction. I feel scared, but it isn't I who is scared, it is my Ego screaming in fear knowing it will be eradicated. Also, I am saying consider it. Coming to this decision to become a monk has taken over a year, of thinking about it a lot, and took a lot of really bad things happening to make me realize that this is what I was meant to do. I pray in this moment that none of you will have to endure the suffering I did, even though for me it was absolutely necessary. By simply considering it, and considering seriously, the seed of being a monk or nun will be planted within you. It will eventually grow and bloom. It may not be in this lifetime, it may be in the next, or a hundred lifetimes from now. However, if you take the five lay vows, and live without harming others, and continue to generate good merit, the choice to become a monk will become obvious. I'll share a little of my story with you so you can see what I mean.
I am currently 22 years old, I came across Buddhism when I was twenty. Growing up, I was a hardcore christian kid. I was under the impression that I was going to become a pastor. I was praised (not in the definition of prayer, I was told I was a good practitioner) by the members of my congregation at a young age, being told that I was farther along my walk with God than many adults were. However, I had a very ignorant view about prayer. I thought if you had a problem, any problem, that if you prayed to God with enough devotion and faith, the solution would present itself to you with little effort. I also believed if the solution was not revealed to you, there was meaning for it, either a lesson to be learned, or divine punishment. This view worked great for a while, because my problems were relatively minor. Also, it seemed my power of prayer worked, even on some of the bigger things. I knew not to pray for materialistic things, and that it was very good and right to pray for others. Even the pastors- who worked in tandem- started having me read scripture every Sunday, because I read with such devotion and enthusiasm that it got everyone excited. However, eventually my ignorance caught up with me. I started becoming mentally ill, unaware that I was destined to develop a personality disorder. With a personality disorder your brain structure literally grows different than others, so you wind up thinking and reacting differently than most. I started feeling horribly depressed all the time, and I, with my ignorant thoughts in mind, began paying heavily. Hours on end spent in private praying with devotion, offering things, and so on. I even pleaded that I needed to be emotionally well in order to reveal the joy of Christianity to others. However, I only got worse. By the time I was sixteen, I left Christianity. It wasn't that I didn't believe in God, not at first- It's that I did believe in him, in my ignorant way. I believed he heard my prayers and ignored me, that he was punishing me, one of his most devout disciples.
After leaving Christianity, there was an emptiness in my being where my faith used to be. I started trying to fill it with miscellaneous things, but mostly philosophy. This is when I came across my first tastes of Buddhism. However, reading quotes of philosophical wisdom doesn't provide the same benefit- or even the same meaning as if they were read by a practitioner. For years I wandered aimlessly, and I became obsessed with romantic love. Love had become my new religion. In my old life, love was second to God. But now that God was out of the picture, there was only romance. I was under the belief that I would never truly be happy unless I met that special someone, fell in love, and started a life with them. And so I began looking, and looking very hard over the years, in the meantime training my skills in poetry, psychology, and romantic philosophy in order to become more appealing to a potential mate. Well, ever hear or see those people, who look for something so hard, that they will find it in anything, completely delusional? That was me. I had relationship after relationship thinking "this girl is the ONE." After high school though, my emotional problems got so bad and untreated that I was hospitalized, released only under the condition that I attend a partial hospital program, in which I went to therapy 8 hours a day, 5 days a week (the place is now 5 hours a day instead). I got out, and then a whole new chapter in my spiritual life had started- my ultimate downfall.
It's probably a good thing that I discovered hedonism early on. If I had discovered it later in life, I would have put off the inevitable rock bottom I was meant to experience. I became a stoner with relative ease- I had been smoking since I was 16 (the same time I left christianity and religion as a whole- coincidence? Not at all). It was a few months into being a stoner that things became worse, all because of Hedonism, or rather, my simple, perverted view of it. For those of you who don't know, Hedonism is the belief that pleasure is the ultimate good. This has been practiced in many ways, but a way in which it is practiced modernly, which I practiced, was to indulge to the fullest extent possible. I believed in anything made you feel pleasure, then it was good, no matter what. With this in mind, I wound up becoming a cocaine and heroin addict. After a while I got sober, but then relapsed again with cocaine. Knowing that my surroundings at the time were relapse-central, I ran away. I eventually came to live at a homeless youth transitional program in upstate NY. That was the beginning of change for me.
Living in this house, I met my amazing friend John. Now, john was a Vajrayana Buddhist, but was far from being devoted. In fact, his faith was sort of broken, and he had begun studying many other religions, though, he did remain steadfast in his vows, and always asserted he would remain with dharma, but may incorporate other religious beliefs into his life. I told him my woes and how I longed for a spiritual path, only to come across hedonism and ruin my life. The first thing he told me, was that Buddhism was NOT for me. He commented on how much of a black-and-white thinker I was (and still am in some ways, but have come a long way), and coming from a theistic background, I simply could not grasp Buddhism. So, he introduced me to some other beliefs, but in the end, he conceded to teach me about Buddhism. For the next few months after, we became full on Buddhist, or, as much as two young guys in a slummy town with constant drama being thrown in our faces could. Not to mention I was also dealing with becoming sober, and hadn't told anyone. As I said, months passed. It eventually came time for me to discharge from the program. I was to move into an apartment merely one bus ride from woodstock- where Karma Triyana Dharmachakra is located. However, because of some complications, my living arrangements fell through and I had to move back to connecticut. Before I left, though, John and I had made a deal and promise to become Monks together. At the time, while John was more studied and had more experience in Buddhism, we were sort of equals, in a way.
I moved back to my home in connecticut, completely cut off from all things Buddhist. Instead of preparing to become a monk, I started chasing after girls again, and became so obsessed again that I told my friend John I would not become a monk, because I wanted to have a family. He protested, and pleaded, and ridiculed, and nagged, but ultimately I just started ignoring him, and his reaching out to me in an attempts to get me to practice the Dharma. There has been a lot of things that have went on since then, I will explain them quickly- found no work, got lied to and backstabbed by a few close friends, began drinking heavily, started going back to college, met the "love of my life", got engaged, got cheated on but forgave, then got left for the guy I got cheated on with, met another girl, fell for her, was told she wasn't ready for a relationship YET, and I let myself be strung along for 5 months, I got into a fight with my sister such that she will not even go to my mother's house if I'm there, I got kicked out of my mom's house by my stepdad, spent a little time homeless, moved into an apartment where my roomates make it party central, fell into a deep depression for months.
However, that whole time, dharma was working. At some of my lowest points, I would say mantras and meditate- and feel better. Once I felt better, I would become distracted by... samsara, and would ignore Buddhism all over again. But still, the seed of Dharma was planted, and it was growing. Slowly I realized parties weren't fun, bars weren't fun, and months later, that drinking wasn't fun, and slowly but surely, many of the distractions began to disappear. The final one that stood in my way, even as I became a more serious practitioner, was wanting to fall in love. However, my karma must have been just right, because I had a moment of insight where my ignorance cleared- I had spent countless amounts of time, effort, money, and sanity, not only on Love, but on wordly, mundane things, and it had gotten me no where! No where at all! It was then I knew I was to become a Monk. Now, I am in the process of pursuing that goal.(EDIT 8/29/2011: Ok, when writing the following advice, I truly had the best intentions. I'm still going to leave the passage, but I'm also going to clarify that if you start out a rant addressing anyone who feels lost with no way to go, and then tell them they should devote themselves entirely to a cause [it doesn't really matter what the cause is] with the promise that they will gain a deeper sense of meaning in life, they're likely going to take up that opportunity. Don't get me wrong, out of all the causes one could devote themselves to, I truly believe that Buddhism would be the best, I just think that I wrote the following passage in the throws of passion without much consideration for how easily influenced some people can be)
So, I repeat- if your story is like mine... If you have tried to make it in the world over and over, only to fail merely because you do not seem cut out for it. If you see no reason to get out of bed in the morning, if you have no direction or worth or meaning or identity... consider devoting yourself completely to Dharma. Being in that sort of position actually puts you at an advantage over others, since you have less attachments to let go of. Again, as I said, just consider it... it is an option, and will remain an option, and the fear you feel when thinking about it will go away with time.
Thank you for reading, many blessings to you, and may for all the good merit I accumulate, you take a share, and for all the bad karma you accumulate, may I take a share to ease your burden. I say that with sincerity, my Brothers and Sisters.
(NOTE: This is not a past I am dwelling on, so no need to worry there. I just find many people can learn from others experiences, so I am conveying them here. I am very, very far from perfect, so I apologize for any imperfections or offensive material in this post, and if need be, I can modify it. The point in my now being able to start becoming a monk is that I have weakened my attachments to a past such as this.)
(PS: If you were wondering about date of sobriety and length... I cannot give you anything exact, as when I last used hard drugs, I didn't know it was my last time. however, I do know it was in mid-to-late august, which would put me at 2 years, 2 months sober from cocaine, and 2 years, 7 months sober from heroin on the tenth of this month. I have drank in the meantime, but I sort of equate "sobriety" to "time spent not using the drugs you were addicted to." However, if we want to talk about absolute sobriety, I have not been drunk in a few months, and my last alcoholic beverage was half a beer three or four weeks ago. I quit smoking a couple days ago. So I guess in absolute, it has only been a couple days! lol )
(EDIT AUGUST 29TH 2011: It seems that this thread got brought back up recently, and I have received messages asking me about becoming a monk and things like that, and I would like to clarify that this was written almost a year ago and very little of what it contains is still accurate for me. I posted an update thread back in April and forgot to link it here, so... here: viewtopic.php?f=77&t=3744&p=33757#p33757
and in addition to that, I have also written an even more updated reply to both this post and the post from April, it's currently on the second page of this thread. Thanks for reading, and sorry about the mis-communication!)