This summer I lived in a Buddhist monastery for three months. When I tell this to most people their first reaction is that I’ve sentenced myself to some sort of prison. It’s not usually something they say out loud, but it shows up in their facial expression, body language and tone of voice. Our society clearly views a monastery as a place that is opposed to life in the “real” world, and it’s scary.
The irony is that whenever I encounter such a reaction I realize that not only do people ideas of monastic life come from random and generally uninformed impressions, but that they contrast this image against an idea of their own life that is equally fictitious. How we view our lives is rarely an accurate portrayal of what is really going on. When seen from the monastic viewpoint, “real world” life is actually the prison to be escaped. The creation of monasteries was intended to provide a cocoon in which seekers of truth could live a pure life and explore their inner world without distractions.
So, what is the truth? I cannot lay claim to a universal truth that works for everyone, but I can share my own experience…perhaps it will enrich and expand you.