Life began when I was eighteen. I had never been religious (far from it: I couldn’t stand religion!) but I had always had questions. What is this life? What’s the point? Who am I? Why am I here? Was I anything before I was born? What will happen when I die? etc. I had also always been aware of a troubling discontent within myself from very early on. This twin conundrum is what eventually led the eighteen year-old me to pick up a little white book called ‘How to Meditate’ from my village library one afternoon. I didn’t know it at that moment, but I had found what I was looking for.
On that memorable day, after quickly leaving the library, I rolled home on my skateboard and opened the book. I leafed through to the instructions – a paragraph on mindfulness-of-breathing – and tried it. What followed was the most meaningful experience of my life up to that point. Things were never the same again.
Over the next few months my meditation practice became everything to me. I meditated at home virtually every morning and evening. I meditated in the college library, I meditated on the bus. I tried to be mindful while I ate, put the washing up away, and walked the dog. I was exited. I was on to something.
During this period my mother found an advert in the local newspaper for ‘Buddhist meditation at the Forest Hermitage’. ‘Why don’t you try this?’, she said, after having observed her once troubled son transform before her very eyes. So I gave them a call, and went. I was soon attending almost every Monday and Friday open evening.
It was during this period that I experienced something that was to give me an almighty shove towards the robes. It was a Sunday night and I was lying in bed. My mind was noticeably quiet and clear, though I thought nothing of it at the time. I then fell asleep. The week passed as normal until I was, again, lying in bed on a Sunday night and I had that same clarity of awareness. Then, all of a sudden, my mind leapt back to that state of mind of a week before; the two instances appeared to be placed next to each other, as though nothing had happened in between. But a whole week had passed. I was startled, in a kind of panic. The fact that my life was vanishing before my eyes struck me with the force of a thunderbolt. And then the question hit me: ‘What am I doing with my time?!‘
One evening at the Hermitage, a little while later, during the tea after the meditation session, Luangpor asked a young man who had been intending to become a novice when he was going to take the plunge. Hardly had that young chap answered when my mouth burst open: “How do you become a novice?” Once everyone had left I stayed behind to ask Luangpor if I could become one. A few months later I was in robes.
I know my life would be very different if it wasn’t for Buddhism. And I realize that having access to Ajahn Chah’s teachings is a great privilege. When reading his words I feel like a weary man who has been stumbling through the desert and finds an oasis: he drinks and is refreshed; every sip is precious.
I’m deeply indebted to Luangpor at the Hermitage as well. He is a tremendous role model in many ways: his determination, sincerity, integrity, and strength of mind are second to none. I bow to the Buddha, Ajahn Chah and Luangpor.