The Wise Monk

The Wise Monk

From Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition

The Wise Monk

Respect yourself and others will respect you.


In my own life, I think one of the best examples of transparency and not taking myself too seriously came from an experience I had at a Buddhist temple here in Los Angeles. Back when I was first seeking on the personal growth and spiritual path, I was soaking up all kinds of different modalities and ways to calm my mind and get clear. For a period of time, I was really into Buddhist meditation, both Vipassana (I once went on a 10-day retreat and left after five ’cuz it was so intense) and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Well before I discovered these two different types of meditation, I came across a Buddhist temple in downtown Los Angeles. I found it through Yelp or Google, and decided to attend one of their dharma talks and meditations. I went, and the main monk gave a talk about dharma and the idea of being unattached to things, as well as many other Buddhist principles. I was totally engaged in the conversation and soaking up the wisdom from this man, who seemed to be a living sage. After the talk, we did a 20- or 30-minute closed eye meditation, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After the meditation, the session was over and the 30 or so people who were there started to disperse.

But being the seeker that I am, I decided to go up and talk with the monk and his other monks and I started asking all kinds of questions. Before I knew it, the morning was gone and it was lunchtime.

So, the robed and shaven-headed monks extended an invitation to me to come to lunch. I JUMPED at the idea because now I was REALLY going to get the inside scoop on all the sage wisdom these guys could offer me. I am a SPONGE for wisdom, so anytime I get around people who have something wise to share, I am all ears!

So I went out to my car and followed a small car packed with four REALLY Buddhist monks. I was so psyched because I felt like I was about to discover some amazing vegan or vegetarian dive restaurant in downtown L.A. And as we kept driving, my excitement grew and grew and grew. Where were these guys going? It was probably going to be awesome. So as we were driving, I saw their car pull into a parking lot. But I couldn’t believe my eyes. Why in the world would four Buddhist monks pull into a Sizzler?

That’s right — I was led to Sizzler by four shaven-headed, robe wearing, dharma talking, Buddhist monks. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it must have been because their salad bar was so cheap. I mean after all, if you are a monk, you are not making six figures, so maybe we weren’t going to eat at an amazing dive bar. Maybe we were just going to have a modest vegetarian salad from the Sizzler salad bar. I was cool with this. I didn’t really care; I just wanted the wisdom.

So as we made our way into Sizzler, and I made it over to the salad bar first. Now I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian. I do my best to get non-factory-farmed meat and eat as consciously as possible. But in this moment, in front of the monks, I became an instant vegan. I was careful about my choices from the salad bar. No cheese. No dressings with dairy. No chicken or tuna from the salad bar. Just some lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, nuts and vinaigrette for me! It seemed like such a small meal, but so what — I was there for the wisdom. I thought I’d just get a big Diet Coke to fill me up for the rest of the meal while the monks and I got down to some serious dharma talking!

So as I came back to the seat; I saw the monks ordering food.

And to my SHOCK, the wisest of the monks, the man who gave the dharma talk, ordered a STEAK! And another one ordered steak and the other two ordered chicken!

I was now in total shock.

Here I was the meat eater, pretending to be a vegan in the presence of the monks, and they were about to go to TOWN on some meat! And not meat from a local provider — SIZZLER steak and chicken! I just didn’t get it.

So the meal went along and I was dying to ask them about why they were eating meat, but I just couldn’t do it. We talked. Finally the meal came, boom — two steaks and two chickens! And I was stuck with my puny excuse for a salad. They even asked me if I was hungry ’cuz I had so little to eat.

So as the monks dove into their food, which included dead animals, I finally couldn’t take it anymore! I popped! I stopped the conversation and said, “Okay, okay! Hold on you guys! What’s up with the meat? You guys are Buddhist monks. Aren’t you committed to Metta, which is unconditional love for all sentient beings?”

And without a twitch, the wise old monk looked up from his steak and looked at me and said, “We have a phrase around the Ashram...”

And then he paused. One of those dramatic wisdom pauses like something EPIC was about to come out of his mouth.

He said, “And that phrase is... Not Buddha YET!” And with that they went about their meals.

I couldn’t believe it! Are you freakin’ kidding me! Not Buddha yet! In the moment it felt like a copout, but as I began to reflect on this phrase later in life, I saw the wisdom in it. Now I know what some of you must be thinking: “What a copout. So that means he can kill people, too? Because he’s NOT BUDDHA YET?” This obviously shouldn’t be used to justify bad behavior. That being said, I think it was one of the most honest things I’ve ever heard a “spiritual” person say to me.

The idea of not being Buddha yet is huge. We can let ourselves off the hook for not being spiritually “perfect” and instead take the journey into our ever so precious imperfection. We end up shriveling up our life when we do not allow ourselves to be human.

~Mastin Kipp

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