March 3, 2014

Wait—Aren’t You a Priest? ~ Ty Phillips

Hear--see--speak no evil

I often hear this phrase from people: “You can’t say/do/think/feel that way, you’re a priest!”

As often as I hear it, I am just as often finding myself in that same situation of thinking I can or cannot do something because of these very same reasons. How can I suffer from anxiety? How can I enjoy comics and super heroes? How can I enjoy sex or a beer from time to time and claim to be a priest?

The answer is quite simple: I can. Being a priest, especially within the Buddhist tradition, is not about being less human, but more fully human and aware in each moment. It does not mean that once vows and robes are taken,  we all of the sudden lose our touch with reality. If anything, it means we are more in touch with those things that make us human.

In all of my lessons and struggles and sufferings, I am all too aware that I am fallible and subject to the same drives and emotions that make us all human—hunger, anger, sex, laughter, sadness. What we strive for in Buddhism is not the elimination of humanity, but a true understanding and awareness of it in the moment it is happening.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, most converts to any religion become quite zealous. They want to tell the world what they have found, how it has impacted them, how others should try it. Even new-found atheists feel this way. This great freedom from dogma and superstition is liberating. Eventually it dies down, and we are left with what we started with—a human ego striving for attention and justification. Once we are again forced to see this aspect of our personalities, the real work begins.

In the beginning, we are busy feeding our ego by feeling like certain actions make us more pious, more holy, more connected to our traditions and convictions. If I give away all of my belongings… If I become a vegetarian… If I stop
listening to metal or watching cartoons… But what we are really doing is feeding the ego’s idea of what holy and pious really is.

Now it’s all crashing down, and our humanity and its quirks and faults are surfacing. I got angry and cursed at someone, I watched a movie with violence in it, I bought some comic books—but wait. I can’t. I have to be holy or at least act it in order to feed that self-righteous need for justification.

Only Now

Only now, in this moment of not-newness are we ready to learn and really change.  Only now do we have the capacity to understand what it really means to live the Buddha‘s teachings, and that a close look at his words rather than our ego’s notions of them is quite different. It’s not about being removed from people and society (he traveled and taught and interacted with society as a whole for more than 40 years).  It isn’t about never having sex and living in a cave and wearing robes, (he preached right sexuality, not no sexuality).

So what is it that we can and should expect from our teachers and gurus? Well, honestly, nothing.

They aren’t here to save you; only you can do that. They aren’t here to walk the path for you.

Again, only you can do that.

They aren’t here to walk on water or levitate—cheap parlor tricks and nothing at all to do with the Buddha’s teachings.

They are here to be a friend, a guide, a person to say: “Hey, now that you’re ready, let’s have a beer and get down to business, because it’s about damn time!”


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!


Editorial Assistant: Pamela Mooman/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Flickr/Clare Bell

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Ty Phillips  |  Contribution: 2,100