I had been practicing zen for several years and I was thinking about becoming a monk.
But that is a pretty big commitment. I was pretty young, and maybe I just didn’t know what to do with my life. But I was living at a zen center and most of the people around me were monks.
My best friend Bruce had been a monk for many years, and he was happier than I’d ever seen him. Of course, Bruce always seemed happy. His infectious laughter often rang through the halls of the zendo, often at inappropriate times. This was something that seemed to be an constant annoyance to the stern and solemn monks we lived with.
“How did you know you wanted to be a monk?” I asked Bruce. We were walking through a small Japanese garden behind the zendo, after our afternoon meditation.
“Well,” Bruce thought, “it took awhile. Doing something like that doesn’t really make sense. It has to be a calling. Whatever you do, whatever your purpose is, it has to come from your heart.”
“How do you know what your purpose is?” I asked.
“I don’t think you ever know what your purpose is,” Bruce said. “It’s something you just feel. You could be doing the most noble thing in the world, but if your heart’s not in it, then it doesn’t really matter.”
I thought of many of the monks I knew, and it was pretty clear that their hearts weren’t really in it. In fact, our lineage seemed like a tradition of unhappy zen masters. Our Roshi was often irritable, and his teacher had died as an alcoholic a few years back. Something was clearly off. Maybe being a monk wasn’t the greatest idea. And yet, there was Bruce, his bald head seemed to glow in the sunlight as he smiled blissfully.
As if seeing my conflict Bruce winked and said, “Don’t think about it too hard. Some things make more sense if you don’t think about it.”
“That really doesn’t make any sense,” I said.
“Exactly,” Bruce laughed. “But I don’t think it really matters what your purpose is, or what you do. It just matters who you are.”
We stopped talking and watched the sunset over the mountains. And he was right. Things made more sense.
When the buddha began his path of enlightenment, he gave up his future of being a king and became a penniless yogi. But after years of searching and studying yogic practices, he still hadn’t found the answers. It was only when he finally stopped and sat down in meditation for seven full days, that he discovered the true path. By finally stopping and simply being he discovered who he truly was.
We don’t need to be great yogis or meditators or the most important person. And fortunately we don’t need to meditate for seven days straight. But maybe instead of trying to find our purpose we should take more time to just be.
When we take a moment and connect to our hearts, it’s nearly impossible to not live our purpose. It’s in the quite space of our heart that we can find who we truly are. Maybe our true purpose isn’t a destination, it’s a path. A path with heart.
Author: Aron Stein
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Artist’s Own, Featured Image: Flickr/Hartwig HKD