The Life of a Modern Buddhist Monk

The Life of a Modern Buddhist Monk

When many people hear the word “monk,” a stereotypical image springs to mind of a person with a shaved head, isolated from the world in a remote temple living a life of sacrifice with no possessions and no enjoyment. A life that starts well before dawn washing in cold water with only a bowl of rice to eat, endless hours of chanting and cleaning, followed by a few hours of sleep before the day repeats in an endless cycle. While this may seem a somewhat romantic image, it doesn’t sound very appealing. Though this may have been accurate a very long time ago, it is not a reflection of the life of a Tao Sangha monk in the modern era.

The world is not the same world it was centuries ago when Buddhism began. Our water is not the same; our air is not the same, even the human body is not the same. So too, our practice as Buddhist monks has changed. Though practices have evolved, they have retained and perhaps further focused the integrity, or intention, of the practice. As such, though the life of a Tao Sangha monk has shifted, the heart is the same, and the purpose is the same if not deeper.

When I came to chant Nembutsu for the first time, I was cared for as a guest that had come to someone’s home. That sense of community and kindness was overwhelming. I don’t think I had ever felt more welcome or accepted without judgement. As I returned repeatedly and began to take responsibility for others, I eventually became a Tao Sangha Practitioner. Being a practitioner means “practising to be a monk.” So my path and the path of all practitioners is to become a monk.

This path is transparent in my work as an author and speaker, and I speak openly about it. Many people are very curious about Buddhism, and so I am always asked questions. Growing up in Canada, I was strongly drawn to Japan and Buddhist practice and had many questions and misconceptions as well, so I understand and appreciate this sense of wonder.

For example, one does not “convert” to Buddhism. Tao Sangha practitioners are asked to keep, respect and deal with their tradition should they have one. And not to leave it, but to find a way to unify with it. Buddhism does not replace but deepens your spiritual practice.

Living in Japan, and my continuing Buddhist practice with Tao Sangha are experiences that have transformed my thinking, my feelings, and my approach to my work and personal lives. Through these posts, I wish to share my journey and my limited understanding of the teachings I have been so fortunate to receive.

I believe that to live the life of a Tao Sangha monk is to live a spiritual life in the real-world—a life of joy, sharing happiness and creating a bright future for all beings. A Tao Sangha monk is not only an exemplary practitioner but strives to be an exemplary human being with an uncompromising level of care for others. To be an exemplary leader—never to be above others, nor below them, but as a layer of an onion gently pressing on the next to stretch it in all directions. A Tao Sangha monk strives to lift others up to be their best selves, building their capacity and encouraging their growth and spiritual development.

It is not a life of isolation separated from the world, but conversely truly being in the world fully; participating in regular activities of life, while taking responsibility for holding one’s own ego.

Just as many people hold the image of a monk described earlier, many also think of Buddhism as a religion or as meditation. However, the core principle of Buddhism is the spiritual development of all beings. To develop spiritually is to understand oneself completely. Understanding yourself completely means being able to recognize your ego.

Simply put, Buddhist practice is about understanding your ego, having the wisdom to see it and the capacity to do something about it, while not judging others for their ego.

Without understanding ego, we will only continue the karmic cycle of blaming others for our misfortune and taking credit for our good fortune. This cycle aggravates our feeling of separation from the world, our loneliness and our unhappiness.

When we understand and hold our ego, we can genuinely connect with others, unify our hearts and wish for their happiness, dissolving the walls between us and creating a brighter future for the world—A community, or Sangha, of compassion, of harmony, and of joy. I believe that to be a Tao Sangha monk is to be devoted to creating this community in the world, leaving no one behind.


You can find out more about Tao Sangha by visiting the Tao Sangha North America or Tao Sangha Japan websites. You are also welcome to contact me directly.

To be a Leader, Hear the Pain Not the Words

To be a Leader, Hear the Pain Not the Words

Much of my work as a speaker and author is to help people to shift. Despite my best intentions, it can be very confronting for some. On more than one occasion, I have been challenged by someone, something like “I don’t think what you are proposing would work at all.” The first time this happened, I was shocked, and my ego wanted to respond with something like, “I’ve written seven books on this subject, of course it works.” Ego wants only to hear and respond to the words. Instead, I listen not to the words, but to the pain.

Imagine the courage it takes for someone to stand up in front of a few thousand of their colleagues and challenge a keynote speaker—what kind of suffering would drive them to confront so publically?

When connecting with Sesshin (compassionate heart), it becomes clear. To accept what I am suggesting as a different way to teach to this person means accepting that what they have been doing is wrong. From this heart space I’m able to respond to the pain. “I have no doubt that you give everything for your students, and hold nothing back. But with new information comes new possibilities. What you have been doing is not wrong or harmful—it has been 100%, and now with new knowledge today, that 100% will be different tomorrow than it was yesterday. Is it better? No, it’s just different.”

Suddenly, everything is calm, and someone can move past the obstacle to transform. Being a leader is not about being above others. Leadership means being responsible for holding your ego, hearing others pain instead of their words, and lifting them up above you and above their own former selves.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

To Master Your Day, Wash The Bowl

To Master Your Day, Wash The Bowl

A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl”, said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

This famous Zen Koan Joshu Washes the Bowl is from the book The Gateless Gate 無門関 and has long been a favourite of mine. In many ways it is the essence of Zen. It’s completxity lies in the fact that it is so simple that it eludes us. We are just looking for so much more complexity then there really is. It is the realization of the simplicity that caused the monk to be enlightened in that moment.

We live incredibly complex and digitally connected lives. There is a never-ending stream of external stimuli that tells us what is important and what we should be thinking of in each moment. Emails constantly stream in and notifications chime to tell us that someone else has a priority for us. A long time ago, I disabled almost every notification on all of my devices. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email, and a hundred other apps. I do this because I was distracted from washing the bowl. I would start to wash the bowl, But then an email would arrive, And I would deal with the email, then another email would arrive and it continues. I never got around to washing the bowl.

I’m sure you’ve realized what washing the bowl is about. It is a metaphor about doing what is next and being fully present in each moment. When we are through eating what is next is to wash the bowl. Not to wash the bowl thinking about what we’re going to do afterwards and not rushing through washing the bowl. But to wash the bowl carefully with gratitude and mindfulness. Then do what is next.

Set your intention for the day the moment you get up. Take the time, right now, to disable every non-essential notification on your devices. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, stand up slowly and stretch, then take a deep breath and say with gratitude, “make the bed.”

Innovation and the Illusion of Time

Innovation and the Illusion of Time

Sorry, I don’t have time, I only have 15 minutes to finish this! How many times we said something like this? Who said I only have 15 minutes? Yes, I know there are things like deadlines which really do matter. Its things like deadlines which give us an illusion that time is fixed, That we only have so much of it, and it we are at one point in time now and are moving towards another point of time which comes later.

One of my  Senseis challenged me quite firmly on this recently. If the past is really in the past, Why can we so quickly revisit it? We can go back to a moment in time and feel the pain of that moment as if it is happening right now. The smells, the sounds, everything, it is real and it is now. In this way, It actually is not the past, but it is the present, It is where we are at this moment in time in every way. Sensei said that when we bring the past to the present in this way, and then live it differently, act differently, resolve the conflict and create a new outcome, we change the past and break the Karma.

The same is true of the future. I am a dreamer. I see all kinds of visions of the future, Sometimes it is a product for a client, Sometimes it is something I wish to create, but in every way they are in this moment. Just as we can move to the past and it becomes the present, we can move to the future and be completely present in the vision. This is where innovation and reality collide.

Because our minds struggle with the illusion of time, it is incredibly painful for us to see a vision of the future and not have it a reality yet. We see this with diet and exercise. We see an image of the selves we want to be, of the habits we want to have, and we expected it to happen immediately. This is normal, we have brought the future to the present! But when it does not happen immediately, we give up and we see it as impossible.

“Time is the illusion we use for permission to give up on our dreams.”

The disconnect for our minds is seeing the present as a fixed point. I am often asked how I am able to create so much? Where do my ideas come from? Where does my drive come from? People close to me have said that I am relentless and determined. Quite simply, when I have a vision, I see it as existing in this moment. I see the future as the past of the present. It’s not that I hold onto a goal or vision, it is that for me the vision is already a reality. In other words, it exists once it is visualized, and the rest are the details which occur in order for others to also be able to see it. I’m not driven and relentless, I am living with a vision that to me as a reality, but that others can’t yet see.

Just as the past can be brought into the present through our recollection, the future can be brought into the present by our vision. Many times I have heard someone say”That’s a great idea, but it will never happen.” This statement is surrendering to the illusion of time. There is no expiration date on a dream, yet we set a deadline, feel that we are lucky if it happens sooner, and a failure it happens later. Time is the illusion we use for permission to give up on our dreams.

Hold onto your ideas, hold onto your dreams, hold on to the plans for your business, hold on the plans for your life. Speak about them is if they have occurred already. Act as if they have occurred already. In doing so, you will find your day-to-day actions suddenly bring this into reality faster than you can imagine.