Tuesday, 1 April 2014

"Through the Looking Glass"

Bhikkhu Cintita, on alms rounds in Burma

Californian John Dinsmore led a full lay life for fifty years: he worked as a noted linguist, computer programmer, carpenter, and business entrepreneur in Eastern Europe just after the Soviet Union collapsed; he fathered three children and had several marriages and long-term relationships; and had several degrees in higher education and himself taught as a professor in various universities. However, despite all this, he still felt unfulfilled and in search of greater meaning. He ended up leaving most of his possessions and the trappings of lay life to devote himself entirely to Zen Buddhist practice in California and Texas, eventually becoming an integral member of the burgeoning Austin Zen Center. In time, he himself was appointed a Zen teacher and priest here. Still, the depth of renunciation for which he was searching could not be found in Zen, and so he accepted an invitation to travel to Burma on a pilgrimage. Arriving in full Zen clothing, he later ordained as a Theravadin Bhikkhu on a full moon day in Sagaing. In fact, his ordination took place at Sitagu Academy, on the very birthday of Sitagu Sayadaw. He spent the following 13 months between the Sitagu campuses in Yangon and Sagaing. Having recently turned 60 and now known as Bhikkhu Cintita, he has now written a memoir on the events leading to his life in robes. The entire book can be found here, while the monk's main blog is here.

Following is an excerpt, describing the time immediately after his ordination:

“My initial reply to the Burmese monks who had asked what felt different to me after ordination, ‘I know what I am!’ did not quite get to the heart of it. What was different after ordination was that now, for the first time, more than a few others, in fact an entire culture, an entire nation, recognized the shape of my life. It’s not so much that I know what I am — I had chosen to be it years before at the beginning of the good thinking that had earned me my name — but that others now also know who I am, and not only that, but through their respect for the robes show that they fully endorse and share my faith in this way of life. My gratitude for being held by this kind of support was and is to this very day boundless.”

A view of the Sitagu Academy campus in the Sagaing Hills