Transitional Update: Not Flipping Burgers After All
For in whatever way they imagine, it happens other than that. The state of separation is such as this. See the way of the world. —from the Salla Sutta of the Sutta-Nipāta, with the first sentence being a fairly common refrain in early Buddhist poetry
Well, by golly, this one is overdue, in more ways than one. For starters I have gone eight days without posting anything here, which is because I have been pretty much exhausted from working hard at my new job (though I am getting acclimated to the exertion and the ragingly hot weather of South Carolina). In addition to that, though, I have published a few transitional update videos, but haven’t written of my transition from Mahāthera to nobody special since May, when I described my journey from the Soviet Socialist Republic of California to the beautiful and more or less traditionalist state of South Carolina. Just in case you have a short attention span or are otherwise uninterested in fine details, and do not make it past this first paragraph, I will let you know that life is going pretty well nowadays, and I even have long pants, shirts, a normal job, and hair an inch and a half long on top of my head. And I am not flipping burgers for a living.
It is now more than three months since my last great renunciation, the renunciation of my privileged status as a senior Buddhist monk and a committed member of the leisure class. I left California with several thousand dollars on which to start my new life, and generous supporters donated a few thousand more, and so I was in no great hurry to plunge back into the workforce after thirty years. I had other things to do, like simply acclimating to not being a monk, having a mate (i.e. a sweetheart), and starting over from scratch. I had some books to edit and publish, too, and I made some misdirected attempts to prepare myself for a driving test. The plan was to have gainful employment, enough to pay the bills, with still at least $3000 in the bank, which actually came to pass, but I have been told that discussing money is bad form, so I move on.
Some of you are probably already familiar with my baptism into “ordinary” American life. I found out the hard way that it is damn near impossible to do anything without a credit rating or a bank history. Someone who falls out of the sky with no recorded financial history to speak of, and of course no credit or debit card, is at a relatively severe disadvantage in American life. Some things you simply can’t do with cash now, like rent a hotel room or buy groceries at some stores, which is odd, and maybe even should be illegal, considering that paper money says right on it, right on the front, THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE.” I still don’t have a credit card, although that is becoming a likelihood soon.
I’ve already explained in a video how one of the most amazing things about not being a monk no more is my miraculous ability to walk into the kitchen and help myself to anything in the refrigerator whenever I freaking well want to. That is such a blessing, and I occasionally felt the urge to scold people who were telling me that I was somehow plunging headfirst into a samsaric semi-hell realm by dropping out of the Bhikkhu Sangha. Really, we are all surrounded by blessings and miracles, and most of us are so used to them that we no longer notice. Some of us may have stopped noticing when we were children. But to me it’s all still new again.
So I spent two months just relaxing and adjusting to the idea of not being a monastic, or a hermit, and got some clothes, and a bank account, and a debit card (no credit rating required for that), and edited my first three books, and modestly furnished my new apartment with the help of my aesthetically gifted sweetheart, and nestled into a physical (as well as emotional) relationship with her, and continued with my blog posts and videos and such. After two months or so I figured I really ought to go out in search of gainful employment.
This was interesting, considering that, of course, pretty much all I had on my resume was thirty years as a Buddhist monk, plus some work as a fisheries biologist back in the 80s, plus my academic record. I applied for many jobs on a job-finding site called Indeed, mainly in the realm of remote editing jobs, “spiritual jobs” (though for some reason about half of those listed on Indeed were with the military), and anything within easy walking or biking distance, considering that I do not have a drivers license or a car at present. I considered trying to get work in healthcare until I realized that I’d probably have to take a vaccine that for me would probably be worse for my health than the illness it supposedly prevents. I went to one interview at a place selling honey and other bee products, but wound up getting employment at a sheet metal shop that I found totally independently of any website. I am still unsure why the manager hired me, considering that I have approximately zero experience working with sheet metal, unless he simply wanted a person with clean habits, or else he wanted to give a strange person (me) a chance at starting over in life. He seems to be a really good fellow, so maybe the latter is true—though I have also been told that there have been problems with wild, unstable guys being hired there and not lasting very long.
So after receiving cynical warnings about how I was doomed to flip burgers or take some other crap job (in comments to the pre-disrobing announcement of my momentous plans), it turns out that I have a decent job with a decent boss and decent coworkers, for decent pay (enough to pay the bills), and furthermore it’s kind of “macho” (my girlfriend likes it) and requires physical exertion that keeps me in shape—well, actually exhausted my first week or so of it. And I do derive some satisfaction from the idea that at least 98% of females would be unable physically to do my job. Take that, man-hating lesbian feminists. Actually, the hardest part of my job is simply enduring August weather in South Carolina without air conditioning, with work clothes on.
I think my years as a monk have been helpful in my new career as a worker in a sheet metal shop. First there is the austerity of being a sweat-drenched monk in Burma, which transitions well to being a sweat-drenched worker in South Carolina. Equanimity under adverse conditions is definitely an asset to just about anyone under any adverse condition. Also, any kind of repetitive work easily turns into meditation, so that I find myself spontaneously AUMing amid the machinery and noise. I don’t think very much when I’m at work, other than memorizing orders, and sometimes music plays in my head. So far I like my job, and life is relatively good. As is said at the end of the classic movie Being There, “Life is a state of mind.” There is one strange consideration, though, that I keep considering. I’ve read René Guénon’s weird book The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times, and in that book the author states that metal has the densest, darkest, most “samsaric” energy to it of all physical matter, and here I am making a living by carrying around big hunks of it, and processing it.
Ideally I would further my career as a Buddhist teacher, or something closely along the lines of that; though the demand for non-Asian Buddhist traditionalism is not great at present, or anyhow the demand for that is not great from the likes of me. I have always had dedicated readers and supporters, which I very much appreciate, but never enough of them to make a living at it, except when I was a radical minimalist living in a cave or hut in tropical Asia—back then a daily bowl of food was pretty much all I needed. Difficulty of sustaining myself by teaching and practicing Dharma has always been the case for me in the west. But working in a sheet metal shop has its good points, and I have no complaints or regrets. I will be too busy to post a blog post every five days for the foreseeable future though, so we’ll try one per week, as was the case with my first blog. If for some reason I were to become more popular and/or find the right niche as a non-“progressive” Dharma teacher, then that would be excellent, but I am perpetually on the fringe it seems, so at present I earn my bread by the sweat of my brow, in accordance with the curse of Adam. It’s honest work and keeps me out of trouble anyhow—idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and all that. But I will never give up on Dharma, and I trust Dharma will never give up on me.
With regard to my months-long mission of acquiring a credit card, I think I am now qualified. I even have a credit rating now, due to setting up a CD at a bank, borrowing money with the CD as security, and then paying back the loan, which was simply transferred into my checking account and is paid back automatically. My credit rating is all the way up into the yellow zone, at “fair,” with the rating only that high because my credit history has just begun, and it is based on such low diversity of my “account mix.” If you don’t understand what that means, you may be lucky, and my blessings are upon you.
After weeks of studying the driver’s guide and practicing my driving and parallel parking in a big church parking lot, I was informed that I haven’t had a real driver’s license for so long that the best I can do is apply for a learner’s permit. I won’t be able even to take a driving test until I’ve had the permit for six months…so no drivers license till February at the earliest. At present I don’t really need a car anyway, so no worries, and also no car insurance.
So, almost in conclusion, life is pretty good. I have a beautiful woman who loves me, a decent job and no debts, lots of good friends, including some of you who are reading this, a refrigerator full of food, and interesting times keeping the news a fascinating spectacle of history in the making. And Dharma is everywhere, as always.
Now, in conclusion, I leave a few lists of firsts and lasts.
Things I Have Done for the First Time in 30 Years (approximately in chronological order)
accept money into my hand (when still at the monastery)
wash my upper and lower robes at the very same time (I used to have to wear one while washing the other, but after I stopped wearing them I could wash both simultaneously)
go up and down all the aisles at a grocery store
wear shoes inside somebody’s house (that felt really strange at first)
operate a vending machine
buy something at a shop (two totally kitsch refrigerator magnets, at Santa Monica Pier)
put on pants and a shirt, socks, underwear, and eventually even gloves
sleep on my own bed (and not on the floor or a monastery wooden pallet)
walk to a refrigerator and help myself to anything inside
own a wallet
have a bank account
sign my name on average more than once a month
wear clothing that isn’t brownish, yellowish, or reddish
be non-celibate (*sigh*)
eat food that is not offered into my hands (or into my iron alms bowl)
eat three meals in one day
use underarm deodorant
shave my face without shaving my head also
pet an AKC registered dog (a very nice little whippet named Saffy)
create a resume
apply for a job, and be interviewed
drive a car legally
get a job
earn a paycheck
Things I have Done for the First Time EVER
ride a train across the continent of North America
be in Los Angeles (airports don’t count), New Orleans, and Greenville SC, and pretty much everywhere in between
have a mate with blue eyes
get a chakra reading and realignment
own my own coffee maker
own a couch
enter a Walmart (three different ones at this point, plus a Costco)
have a checking account
have a debit card
participate in the butchering of a pig (though I did NOT participate in the killing part)
eat at Chick-fil-A
deposit a check digitally on a telephone
apply for a credit card
be refused for a credit card (twice, because of zero credit rating and no bank statements)
publish books on Amazon
go through auto-checkout at a grocery store
operate a sheet metal cutter
use the mantra AUM in a sheet metal shop
Things I Have Done for the LAST Time in 30 Years
wear monastic robes
eat from my alms bowl (which is now on top of the cabinets in my kitchen)
shave my head (although my sweetheart likes shaved heads on guys)
eat mohinga (my last meal as a fully ordained monk)
be in California
see stewed “sour leaf” on my table
pet scroungy monastery animals
shorten the handle of my toothbrush (it is an obscure rule of discipline that a monk’s tooth-cleaning stick may not be more than eight finger widths in length, and although I am not aware of any other monk chopping off the end of his toothbrush handle, I did it for thirty years)
Things That Have Become Strangely Difficult to Obtain
(Costco didn’t even have goddamn raisin bran)
|everyday wonders are everywhere|