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Lions Roar : July 2016
HE HISTORY OF BUDDHISM, by and large, is a story of full-time practitioners. It stars the monastics, priests, yogis, and her- mits who left behind what most of us call “ordinary” life to dedicate themselves solely to Bud- dhist practice and study. Laypeople, meanwhile, are nearly invisible in the traditional Buddhist narrative. A few entered the lore—Vimalakirti, Layman Pang, and the Tibetan farmer Marpa are perhaps the best known—but they are rare, celebrated explicitly as exceptions to the rule. Today in the West, the story is reversed. The vast majority of Western practitioners—and most well- known Buddhist teachers—are lay men and women, trying to keep a commitment to practice while simul- taneously devoting themselves to family, work, and participation in the culture. Monastics and other full- time Buddhist practitioners are the exception in the West, trying to make their way in a society that doesn’t necessarily support—or even understand—their path. Monasteries in China and Tibet used to house up to ten thousand monks and nuns at a time. Those days are behind us. Yet every age, including ours, has its renunciates. They are the ones who give up what the rest of us won’t or can’t in order to place spiritual practice at the center of their lives. They remind us of the hard choice between “having it all” and having what you most deeply want. They show us that when you know what you really want, following your true path is easier than it looks. SISTER PEACE MYOYU MALVERN COSTELLOE CAROLINE LEINSTER ELIZABETH CALLAHAN KOUN FRANZ is a Zen teacher and priest and the deputy editor of Buddhadharma. His blog is Nyoho Zen. T LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 65