„Every living entity is a hero in two ways. When he is a victim of the illusory energy, he works as a great hero in the material world, as a great leader, politician, businessman, industrialist, etc., and his heroic activities contribute to the material advancement of civilization. One can also become a hero by being a master of the senses, a gosvāmī. Material activities are false heroic activities, whereas restraining the senses from material engagement is great heroism.“ (1)
What a statement! Restraining the senses from material engagement is great heroism. It seems to me that nowadays not many appreciate this kind of heroism anymore. While participating at an interfaith program, I was at a monastery and I asked myself: “Where are the monks?“
In the cellar, the krypta, there are tombs and in the garden they have an additional graveyard for all the monks who have once lived here. On a wall, all their names are written, starting from Sebastian von Altdorf from April 10, 1583 until Seraphin Arnold in the year of 2003. I then realized that this community was disbanded ten years ago. The group of monks decreased so much that only six of them remained. They were not able to maintain the monastery, which was founded around 500 years ago, and as a result they decided to close it.
For me, as a practicing monk, it felt weird to walk through the former monastery hearing about the lifestyle of ` my brothers` as if I would be visiting a museum that exhibits an old and extinct species. A species that is no longer appreciated and seen as irrelevant. It felt strange to me because I myself still follow such an outdated lifestyle.
Our tour guide explained how the community had tried to find new monks before they closed down the monastery by publishing an advertisement in the newspaper: „We are searching for mechanics, carpenters, gardeners, male nurses, bankers, traders, jurists, theologians and communication experts as capuchin brothers. You are a single man, ideally between 22 and 35, you have one of these occupations, you have a community spirit, you are used to working independently, you are hardworking, creative and you are looking for a deeper meaning in life? Then you should contact us! We do not offer any payment, but spirituality and prayers, contemplation, an alternative lifestyle and freedom from material wealth and the usual couple relationship model.”
„Ah! This kind of freedom, this kind of focus on God. This sounds like music to my ears!“ is what I told myself. „That's the great heroism Srila Prabhupada talked about!“ But who can understand it? Who likes to follow it? In the case of this particular monastery, as well as in so many other monasteries that have closed over the last decades, no one felt attracted to this unusual offer anymore. This is not so surprising. Who likes to exchange wealth, sexuality and independence with poverty, celibacy, and obedience?
During our lunch break, a Muslim brother reminded me that spirituality does not depend on one's external lifestyle. Muslims do not have monastic orders. Muhammad made it clear that family life and sexuality is something very natural that everyone requires. No need to artificially detach oneself from the world. Also in our tradition, most practitioners are householders, an ashrama that provides a natural situation for most people. Because they also follow the principles of spiritual life, they too are to be considered great heroes. In some way they are even greater heroes than the monks and nuns since they control their senses while being surrounded with the opportunity for sense gratification!
Nevertheless there were always some men and women who just wanted to exclusively dedicate their lives to God. Even though they do belong to a species that is in danger of going extinct, we still exist and I truly hope that we will always continue to do so!
1 - Srimad Bhagavatam 4.25.25