Why I Became a Buddhist Monk,
Why I Quit and What I Learned
I went looking for something; I had no idea what, just as long as it wasn’t make-believe.
After hell and high water I finally stumbled into the Tibetans, and their version of Buddhism. The teachers were welcoming, and they made a lot of sense, but there was also plenty of ritual and superstition. I wanted to feel home at last, and got half caught up in their religious ways.
It took a while to see the subversive side of what the Buddha taught. It has the strange power to undermine any culture in which it takes root. Forget the mystical stuff, the hardest part was becoming truly honest about why I was there. Without facing your deepest fears, you remain trapped inside them. My breakthrough wasn’t as clear as it seems now, but it was much less complicated than I expected. The teachings of those highly-trained scholars in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka left me with a painful dilemma. When the time came to stand up as “one of them” — a representative of an ancient tradition — I had to give it all up. I was clearly an outsider.
The Novice is the story of how that unfolded. The Novice is who I was then. It’s also in many ways who I still am. Change is more about practical adaptation than mystical transformation. My journey taught me that knowledge is just the beginning, that acknowledging the vastness of what we don’t know is the key to freedom.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
[Shunryu Suzuki: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind]
Words of Praise
“A wonderful achievement, gripping and calmly insightful by turn, honest to the point of being a sustained howl of pain at times, with some brilliantly succinct portraits of the author’s teachers and friends.”
—Stephen Batchelor Author of Buddhism without Beliefs & Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist
“Stephen Schettini’s The Novice is a lively read with a deep meaning, entertaining us with a fascinating slice of life while encouraging us to use our short lives in a fruitful way—not settling for some half-alive, blind following of routine. I enjoyed its keen portrayal of outer landscape and inner terrain of emotion and intellect, its humor, and the nobility of the author’s struggles, told with ruthless honesty and understated humor in an engaging combination. I recommend it enthusiastically.”
Professor of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University
Author of Inner Revolution & Why the Dalai Lama Matters
“What a story! By turns epic and heroic, tender and touching, The Novice imparts a hugely important lesson to our times. It is a gift to every Western seeker of the ‘spiritual’ East. With the seductive verve of a novelist, Schettini tells a subversive and liberating tale.”
—Glenn Wallis, Pd.D. Author of The Basic Teachings of the Buddha, The Dhammapada, & Mediating the Power of Buddhas
From Chapter 31 – Full Circle
“I was in a state of heightened slow motion, sensible to every movement of my body and to the roar of every in-breath and out-breath. I approached the bus stop, acutely alive to the universe of my own body and mind. The sounds of the jungle, wind in the high palms and the crunching of the dust beneath my feet overwhelmed my senses. In this moment of excruciating clarity, I stood outside the monastery gates awaiting the Colombo bus. From the bowels of the earth I felt a vibration that grew into a diesel roar and the screeching halt of the great vehicle in a cloud of dust. I placed one foot on the lower step, transferred my weight, slowly lifted the second and grasped the handrail. With a good-humored sigh, the driver let me climb aboard before pulling away as fast as the ancient motor would allow. I lurched from side to side, trying to follow the movement of my center of gravity, until a sudden swerve threw me conveniently into an empty seat. In the moment before I dropped my head in contemplation I noticed that everybody on the bus was talking, twitching, scratching and getting on and off at extraordinary speed. The passing countryside was a blur.” [Page 294]
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