Magic and Miracles

There are times when I just love how the universe works. As I am fond of saying, those who do not believe in magic and miracles simply are not paying attention.

Here is a story in three parts.

Part one: Many years ago I became enamored of a Buddhist monk named Ajahn Amaro. As is typical of my Buddhist teachers, he is endearing, grounded, brilliant, and has a lovely sense of humor. When I first became familiar with him he was the co-abbot of the Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California. This is about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

I have listened to dozens and perhaps hundreds of his talks. And one year—this is when I still lived in Vermont—I learned that he was going to lead a retreat at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts. I was very excited about this, and fortunately for me, I was able to get a spot at that retreat.

Not only was the retreat unforgettable, it turned out that Ajahn Amaro was on his way back to his native England to become the abbot of the Amaravati Monastery. This was his last retreat in the United States. There are moments in life where you just feel blessed and grateful and perhaps a little astonished, and this was one of those moments. It was a wonderful retreat, and I will never forget it.

This is the end of Part One.

Part two: A few weeks ago I was listening to a talk by Ajahn Brahm. As those of you who follow this blog know, he is one of my favorite teachers. The Buddhist Society of Western Australia—the BSWA—has an active online presence and its own YouTube Channel. They livestream many events. And especially during the pandemic the BSWA has been a way to stay connected to a vibrant Buddhist community.

In this talk Ajahn Brahm told a rather astonishing story. It was in response to a question from someone who asked, “How do you know if becoming a monk or a nun is the right choice for you?” This is what he said.

Many years ago—decades, in fact—a young man from England had just finished his college degree. Before he entered the workforce, he decided to do some traveling. He went to a number of places in Asia, and eventually he ended up in northeast Thailand. He went there to visit some friends who were working for an NPO. Now as you may know, northeast Thailand is some of the poorest and most remote country in the world, and there is not much for a young twenty-something to do. So he asked around, and he was told that there was a Buddhist monastery nearby and that he might want to visit it.

Now this young man knew nothing about Buddhism. Being from the West and having been in the same situation, I can relate to how he must have felt. I was nearly 40 years old before I knew even the slightest, tiniest amount about Buddhism.

So off this young man went, to spend—he thought—an afternoon in the strange, mysterious environs of a Buddhist monastery. He had a wonderful afternoon there. In fact, it was so wonderful that he asked the monks if he could stay for the night. Of course, they were happy to have him stay. It must have been marvelous for them to have this Westerner come to visit them out of the blue. And so he stayed for the night.

On the next morning, in what seems like an astonishing choice, he asked to be ordained as a Buddhist monk! And perhaps even more astonishingly, they agreed. He was ordained, and he never looked back. Imagine just for a moment making that same choice. Incredible.

And that is the end of Part Two of this story.

Part three: And now… you may have guessed the punchline. That young man was and is Ajahn Amaro. He has become one of the great Buddhist monks and one of the great Buddhist teachers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Those who do not believe in magic and miracles simply are not paying attention. And when I look at the arc of my life, I feel so incredibly blessed to have—in some small way—been a witness to one of those miracles.

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