Meet Cute #12: The Monk and the Nun

It was still dark out when Brother Phap Vien woke at 5:15 a.m. for seated meditation. Still night, really. Fingers freezing, he shrugged on his brown robes and his brown hooded sweatshirt.

Outside his room, in the pre-dawn, other figures moved around him. Slow shadows, barely visible in the dark. Their shapes were all the same: Brown robes, shaved heads.

This was his first morning at Mountain Park monastery. He’d arrived the night before from Vietnam. One of the elderly nuns had given him a bowl of rice and tofu. He’d eaten it, huddled in the warm kitchen with her, then gone straight to his room.

The elderly nun had shown him where the meditation halls were located — one for the women and one for the men. They lay maybe a few hundred yards from each other, on opposite sides of a barely traveled mountain road.

He walked toward the men’s hall now, the robes he’d brought from Vietnam scratchy against his bare legs.

The air felt different in the United States. It was lighter, less substantial. Colder, of course. He’d have to find more clothes, and warmer ones, if this was to be the typical temperature.

He felt a stab of loneliness and wanted to talk to someone — just a hello or good morning. But the monks and nuns of Mountain Park practiced noble silence before lunch. The only sounds around him were scuffing footsteps.

He arrived at the men’s meditation hall, a small wooden building — little more than a large garden shed, really — with a high clerestory of windows. An orchid and a statue of the Buddha sat outside the front door.

A silent figure swept in the front door ahead of him. He followed, bowing slightly to the statue.

The hall smelled of incense and cold air and pines. The only light was a dim lamp at the front of the hall, where a monk sat motionless next to a meditation bell in the shape of a large bowl.

Unsure whether there was a protocol to the seating arrangements, Phap Vien found the nearest cushion and sat. He crossed his legs, closed his eyes and placed his palms face up on his thighs, the movements habitual from having done them so many times before.

He’d followed only one breath cycle when he was interrupted by a sharp jab at his shoulder. And then a hissing voice.

“It’s you!”

He turned around. A monk crouched beside him, staring in his face.

“It’s you, isn’t it? Already up to your old tricks!”

The voice was high, angry. Not male but female.

He looked around, panicking, a dozen or more pairs of eyes on him. He was in the sisters’ meditation hall!

The nuns who’d already arrived sat watching him in silent rebuke.

“I — I’m sorry,” he began. “I didn’t know –”

But the nun had already taken him by the elbow and hauled him up to stand. She yanked him toward the front door and then back outside, into the cold.

Standing only a foot or so away from her, he saw she was no older than he was — 21 or 22 at most. Her face was unlined and delicate, her eyes the same dark brown as his, but sterner.

“How could you do such a thing on your first day?” she hissed at him. Nuns filed past, glancing.

“I was confused,” he said. “I thought this was the brothers’ hall. I arrived late last night and barely had a tour –”

“Go,” she said. “Now, before anyone else sees.”

“I ask your forgiveness, sister,” he said. “Please.”

Her face softened a degree. He felt an unbearable urge to reach for her, to pull her toward him.

The urge mortified him. He was certain she could discern it.

He should leave now, walk away from the monastery, find a job and live as a householder. These were signs, all of them, that he wasn’t fit to be a monk.

“Go,” she said again.

He did. As he turned, his hand grazed the rough fabric of her robe.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *