My wife Anjana has always been a spiritual being and has practiced Yoga for more than ten years. In order to elevate her practice to a higher realm she applied for a ten-day long mediation course at a Buddhist center. She was accepted to the course only five hours before it began. We rushed off to the center and when we arrived, the orientation had already begun. One of the monks was explaining the course details. He was a sweet and compassionate man and explained the austere life practiced in the center. The first requirement was to surrender all mobile phones. I was stunned. Anjana would be completely cut off from the modern world for ten days. It hit me like a ton of bricks. She would give up all modern-day comforts in her quest for enlightenment. I asked myself, how can I measure up to her and equal this kind of sacrifice? Looking around, I noticed a message on the bulletin board – “Servers needed to cook, clean, and work for the resident students.” Here is how I could help – I could be a server. Friends, this decision changed my life’s perspective.
Art work by Prachurya Baruah
I approached the registration desk to find that applications for servers were no longer accepted. I struck up a conversation with the register who soon convinced of my sincerity. He took me inside the sanctuary to meet the center abbot. He was a monk with a cleanly shaven head sitting in the lotus position. I was in complete awe, adorned in saffron robes he was radiating serenity and enlightenment. As he nodded I pled my case “I am on par with Anjana in the practice of mediation, I genuinely want to serve the center. Oh Bhikkhu, oh the enlightened soul , please let me experience just a taste of the life of a monk. Let me spend the day inside these walls.” The Bhikkhu smiled “Come on the 9th day of the course and stay here for a day”. I was thrilled
As I returned home, my thoughts drifted back to when I was a boy watching a group of Buddhist monks walking through our neighborhood. When the monks arrived, we would take off our sandals in reverence and respectfully place a food offering into each of the alms bowls. After we finished, kneeling with our palms joined in respect, we sought their blessings. Even with their blessings I had my doubts. Was I really learning anything from them? As I returned to the center to perform my duty as a server, I was struck with a strange sense of Deja vu.
I woke up 4 AM to the to the sound of the temple gong. We assembled for morning chant. I started my duties as a server by washing the kitchen sink, peeling tomatoes and onion as I knelt on the kitchen floor. I racked leaves from the vegetable garden, I carried heavy blankets and bundles of robes from one building to another. As I was absorbing the austere lifestyle of a Buddhist monk - brushing my teeth without spilling a drop of water, splashing cold water on my face, and rushing off to meditate in the morning, I was recalling the chanting of the monks walking through our neighborhood.
“Have no concern with physical discomforts such as cold, hunger, and pain.
Purge yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally!
Oh my son , Perform all tasks with a clear mind.”
At the end of my day, I was given my final task - to iron a pile of saffron robes. The saffron robe is a symbol of peace, purity, and piousness. I received them with the utmost reverence and began to push the iron over the material, one painstaking patch at a time. But it seemed that no matter how hard I tried the wrinkles remained. I stared with dismay at the lukewarm iron, I felt defeated. It was at that moment the center abbot walked in smiling at me. I leaned back on the balls of my feet, iron in hand. I returned his smile awkwardly and said, “Oh Bhikkhu I am not doing a good job. He knelt down and leaning towards me he declared softly.
“You must remember this. There is no good and there is no bad. All that matters is how much you try.” Immediately, I felt all my tension leave my body. I realized I had overburdened myself. Friends, it’s OK to fail, just do your best, that's all anyone can ask of you.
As Anjana and myself left the center, his words reverberated inside me. I began to apply this principle to my day-to-day life. I start my day with a clear mind. If my new ideas are rejected, if the community project I worked on painstakingly is ignored, I don’t feel defeated. Winning or losing is not important, what gives me peace is knowing that I have tried my best. Friends, there is no good and there is no bad. All that matters is how much you try.
Toastmasters Speech Evaluation by Amy Nelson
Amy Nelson is a Maxwell Certified Professional Development Coach and a proud member of TNT Toastmasters.
You had a really good opening and closing. You built up the story - Anjana did not have a phone for ten days , you were worried, you decided to go ahead working through it. Though I wanted to hear a little more about Anjana’s experience. Wonderful eye contact and your gestures were very intentional not distracting. This made them effective, great jobs in kneeling and offering alms.
Vocal variety - You did a really good job of going from moderate to soft. (your first encounter with the monk). I would like you to raise the volume of your voice a little more before you make it softer. In some areas of your speech, it was a little soft to hear clearly particularly at the part about ironing the robes. Also be careful of turning towards the wall ( when you enacted the monk) because it makes it difficult to hear. Perhaps you can go to the side so that we can hear you better.
Your descriptive words like monk with the clean-shaven head – we could really picture that. I loved the lesson in closing. You left the audience with something to think about and an action plan.
Toastmasters Speech Evaluation by Daisy Luong
Ankur used good vocabulary, like "austere," and had vivid description of how austere a monk's life can be. Ankur also used good body language for example, turning to the side when speaking as the monk advising him (Ankur) as the server. I like how Ankur varied his vocal variety at the climax of his speech He described feeling a lot of relief when the monk told him it's more important to try his best as he (Ankur) was getting discouraged about the wrinkled robes that couldn't be ironed flat. Ankur slowed the pace and combined a softer and a louder pitch for emphasis. For future improvement Ankur might vary the pace earlier in the speech. For example, in the intro when he says, Friends, it changed my life. Slowing the pace and leaning toward the camera would add emphasis in addition to gesturing with both hands. I believe Ankur will have greater vocal variety the more times he gives the speech and its more firmly committed to memory. It's not easy to memorize 8-10 mins. One spot where there was a slight break in the speech flow was when Ankur transitioned to the part of the monk and turned his side to the camera. Consider doing that transition more slowly b/c I almost missed that he was transitioning to the monk as the speaker. Consider also a more extreme facial expression when talking about the dismay at not being able to iron the robes. The message of the speech was relevant. I like that he summed it up in one succinct statement ("It's ok to fail"), and the style of telling a story to convey his point of view was effective.