in Monasticism

My Daily Rituals with Monks

monk calig


For centuries monks have practiced daily meditations, prayers, and sacramental rituals.

The daily rituals of meditation, chanting, and prayer of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Monks’ included:

5:30 – 6:30 A.M. Arise, private meditation
7:00 – 8:00 A.M. Group meditation in Monks’ Chapel
12:00 – 12:30 P.M. Meditation, group or private
6:00 – 7:00 P.M. Group Meditation in the Monks’ Chapel
9:00 – 10:00 P.M. Before bed, private meditation

To summarize, the time SRF monks’ spent in meditation, chanting, and prayer:

4½ hours daily
1,643 hours annually (1y x 365d x 4.5h)
30% of the monks’ waking hours are spent in these daily rituals.

More often than not, an SRF monk’s meditation resulted in nothing extraordinary. Practice of sacred rituals could easily turn into mindless, dull routine–when a monk neglected his spiritual “duty” or lacked self-surrender. Restlessness, anxiety, aches and pains of the body and mind, drowsiness, sleep, and daydreams were frequently the monks default experience during rituals. A monk learned to discipline his body, mind, and emotions. Or, a monk harshly judged himself, felt guilt, and slid into self-shame.

Effort, Betsy Streeter, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Effort, Betsy Streeter, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A monk could spend days, weeks, and years in meditation only to feel he’s made no progress whatsoever. Or, that his practices were getting worse instead of better. During these times a monk’s faith in god and his will to stay in the monastery was severely tested. Some traditions called these spiritual tests the ‘dark night of the soul’. An aspirant could feel totally lost and completely discouraged. (In the privacy of my room, I often lay myself prostrate on the floor before a makeshift altar on my dresser, and begged with god and guru to save me from myself. The only way out of my ‘dark night’, I was taught and thought, was the way through: surrender, faith to the divine). Monks are human.

Occasionally, though, a monk’s meditations would flow effortlessly into a deep state of awareness: his thoughts, breath, feelings–everything–ceased to exist. Momentary experiences of stillness, bliss, or nirvana. During these rare moments he received “proof” of god or rewards for his spiritual efforts. Though our sacred rituals were supposed to be conducted as pure offerings to god, given without attachment or desire to get anything back. Feelings of peace and bliss were attributed to efforts from meditation. Negative thoughts and feelings to our egos. To persevere for 4½ hours everyday for years, required occasional “signs and wonders”. Our spiritual investments had to pay off in “miracles” and salvation. Had to.

See my posts Hacking The Flow and Meditation & Mindfulness

For more about the power of daily rituals listen to Accidental Creative: The Dailies

Questions for readers: Do you think sacred daily rituals are helpful or harmful? Do you have any examples in your life?

Leave a Reply

  1. Scott: Very nicely written. Personal and real. Well done.

    Yesterday I sat cross-legged in a local tea shop with a dear friend. Before ordering while opening my laptop and listening to a beautiful Indian raga playing on the stereo system, my spine suddenly straightened, my eyes closed lightly and a smile crossed my face as I was overcome by a “deep state of awareness: [my] thoughts, breath, feelings–everything–ceased to exist [resonated in bliss].”

    But I perform no religious rituals, nor do I force myself to remain quiet, nor prostrate myself before any god or guru. And perhaps, they experiences overtake me as often as they do those who strive — desperately covering themselves in religious garment, doctrines, confessions and hopes.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Sabio. I understand, from your blog, that in your past you spent many hours, many years practicing religious rituals.

    Do you think if you’d NOT done those rituals (as a body of past practices/experiences) that today you would be able to experience what you do– without need of said rituals? In other words, could you have “resonated in bliss” without your past religious/spiritual efforts performed in your past?

    I wonder if I take for granted my awareness cultivated over years of religious rituals, meditations, and spiritual practices. Also, I wonder if my entire history, my “body of religious practice”, like meditation, was necessary so that someday I could throw rituals and practices away and be able to feel equal or greater “bliss”.

    The flower falls when the fruit appears“.

  3. Good question, Scott. I actually had odd (mystical) experience before I started those practices. Doing those practices perhaps helped me to recognize them, label them and yes, perhaps nurture them. But I am not sure of the nurture part. However, I think if one was encourage to watch and nurture in secular experiences — sex, music, food, watching, being alone, the same could happen.

    BTW, I am not after “equal or greater bliss”. “Bliss” is just one of many experiences — happiness, lust, hunger, satisfaction, inquisitiveness, awe and many more are all interesting, no?

  4. @Sabio: Yes. I think that this is where mindfulness or meditation practices can have benefits. Just that most people think of magic or bliss. I agree every experience or feeling can be special. These ideas are one reason why I am fascinated and write about peak experiences and hacking into flow states.

    Great discussion. I still wonder about the “nurture” part, the maturity for being able to experience these “states” we discussed. Thanks for sharing your insights.