Former chorister Bernard Mordan describes his life as a Buddhist Monk
The Abbey Choir is an experience that has never really left me. I sometimes wonder if it is my love of singing my prayers out loud each day. Maybe it is the comfort and familiarity of wearing robes, or the discipline of repeating a meditation practice until I’ve got it just right. Who would have thought little Bernard Mordan would turn into a Buddhist Monk! It certainly wasn’t little Bernard.
After singing my final Sunday evensong in the summer of 1994, I was off to Dartington College of Arts to start a degree course in Theatre and Arts Management. I remember Dick Hewitt saying to me; “You lucky thing; they’ll be the best days of your life”. Well, I can only wonder what Dick got up to during his years in university (and afterwards, for that matter) but I would agree that I was very lucky. Great friends, theatre, drink and girls, what more could my little heart wish for?
It was toward the end of my first year that I attended an evening class on meditation given by a western Buddhist nun, Kelsang Lhamo. As I sat in the little upstairs room, hoping none of my friends from college would see me, in walked Kelsang Lhamo; she then sat down and proceeded to gently and thoroughly explain how Buddhists believe the mind is a formless continuum that can only exist as a separate entity from the physical body. I was very impressed. I walked back to college in the dreamy summer light and felt really at peace. And I went back the next week for more.
During three years of college I was able to explore both Buddhism and theatre. My dissertation, The emptiness of a performers self, looked at the Buddhist philosophy of selflessness and the whole business of acting: I got a 2:1. As I said goodbye to my friends, and cleaned the flat I was renting, I felt the first chapter of my adult life closing.
Next experience: Amitabha Buddhist Centre. Both my parents will agree that it was a bit mad. I can still remember my Mum’s face, as she was standing in my new room surrounded by suitcases and bin bags, upon seeing a rat outside the window: “I can’t believe you are really going to live here”.
Amitabha Buddhist Centre was a large country mansion (in need of serious repair) set in 40 acres of Somerset parkland. It was my home for four years. I learnt a lot quickly in this period. It was pure magic, cold, lonely, funny, hard work, community living with 54 Buddhists, non-Buddhists, families monks and nuns. As I gradually came to appreciate and experience the basic wisdom of the Buddhist way of life, I found Amitabha Centre easier and easier to deal with. My two main understandings from this time: cherish others; and take responsibility for your own developing happiness.
Of course, once a situation has become easy on the path to enlightenment, it’s time to change the situation. So my teachers decided I’d be well placed in Dublin, helping to run a small centre there. Within nine days, I was doing my first shop with the Irish Punt in Tesco. Ireland was a huge change: I went from living in a community with lots of people, with a busy job in the Centre, to a Bungalow in quiet suburbia, with only two classes to teach a week. Still, these things don’t happen by chance.
Soon I was enjoying life in a republic with a very lovely, and warm community. Things in Dublin are grand. We are waiting to move into a large town house in the city centre. Numbers at our classes are going up and the core community are growing in confidence and experience. My two main understandings from this period: there are no objective truths; and what’s in your mind, comes out in your world. I thought I might leave you will a little verse that I enjoy contemplating during times of change:
Just like an experience in a dream,
Everything I now enjoy,
Will become a mere recollection,
For what has past cannot be seen again.
See you all at Christmas.
Bernard Mordan, former chorister.