Theravada Buddhist monks are expected to follow 227 rules of conduct. I can recall the exact total only because 227 was the name of a sitcom I watched as a kid. The number of rules Buddhist nuns are expected to follow is even higher, though I forget just how many, as that figure has no obvious connection to the TV shows of my youth. All I remember, thanks to Major Frank Burns, is that it’s lower than 4077.
I’ve known about the 227 rules of conduct for monastics for some time now, but never bothered to look up what they are. Well, I finally did this morning, not because I’ve got a sudden urge to join a monastery, but because I’ve filed our taxes, caught up on (some of) our laundry, and have earned myself a little goofing-around time.
It can be fun to see how you stack up against the top players in a field. One of the popular sideshows of the 2011 New York City Marathon was a 60-foot-long video wall installed at the Columbus Circle subway station. The display – a clever ad by shoe company Asics – showed American distance runner Ryan Hall zipping from one end to the other at his blistering marathon pace of 4:46 per mile, which is faster than most people can sprint. Passersby would line up for a chance to race beside the virtual Hall down a stretch of the subway station, and marvel at how quickly he’d leave them in his digital dust.
Similarly, I’m curious to know how far I, both as a layperson and a runner, could progress down the path of a monk without tripping all over myself.
Below are 10 things monks are discouraged from doing, and an honest appraisal of how I’d fare at staying within the guidelines.
1. Defecating, urinating or spitting on grass or green plants (unless a medical reason prevents doing otherwise): This would’ve been a breeze when I was strictly a road racer, but adding longer trail runs to the mix has put me in dangerous territory. Easing up on the defecating and spitting would be doable, but trail running and urinating on plants go together like Hall and Oates. I’d fail at this one.
2. Playing in the water: I’ve gone swimming maybe five times in the last 20 years, and four of those times I almost drowned. There’s a reason I don’t blog about my passion for the triathlon. It is because no such passion exists, as the event involves flailing about in liquid death. I have a healthy paranoia of water that pools in any area larger than a bird bath, and would therefore excel at complying with this rule.
3. Carrying raw wool for longer than 48 kilometres: Had I raw wool, the threat of carrying it 48 kilometres would be negated by the stress fracture in my leg. Breaking this rule, as fun as it sounds, seems unlikely for the time being.
4. Asking for a new bowl if your current one doesn’t have at least five cracks or has become unusable: My current trail shoes are actually 70 per cent shoe, 28 per cent quick-fix rubber cement and two per cent chewing gum. I’ve got no problem patching up my existing equipment and making do. I would rule this rule.
5. Wearing the lower robe incorrectly wrapped around oneself, so as to leave the edges uneven: I would fail miserably at any rule that involves maintaining a polished appearance. I can’t seem to keep my shoes tied. Every race bib I’ve ever pinned to the front of my shirt has been crooked. The buttons on my dress shirts never line up. I’ve gone whole days with jam on my face.
6. Wearing the upper robe incorrectly wrapped around oneself, so as to leave the edges uneven: See Rule No. 5.
7. Teaching the Dharma to someone who is holding an umbrella, unless he is sick: It’s unlikely I’d violate this rule, as I’m in no position to teach the Dharma. Though if I were to break it, this would be the time of year to do it.
8. Swinging the arms when going into inhabited areas: It’s tough not to swing your arms when you run, tougher still to run without coming across someone sooner or later. Rule breach imminent.
9. Making or having a needle box in ivory, bone or horn: Not a chance. I included this in the list only because I’ve been blowing a lot of these and my score could use a boost.
10. Filling the mouth with food so that the cheeks are inflated: I’m a repeat offender, as I rely on solid food for fuel on long runs. Consuming sports gels instead would help me out here, but they make me feel sick, and I’d probably just end up breaking Rule No. 1 again.