September 03, 2009

Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, Why I Quit and What I Learned

Former Tibetan Buddhist monk Stephen Schettini, now director of, explains his teaching this way:

I don't promise perfect peace, earth-shattering insight or transcendental breakthroughs. On the contrary, I ask my students to work hard, and especially to beware their own expectations. We're all twenty-first century grownups and as much as we want to believe in easy solutions and magical formulas we know perfectly well that a down-to-earth approach will pay off more than all the mantras, visualizations and promises of enlightenment on the world wide web.

Does this sound like someone who's been disillusioned by traditional Buddhist practices? I'd say so. Schettini's memoir, Novice: Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, Why I Quite and What I Learned (September 2009), tells of a young man's travels east, his life as an addict and then a monk, and his eventual decision to quit the monastery.

I caught up with Schettini a few years back, long after he'd processed his earlier life and established himself as a teacher in Montreal. Like others I've met who have left the Tibetan tradition, he  seems to have benefited from it nonetheless and as far as I can tell, is perfectly aware of this fact. Still, his misgivings are equally apparent, and in an article he wrote for Tricycle ("A Sense of Belonging"), both gratitude and regret are in evidence.

I was first introduced to Schettini by Stephen Batchelor, who like Schettini, left the Tibetan tradition after living as a monk himself. In fact, both were educated in the Tibetan tradition by the same teacher.

You can read a brief review of Schettini's book here. Schettini's a wonderful writer and he's worth the read.

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december buddhist carnival – the not so fluffy edition's picture

[...] earth-shattering insights, just hard work and no expectations the good people at the tricycle blog discuss the memoirs of former tibetan buddhist monk stephen schettini novice: why i became a [...]

kevin barker's picture

... I'm much more inspired by stories of people leaving things behind than embarking on them.