Mathieu Delobel: “In a monastery, you find yourself confronted with the realities of human nature. »

- through Sophie Solere

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When he arrived at the Bodhinyanarama monastery, Mathieu Delobel did not have the look of the model Buddhist. Having become a monk, close to the Venerable Nyanadharo, the young man rediscovered feelings such as jealousy and hypocrisy in a place that he thought was free from them. During his two years of priesthood, he was confronted with the veneration of the monks, the accumulation of merits or even the deification of the Buddha. Realities far from his ideals. These disappointments nevertheless allowed him to take a step back to better share his experience with the younger generations.

Interested in Buddhism since adolescence, you encountered the tradition of forest monks at the Bodhinyanarama monastery in 2012. But your Rasta style contrasted with the general atmosphere of the place. What were the reactions?

People were going to see the Venerable Nyanadharo to tell him that he should be wary of me. They thought I was influencing the master in the wrong way. I was probably not the image of what the Buddha's teaching was for them. Indeed, I am quite provocative and rebellious in my way of being. I speak naturally to the master, I do not idolize him. Some see this as a lack of respect. I'm also not a big fan of ceremonies and prayers. What interests me about monks in the forest is that sometimes you don't even hear the name of Buddha. We observe the functioning of the body, we learn how the mechanism of ill-being, well-being, suffering and joy can appear and disappear, how things manifest themselves in their entirety. It is a question of being less dependent on the outside environment, of adapting to it.

From the start, you felt very close to Venerable Nyanadharo. A relationship that you have never experienced with any other master. How do you explain it?

If I had not met the Venerable, I think I would not have deepened the teachings. We may have similarities in character. When he saw the violence I had in me and my daredevil side, he may have regained feelings of his youth. Our closeness can also be explained by the fact that I behave naturally with him. I don't try to be close or be with him all the time. I let things happen

You were surprised to find, at the monastery, behaviors identical to those of the outside world. Can you explain it?

I didn't expect to be confronted with hypocrisy or jealousy there. Yet that's what I experienced, and it really surprised me. We say to ourselves that a monastery is isolated from society, but we find ourselves there, on the contrary, confronted with the problems of human nature which make us dissatisfied. I can affirm this, because I myself felt and observed these feelings in me. I was also able to observe that Western Buddhists often privilege rules and rigidity to the detriment of joy. There are also community differences between Asians who are very attached to rituals and ceremonies, and Westerners who are more oriented towards meditation sessions. In any case, it is certain that, when you live in a small community, rubbing shoulders with people 24 hours a day, the tensions come out much more than when you go home at night, to isolate yourself.

During your stays in Thailand, you were also disappointed by the practices of the local populations. Did you idealize Buddhism too much?

I was shocked to see a practice based on ceremony and prayer, but also to see how monks are viewed. Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni created the community of monks to break the caste system that existed in India. I therefore find it surprising to see that nowadays, the monk is considered, in Asia, as a superior being. I have already heard a master say to me: “You are a superior being to the laity”. I didn't appreciate it too much, because my approach as a monk was to reduce my ego. However, when at 26 years old, people bowed to me or called me “Venerable”, I did not see how that was going to help me in this sense. Knowing that the monastery lived on the alms of the lay faithful, I considered on the contrary that it was up to me to prostrate myself before the people. Also, the laity didn't want me to wash my cup because according to their beliefs, cleaning a monk's cup brings them merits and can promote better rebirth. Observing these realities, my ideals regarding Buddhism fell. In Thailand, the Buddha is almost considered a god while in Europe, it is emphasized that Buddha is a human. I saw only beliefs whereas, for me, the basis of the teaching was not to have any.

Your visit to Bodhgaya, place of the Buddha's Awakening, in India, symbolizes this contrast between your expectations and reality...

I expected to find a preserved place in the forest, with the famous Bodhi tree. But I found myself in a concrete place with lots of buildings, a megaphone shouting prayers, posters asking for donations. I felt like I was at the market. I saw a lot of people in meditation posture, hoping to achieve enlightenment on the spot. I thought that if Buddha saw them, he would certainly be surprised. It is not forbidden to pay homage to the place, but what is important is in us, no matter where we are.

Have these disappointments changed your practice?

This allowed me to see that for years, I was too focused on the outside, to get upset because of certain behaviors. These experiences forced me to come back to myself and take some distance. I can now go to the monastery without trying to change things. I just observe. If someone comes to ask my opinion, I will answer it but I try to be an example in my practice. Whether in music, sports or spirituality, the most important thing is regularity. And the latter is difficult. We often tend to do a full week of meditation training and go home where we stop completely. I have not yet managed to be in this regularity, in this Middle lane, even if I try both not to force too much and not to let myself go too much.

“Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni created the community of monks to break the caste system that existed in India. I therefore find it surprising to see that nowadays, the monk is considered, in Asia, as a superior being. »

How does your background give you keys to sharing your life experiences with younger generations?

Depending on the social background, I will use a different language. To young people from privileged backgrounds who have studied, I will show that having left school very early did not prevent me from being happy and from having extraordinary experiences today. By discussing with young people who have fallen into addictions, such as cannabis, I will explain that my consumption has not only had negative consequences, but that, by stopping and starting to smoke again, I have been able to see the negative impact of this addiction on my body and mind. Rather than stopping suddenly, I advise them to stop for a day. I make sure that young people see for themselves and can take some distance.

Many young people are blocked by the image conveyed by religions. How do you tell them about it?

When we talk about religion to young people, they think that I will try to convert them. When I say that I was a Buddhist monk, they often ask me if it is not a sect. I will rather break the idea they have of it. Someone with an atypical background like me can make the lessons accessible to everyone. I approach the question with my vocabulary. When I tell young people of 15 or 20 that, despite my experience, I even listen to PNL or Jul, sometimes with very vulgar lyrics, they look at me with wide eyes. It creates a curiosity that can arouse their interest. I want to show them that there is something human in teaching, which connects us all. Religious and spiritual masters would benefit from welcoming young people's questions with great openness, like the Indian yogi Sadhguru. They must reach out to them and use today's digital tools, adapt to today's world, to inspire and help all generations, without barriers.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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