In a time and a place and a planet in which the way we live, the way we see ourselves, the way we see each other, and the way we understand what we mean by culture, community, and civilization is under new and constant threat, we need people who have a taken a step back from our collective madness and taken a step forward towards humanity and sanity and spirituality.
These people are personalities of kenosis, or what eco-theologian Sallie McFague describes as self-fulfillment as self-restraint. They are personalities who understand that we need to let go of our "unnecessary necessities" to find real and sustainable material and spiritual happiness. Traditionally, many examples of such kenotic lifestyles have come from monastic communities. While we certainly no longer live in traditional times, there are still those who identify as monastics who are walking the talk of humanity and providing profound examples of connection, compassion, and inter-connectivity.
Gadadhar Pandit Dasa (Pandit), author of Urban Monk: Exploring Karma, Consciousness, and the Divine is raising a quiet but powerful stir in New York City and around the country with his monastic and kenotic example of self-restraint and self-fulfillment. In an age in which people are both turned off by religious fundamentalism yet still yearn deeply for spiritual meaning and understanding, Pandit deftly uses the unique wisdom of his traditional calling to speak of something real in our increasingly unreal times.
Recently independent filmmaker Contessa Gayles has featured Pandit in a short film entitled simply yet provocatively "Monk in Manhattan." Pandit opens the film with a disconcerting yet revealing statement of what led him into monastic life: "Material life hadn't been too pleasant to me, so I didn't actually feel like I was giving up anything. I thought I was giving up suffering actually." His remarkable story is remarkable not because of anything extraordinary or mystical, but because it touches so deeply to the human experience of pain, love, suffering, and redemption.
His monastic calling has given him the opportunity to understand his experience in a way many of us want to understand, and he has become more than happy to share that understanding and to encourage others to have that understanding. Of his life as an urban monk, he says that it has given him time to "figure out what my real purpose is as a human being. Is it really just to make money and do what everyone else does in life or I am meant to do something different?"