Anagārika Jonatan’s story
By: Jonatan Heijmans
This is the story about how I quite suddenly came to leave the comforts of my life with a career and girlfriend in order to ordain as an anagārika in the Thai Forest Tradition. Ajahn Kalyāno encouraged me to write down my story in order to help to explain what a monastery is meant for, and how it can be helpful to others having similar experiences as me.
My journey into Buddhism started when I was about 16 years old and first came into contact with it in school. For me it was a search for meaning in life and perhaps for a way out of the anxiety and depressions that plagued me at that time. Practising yoga was the first step on the spiritual path and it later led to meditation. I spent four years doing yoga and meditation practice on a daily basis. When I was about twenty years old the world got to me and I gave up the spiritual path. During the next ten years I was doing meditation on and off and also had a short period where I was interested in Christianity. But in general spirituality was put to the side.
At the age of 28 I decided to study economics at University in order to become a manager. Living in Amsterdam during part of my studies I remember coming to a point in my life when I thought to my self, ‘is this really all there is to it?’ A few short lived sense pleasures and then death. Is there not more to life than that?
A few weeks later I started reading a book that would change the way I saw the world and would reignite my spirituality. The name of the book was “The Power of Now” written by Eckhart Tolle and it seemed at that point that I had found a teaching that spoke to my heart. For the next two years I was living by this book, reading it daily and I also started meditating regularly again.
The teachings mainly helped me develop my mindfulness (sati) and this was a truly liberating and blissful thing, to find a teaching that seemed to work so well against anxiety and a worrying mind. Fully living in the now seemed to be the solution to all my problems. The downside was that during this time I sometimes became spaced out. Also by this point I did not know how much deeper the practice could be and that developing good sati is just one of many aspects in the journey towards the truth.
Through the local Buddhist group in my town I found Skiptvet Buddhist Monastery and I decided to join the summer retreat. The summer retreat led by Ajahn Kalyāno taught me a lot – and most importantly to keep my feet on the ground and not to space out too much in my practice. At this time I did not know much at all about the Thai Forest Tradition and I had never been to a monastery. I thought that it was a very good retreat but to be living in a monastery was definitely not for me. This would later come to change.
Next year, in 2017, I once again wanted to visit the monastery, and when a good opportunity came to participate in the visit of Luang Por Liem, I decided to go to the monastery again in order to help out and do a meditation retreat. Once I got to the monastery I made an effort to try to just focus on practising meditation during my free time there. My intention was to in a quite playful way just see how peaceful I could get my mind. I spent my time in a tent in the forest, and during the days I helped with all kind of tasks that needed to be done. The rest of the time I made an effort to meditate as much as I could. There was a sense of urgency to make the most out of the stay since I knew I had a good opportunity to meditate and I knew that I would have to get back to my old life afterwards were the opportunity to practice like this would not come easily.
In the end of that week I had a meditation experience that would come to radically change the way I was living my life. What happened was that I decided to just sit down for a few minutes to meditate. Unexpectedly I became very peaceful and a vision or ‘nimitta’ appeared. The vision culminated in a spinning skull in front of my eyes, like endless spinning desires. This was a very peaceful experience but it really got over the message. I realised on a deep level and could see how my indulging in sense desires was ruling my life. I could see the cycles of saṃsāra and how this indulgence just goes on and on, and that it is so much suffering to be trapped in saṃsāra.
Later on that day we went to Oslo to listen to LP Liem’s Dhamma talk and once again during the Dhamma talk another nimitta appeared. Here I could see a person turning into a skeleton and also my own body lying dead in front of me. Once again this was a very peaceful experience and not at all frightening.
At first I didn’t at all realise what had happened and it was only when I spoke to Ajahn Kalyāno about the experiences that I realised that this was actually nimittas and I also realised the profound meaning of these visions. If I had not had any explanation to these events, this could have been a very confusing experience.
The next day when I went back to Gothenburg, I had a strong feeling of being torn inside between a calling for the spiritual life and my old life in the world. It felt as two thirds of my heart was already at the monastery. The third part of my heart was still with my old life not wanting to give up the beautiful things and relationships I enjoyed living my old life. I didn’t know at all what to do, but at the same time, deep down I knew what was the right thing to do, even though the thought of ordaining scared me a lot.
After a few days I decided to take the leap of faith and break up with my girlfriend and head back to the monastery to ordain as an anagārika. This is how I found my spiritual calling and went from living a life in the world of the senses to ordaining and living a life as a monastic in the Thai Forest Tradition.
I finished my year as an anagārika as planed and I have now been back in Gothenburg for about two years. Going back has been a journey towards balancing the Dhamma practice I developed at the monastery and daily life in Western society. I feel that the time spent at the monastery helped me a lot in my practice and also gave me an extended family in the community of the monastery. I’m deeply grateful to have had this opportunity and towards all those that helped me on this journey.
Now I’m working part time and trying to go on meditation retreats as often as I can. We have also established a Theravāda Buddhist meditation group in Gothenburg with hopes of inviting monks to Gothenburg in the future.