The Buddhist monk who had immediately before been discussing the Dharma suddenly asked, “Do you know about 9/11?” It was obvious from the way he said this that his understanding of the event was different from the accepted version.
He had a lot to say on the subject, and I, who have never troubled to delve into alternative speculation about this tragedy, was at first shocked to hear this from a monk. And then I understood.
In order to take what would seem to most people as the radical step of abandoning the world, there must be a strong instigation, either personal or more general.
When I myself took the vows, all those years ago, it was on account of a strong attraction and hopefulness towards what I defined as spiritual life, and a simultaneous dislike for what I saw in the world. The latter was not well-defined; only a feeling for which I had not bothered to provide a theoretical background. I had no sources of information and only my intuition to go on.
But now there is the Internet, and much greater access to information than in the past – even for monks. It is a lot easier to access covert knowledge and stimulate alternative thinking. This monk had taken a path that allowed him to deeply question basic assumptions about the way our civilization works. 9/11 had been a convenient opening.
His wish to share his knowledge of 9/11 came from a notion that it could serve as a key to understanding. For me, it isn't and could not be such a key, because it's an area in which I feel out of my depth. As I said to him, “I could go to websites about 9/11 and begin to believe alternative theories, but this would still be only a belief. I simply don't have the tools or the knowledge to assess them properly.
But although 9/11 isn't a key for me, I'm in sympathy with the rest of his deep dissatisfaction with the world. I told him he was preaching to the converted.
The truth, however, is that it is quite difficult to detach from the world. Monkhood is an easier path for that. The rest of us have to deal with the world much more rigorously. The establishment, and the established patterns, worm their way through everything.