By Juliana Di Leonardo
A few months ago, I had befriended a monk. I came to his temple in search of reigniting my meditation practice and was pleasantly surprised that this new friendly person was someone who showed appreciation for my compassionate lifestyle as a vegan and animal advocate. As a monk, I expected him to be strict with his vows but instead he showed me that his kindness and fascination, or what eventually felt like an obsession, with me was due to my physical appearance and it no longer felt like he treasured my mind nor the person within. I was truly disappointed.
Self-restraint can be a challenging practice. Often, we struggle with eliminating activities or indulgences because we tend to focus on their absence rather than the benefits we gain from removing them. In a monastic lifestyle, monks and nuns make a conscious decision to abstain from sexual activities and pleasures as a way to assist in their spiritual practice. This dedication in religious communities makes them an outlet for individuals searching for a safe place or refuge, a person sought out for guidance and clarity during times of chaos and pandemonium. It is in these places of worship that we are overcome by a sense of peace knowing that brahmacharya, pure conduct, is practiced there, however, we may also find that those same people choosing to commit to a spiritual life are still susceptible to falling into impure thought or action.
As humans, we are not perfect but that shouldn’t allow us to overlook the issue that vulnerable members of religious communities are being taken advantage of by venerated individuals. Over the years, and even now, stories about sexual harassment and assault within different congregations are still being reported all over the world. People searching for advice or direction are sensitive to the requests of admired monks, nuns, and other holy individuals which may lead patrons to fulfill sensual requests or instruction. This predatory behavior creeps up slowly, affecting unsuspecting people of all ages. It’s the initial kindness that disarms us, the helpful demeanor and gifts that help make relaxing into the clutches of these spiritually lost individuals that leads to the crossing of boundaries, and pressure to comply with fulfilling sexual desires.
Sometimes we lose ourselves in our search for more information, we hand over our power to the people we think are more knowledgeable than us, but we already have all the answers we need within us. The journey is to go inside rather than to another person. To avoid these scenarios, try to focus on connecting your mind, body, and spirit with meditative practices, and trust that each time you practice ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha that you are doing the work that will help you become a more compassionate and successful person.
For this week’s Anuvrat, or small vow, I encourage you to practice brahmacharya, or self-restraint, by abstaining from an activity that might be causing more harm than good in your life or is maybe just holding you back from achieving future goals. This practice may include staying away from alcohol or remaining faithful to a significant other. It’s important to take time to reflect on what changes you can make that will result in a stronger connection with yourself and the world around you.
Juliana Di Leonardo is the Vice President of Humane Long Island. She is a yoga and ballroom dance instructor, model, and artist. Her advocacy for animals exploited by the fashion industry was credited in the 2021 documentary “The Face of Fashion is Fear” and recognized by PETA with a Hero for Coyotes award