As monks we rise very early everyday, wear the standard simple uniform, chant the same prayers, follow a simple diet, maintain very few possessions… I won’t go on too much else you may be completely put off! A neutral observer may find this spiritual path much like an army regime. Where is the room for personal expression? Isn’t spirituality a natural and spontaneous affair of the heart? Surely there must be more to it than a set of mechanical operations. Is the spiritual path supposed to be like boot camp?
Imagine you sat down to write your deepest thoughts in a letter to a friend. If you didn’t go through the basics of grammar and spelling, meticulously memorize the vocabulary of the language and sit through a good number of English classes to learn about sentence formation, you probably wouldn’t be able to naturally express anything in your writing. Music composers often convey their deepest emotions through their instruments. However, the background to that is hours of painstaking and monotonous practice to learn how to actually operate that instrument.
In other words, the regime brings us to the spontinaeity. A premature exhibition of natural expression may not be the deepest and most profound spiritual realization. The consciousness must be purified, and then the self (free of any material misconceptions) can fully exhibit the original spiritual persona. So on one hand, spiritual life cannot be reduced to simply a set of mechanical operations, but on the other hand, they are very powerful processes given by great teachers to help us elevate our consciousness beyond the material.