What we are now calling Hermitage Meditation centre was built in the beginning as a gift, or dana, from Eric de Lorimier to the monk, Ajan, whose teaching changed his life. This is the story of how the two met, and how Eric became the student of Ajan.
At the age of twenty eight, Eric was in a deep depression that lasted six months. Ever since his second wife, the one with whom he thought he could finally be happy, had left him, he cried every day.
He had spent the best part of these six months desperately searching for a way to get back his wife, or just to stop crying for her and get out of his dark mood. He had been to see psychotherapists, fortune tellers, Jehovah’s witnesses; the priest who had presided over their marriage ceremony; anyone who held the promise of help, and all without success.
At that time, he was working as a building contractor, as he had done throughout most of his life. One of his biggest clients was a Buddhist temple in Montreal, who had granted Eric the contract with them for an unusual reason: his willingness to bare his feet. The temple had tried to employ several contractors before Eric, but none had agreed to follow their custom: that all who came in the temple should leave their shoes at the entrance and go barefoot inside.
Eric was the first who agreed to take off his shoes, and because of this he held the contract, and he would go there to do reparations on the building, always being given his job by the same monk who communicated with him and told him what to do.
One day, as he was in the depths of his sadness, he went to the temple to do his job there, and found that the monk who usually gave him instructions about what to do was nowhere to be found.
This left him in something of a dilemma, as practically nobody there spoke English or French. The one woman to whom he managed to speak told him to go up one floor and knock on a certain door: “Go See Monk Up Speak French!”
Eric knew that there was no chance of the monk upstairs, whoever he was, having the information he needed about the job he should do. Yet he decided to go anyway, reasoning that the longer he spent wandering around in the building, the more chance that the monk who was in charge of his job would arrive at some point and tell him what he had to do.
When he knocked on the door of the room upstairs, it was opened by a certain monk who Eric recognised from seeing around the temple before. He had always a smiling face and a cheerful look, and he had spoken to Eric a few times before, usually with an offer of some of the extremely sweet tea he drank with condensed milk.
“Yes?” said the monk now.
“I came to see if you know what job I am supposed to do today,” said Eric, knowing full well that the monk would have no job for him.
“I know nothing about your job,” said the monk, adding, “But – have you come here that I help you?”
This unexpected sentence knocked the breath out of Eric’s throat.
“Umm, no, no thank you, I’m okay,” he mumbled, and he retreated some steps and started to walk slowly down the stairs.
One or two steps down the stairs he stopped, and turned back.
“I didn’t come here for that, but if you can help me I would be grateful,” he said to the monk, who turned out to be Ajan. He invited Eric inside and started to teach him there and then.
What did he teach? He began by asking questions – simple questions that Eric would want to answer automatically, thinking he knew. Ajan told him not to answer them straight away, not to give the answer that he thought he knew, but to check it first, to think about it and to be certain it was correct before answering. ‘Here you are not at school. If you tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ you have to be able to tell me WHY!’
This was the beginning of a training in what Eric later understood to be meditation, although at that point he did not know it.
He stayed there in the temple all afternoon, as evening fell and it grew dark outside. Towards the end of the day, Ajan offered to teach Eric to meditate properly, offering him a ten-day meditation course under his guidance. At first Eric said that unfortunately, this would be completely impossible for him – he had far too many responsibilities to leave his life for ten days straight. Two important building contracts, children to pick up at the weekends, a child to pick up every day after school, an important social event to attend that would also be attended by his ex-wife and was a golden opportunity to regain some friendship with her…. ‘I really cannot.’
Ajan said nothing in response, but continued to teach, and a little while later Eric changed his mind. ‘Okay. I’ll come.’ He would not have agreed had he not been very impressed and interested by what he had heard: Ajan had, by his teaching and with the questions he had given, made Eric see for himself some truths that had always been hidden from him before, and Eric had never met anyone who had done this for him, brought him to realise something by himself.
Ajan said that the course had to take place in a completely clean, quiet place, not at Eric’s usual home, and of course it could not take place at the temple. He gave Eric the use of a small apartment that he had rented in Montreal. He told Eric to arrive “like a dead man,” (a phrase which Eric took a little too literally, arriving for his first day of the course with only the clothes he had on his back, not even one suitcase or overnight bag, and not checking how much money he had in his wallet before leaving.)
As Eric tells it, he had been living in kind of fog or cloud all of his life. On the third day of his meditation course, he came out of that cloud, and never returned there again. On this day too, he stopped crying for his ex-wife, and since that day he has never cried for anything at all.
Afterwards, his vision of everyone and everything had changed: it was as if all his experiences before his meditation class had been seen though tinted glasses, which showed him things as he wanted them to be, hiding what he preferred not to see. Now the glasses were removed, he saw people more clearly, and was in many cases dismayed by what he saw: a Christmas party that he attended directly after the meditation course held no pleasure for him whatsoever.
On the other hand, a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders; something had changed for good and always inside of him. Before the course, the task of going to pick up his son from his ex-wife, seeing her new home with her new boyfriend, had always plunged him deep into resentment, anger and sadness, bringing a stream of curses to his lips, now after the meditation course, the exact same sight of her and her boyfriend provoked no anger whatsoever, he felt no jealousy, no regret, not a hint of sadness.
Sometime later, he told Ajan that he would build him a place where he could practice, and where he could teach others, out of gratitude for what Ajan had done for him. This was the beginning of what we are now calling Hermitage Meditation, which in the beginning was one log house built by Eric working completely alone.