by Thich Nu Hanh Tri (Dr. Lani Hunter)
Founder and CEO I’m for World Peace Foundation
When a Buddhist woman gets ordained as a nun, it is a big step. She needs to disconnect from her family and friends. She needs to depart from the physical world to be born into a spiritual world. She must leave behind all things to enter the monastery so that she can practice appropriately. It is as if a curtain is drawn behind her as she leaves the old life and begins the new life. (I was very fortunate because my Master allowed me, as an exception to the rule, to continue my charity work after ordination.) As the curtain to the physical world is closed behind her, she must also study and pass the ordination exams and memorize all the required daily chanting sutras and mantras, maintain Vinaya, daily 54 gestures practice, and rules of conduct and monastic orders. A woman from the Western culture has even more challenge.
American life is based on fast-paced technological changes that sweep through our lives quickly, and those who don’t adapt to the changes will be out of the game. All is about getting what you desire, but don’t have, like wealth and love. Even if you achieve those, you may feel that something is still not fulfilled. You live a life style in which you think and do freely. With money, you can have everything you want in this life: good education, good job, a good relationship and many good friends. You can wear Pier Cardin’s designs, Kashmier outfits, carry Gucci purses, expensive shoes, jewelry, and never eat boring food. You can do everything as middle class American women do. You may grow to feel that anything can be had with money, by studying and working hard, but in reality materials and money are not the answer. There is something else you will yearn for, something that cannot be possessed by education, money or material; that invisible thing is your spiritual life.
If you devote yourself to study under great masters, such as Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Master U Pandita, and Vajrayana Buddhist teachers such as His Holiness the Tibetan Lamas, or Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, those Teachers will encourage devotees to meditate and cut off their attachments and desires such as love affairs, fame, name, and wealth, to take vows to become Sangha and devote to Dharma so they later could teach and help to alleviate others’ sufferings. You will learn about Karma action and reaction consequences and you will discover that you are responsible for your Karma not only in this life but in many past lives. You will learn that, to repent sins you may do 100,000 prostrations, and then still not know for sure if that was enough, but you will exhaust yourself and move on. Bodhicita will lead you to volunteer to serve the needy, and reduce your possessions. (My charity organization, “I’m for World Peace” was born from that.) The concept of Enlightenment will push you to become a Buddha, and you will be better able to help sentient beings pass beyond Samsara. You must work hard to achieve Enlightenment, and becoming a nun will help you to achieve it.
It is not simple to cut off all of your responsibilities and relationships, to become a nun. Relatives and close-friends may think that your mind is malfunctioning. They might recommend you to seek professional help. Your mother may cry, believing that becoming a Buddhist nun will be a life of hardship. Siblings may laugh at the idea. The spouse may be the only one who is supportive. Nevertheless, you will know in your heart that you must do it, slowly and surely, and you will never regret it. With perseverance, after many years, maybe decades, family and friends may finally agree that you prefer to a spiritual life instead of a worldly life. If so, then you finally will have won. However, you will have jumped from a frying pan right into the fire! Even in the wondrous spiritual community of Buddhism, there can be conflict.