Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

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Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby mandala » Sun Jun 09, 2013 10:38 am

It was touched on, in another thread, about the relevance of ordination in today's society and the hardships faced by western sangha.

I'd love to hear from any monks or nuns in this forum about how you came to be ordained, how you transitioned from a house-holder life to monastic life, and how you support yourself or manage day to day expenses, and do you live in a monastic community?

Do you see there are any challenges unique to being a western monastic?

[On a personal note, I requested ordination a few years ago (with the gung-ho & naive assumption that i could continue to work part-time to fund myself..) & was told sure, but wait a while. I'm working on getting my finances in order, I live simply & I've been celibate by choice for years. Is it unusual that my main obstacle appears to be money?]

thanks in advance!

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jun 09, 2013 11:42 am

mandala wrote:I'd love to hear from any monks or nuns in this forum about how you came to be ordained, how you transitioned from a house-holder life to monastic life, and how you support yourself or manage day to day expenses, and do you live in a monastic community?


My teacher asked me if I wanted to be a monk. I said sure. It seemed like a good idea. Now here I am in India.

The transition wasn't so much from a house-holder life because I've lived away from family since I was 17 years old. I don't own property. I have little money. No investments. No car. No tangible assets. As a layperson I dressed simply (most of the time like a proper slob). I gave up drinking and dating to focus on study and practice. I stayed in monasteries for a number of months, too, so I knew the lifestyle. Besides my books, I could fit all my possessions into a hiker's backpack and shoulder bag.

Besides the haircut and robes, I had basically already renounced minus a few things. For a time last year I was rather disappointed with what I saw in the monastic world and was wondering if I'd just carry on as usual for the years to come, but an opportunity arose and I pursued it. For a number of years I oscillated between wanting to and not wanting to ordain, mostly because of what I saw on the ground in numerous countries. I was disenchanted and disappointed after travelling around Asia and getting to know how things work behind the scenes.

However, monasticism is not necessarily renunciation. I realized I really wanted to pursue the latter.

Is it unusual that my main obstacle appears to be money?


In Tibetan Buddhism, that's normal. If you wanted to go to a Chinese, Korean or Theravada tradition, I suspect it would be less of an issue.

If you're somehow useful to an organization (i.e., can do something they really need like translation or something), then they'll probably accommodate you. If you're unable to offer anything, you're just another mouth to feed and effectively worthless to them, regardless of the ideals of renunciation and brotherly/sisterly monastic living. Tibetan monasteries can easily get refugee and poor kids as puja monks, and they don't need to teach them Tibetan from scratch. They only need so many people in the office or teaching English, too.

In the west I don't imagine it is easy to find an encouraging position in the small Tibetan monastic world.

I was surprised actually to see that Thrangu Rinpoche's monastery in Canada has no Canadian monks listed:

http://thrangumonastery.org/teachers/resident-monks/

I don't know the reasons for this, but it makes you wonder when they build a Tibetan monastery in Canada without a single Canadian monastic.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Mon Jun 10, 2013 1:04 am

Hi,

Somewhere around there is probably a thread or two where I've talked about this. Sorry I don't have the time to type it all out again this Monday morn'.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby lobster » Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:07 am

Is it possible to ordain as a householder, without wearing bed sheets or saris, just normal 'slob' clothes? I do not mean like aro, dzogchen or part time Buddhists . . . more like ordained to ordinary? :popcorn:

Basically will there be popcorn? (here's hoping). :namaste:
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Mon Jun 10, 2013 9:48 am

Lobster: What, pray tell, do you mean by "ordination"? :smile:

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby lobster » Mon Jun 10, 2013 4:11 pm

The movement from fancy dress, dharma fashion and uniformity to wearing the mantle of the 'preordained as an ordinary Buddha'. I suppose it goes a little beyond superficiality? . . . I fully appreciate the normal meaning is rather more specific.
So for example a person in a position of attire is given status not on internal worth but on ordained robing.

Feed my clothes:

One day the Mullah went to a rich merchant's house for a feast. As he was wearing a laborer's clothing he was shown to the servant's entrance and given a few scraps. Next week he was invited to the same place and he dressed in his best attire looking as good as any prince. He was welcomed at the front door and given the place of the honor next to the host. He ate a morsel of bread and then started putting all the rich food offered him into his sleeves. His host asked him, "What are doing my good man?" "I'm feeding my clothes," the Mullah replied, "It deserves the good food since my worth was established last week."

ah well . . . superficial ordination is the way of the exoteric? :popcorn:

More clothing from the naked Mullah . . .
http://www.rodneyohebsion.com/mulla-nasrudin.htm

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby mandala » Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:57 pm

Indrajala wrote:My teacher asked me if I wanted to be a monk. I said sure. It seemed like a good idea. Now here I am in India.

The transition wasn't so much from a house-holder life because I've lived away from family since I was 17 years old. I don't own property. I have little money. No investments. No car. No tangible assets. As a layperson I dressed simply (most of the time like a proper slob). I gave up drinking and dating to focus on study and practice. I stayed in monasteries for a number of months, too, so I knew the lifestyle. Besides my books, I could fit all my possessions into a hiker's backpack and shoulder bag.


Thanks for the insight into your personal situation. I can identify with your householder lifestyle prior to ordination.. I suppose there's an element of some people having an inclination towards living simply with few possessions and not highly valuing the 'normal' societal goals of wealth, fame, white picket fence, partner, kids and a dog.. which would make that kind of transition not so dramatic in some ways.


Besides the haircut and robes, I had basically already renounced minus a few things. For a time last year I was rather disappointed with what I saw in the monastic world and was wondering if I'd just carry on as usual for the years to come, but an opportunity arose and I pursued it. For a number of years I oscillated between wanting to and not wanting to ordain, mostly because of what I saw on the ground in numerous countries. I was disenchanted and disappointed after travelling around Asia and getting to know how things work behind the scenes.

However, monasticism is not necessarily renunciation. I realized I really wanted to pursue the latter.


Good point.
Re: monastic world - I haven't spent much time around monastic environments in Asia, just a bit.. it's likely quite different from a female perspective and disenchanting to say the least! I was pretty peeved off to be told that it would be socially unacceptable, and unsafe, for a nun to be seen in public. As a woman traveling solo in Asia, I didn't take it very well. :P Which makes me wonder how I'd cope in that environment with my independent streak & big mouth.

Is it unusual that my main obstacle appears to be money?


In Tibetan Buddhism, that's normal. If you wanted to go to a Chinese, Korean or Theravada tradition, I suspect it would be less of an issue.

If you're somehow useful to an organization (i.e., can do something they really need like translation or something), then they'll probably accommodate you. If you're unable to offer anything, you're just another mouth to feed and effectively worthless to them, regardless of the ideals of renunciation and brotherly/sisterly monastic living. Tibetan monasteries can easily get refugee and poor kids as puja monks, and they don't need to teach them Tibetan from scratch. They only need so many people in the office or teaching English, too.

In the west I don't imagine it is easy to find an encouraging position in the small Tibetan monastic world.


Hmmm. It's the hard, cold reality it seems. I'd really have to consider how my skills could be of value. I'm not a translator, cook or handyman.

I was surprised actually to see that Thrangu Rinpoche's monastery in Canada has no Canadian monks listed:

http://thrangumonastery.org/teachers/resident-monks/

I don't know the reasons for this, but it makes you wonder when they build a Tibetan monastery in Canada without a single Canadian monastic.


It is surprising. A little Tibetan haven! There are a few western Tibetan monasteries, besides the FPMT centres, like Sravasti Abbey or Gampo Abbey but again they are all costly.
It's interesting times for monastic life in the west.. or western monastics at large.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 11, 2013 1:37 pm

mandala wrote:It is surprising. A little Tibetan haven! There are a few western Tibetan monasteries, besides the FPMT centres, like Sravasti Abbey or Gampo Abbey but again they are all costly.
It's interesting times for monastic life in the west.. or western monastics at large.


I wonder if the monastery in Vancouver there charges their monks monthly rent? :roll:

If you wanted to be a Tibetan monk living in Tibetan Buddhist surroundings, you'll probably need sponsorship, a useful skill (one that maybe generates income?) or the right connections. Failing that Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean traditions are probably available to you, but conforming to them is a bit more challenging than with TB in my estimation.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Jnana » Tue Jun 11, 2013 2:18 pm

mandala wrote:There are a few western Tibetan monasteries, besides the FPMT centres, like Sravasti Abbey or Gampo Abbey but again they are all costly.

I'm not sure about Sravasta Abbey, but Gampo Abbey doesn't charge ordained monastics room & board.

IIRC though, a few years ago Gampo Abbey made attendance of the Shambhala training levels a mandatory part of the monastic training. I don't recall how the fees for these levels are covered.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby kalzang » Wed Jul 24, 2013 10:54 am

Just joined the forum, glad to meet you all.

Briefly, I am a Belgian practitioner in the sangha of Dzogchen Ranyak Patrul Rinpoche (HQ in Belgium). http://dharmacity.patrulrinpoche.net/
I'm 40 this year and took refuge in 2006. I am presently seriously considering ordination.

I have yet to discuss my wish to ordain with my teacher, which I imagine will be a conversation involving wisdom. Before that, I am collecting information and options, a process involving mainly knowledge, if you take my meaning. It is in the spirit of information gathering that I'm joining this forum/thread. Please feel free to share any info and insights (especially you ordained posters out there).

My main issue at the moment seems to be how to choose a monastery. The basic advice from any monastic tradition (Buddhist, Christian etc.) turns out to be: visit monasteries, talk to people, get a feel of the place and the community, see if there is a connection worth building on. Ordination is a lifetime commitment, after all. Sound advice, but time and especially money are not on my side (if on any westerner's considering ordination).

On the shortlist are:
Lerab Ling (France) - Nyingma/Dzogchen/Rimé (Sogyal Rinpoche)
Samye Ling (Scotland) - Kagyu
Nalanda Monastery (France) - Gelug
Sravasti Abbey (USA) - Gelug (Ven. Thubten Chödron)
Gampo Abbey (CAN) - Nyingma/Kagyu (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche / Shambhala)

I frankly do not have the financial means to visit all 5 (unless I take the next 7-8 years to save up, travel, save up etc.). What's more, from online investigation I seem to connect best with the communities and approaches of Sravasti Abbey and Gampo Abbey... the two monasteries farthest away from my hometown of Antwerp, Belgium. Of course.

As far as I can tell, both support their monastic residents completely, but becoming a monastic resident does take quite a bit of cash (fees + travel expenses), especially at Gampo with their required year of residence for aspiring monastics. We're talking about several thousands of dollars/euros here. Sravasti has a less costly introduction programme for aspiring monastics.

In either case, the travel expenses are so high for me that I can't imagine flying over there, spending some time, flying back home and then deciding... and then flying back to one of them to ordain.

Help.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 24, 2013 1:04 pm

kalzang wrote:In either case, the travel expenses are so high for me that I can't imagine flying over there, spending some time, flying back home and then deciding... and then flying back to one of them to ordain.

Help.


Western monasteries seem to face a few problems:

- Money problems.

- Nutcase visitors and basketcase residents.

- Excessive expenditures requiring fees and so forth from visitors and residents.

Ironically as a monk you're not supposed to have money, but it is required usually that you pay for something or other. The excessive expenditures ensure that costs remain high.

Here in Asia there is a lot more support depending on where you go. I agree that you shouldn't have to come all the way here to become a monk, but at the end of the day if you have the connections you can live on a minimal budget and not have to worry about food, shelter and clothing. I'm always surprised by the generosity people show me here.

Being a wandering monk isn't so difficult actually. In fact, if I went back home I'd just show up at monasteries and politely request accommodation. If not, homeless shelters would be fine and it might be a good opportunity for teaching Dharma, too. Food is never an issue in a country like Canada where you can eat for free in various places or just humbly beg for things. A monk is supposed to beg. Bhiksu means beggar. The standard of living for homeless people in Canada is higher than what most people in India have, so I wouldn't be worried.

Actually in a city like Vancouver with a large Asian population I could probably stand around downtown and chant sutras with a bowl and receive alms from people. You see monks and nuns doing this in places like Taiwan and Japan all the time.

Basically just live as a homeless mendicant and you'll probably be happier than living in a monastery full of politics and nutcases.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby muni » Wed Jul 24, 2013 1:56 pm

:namaste: For those dwelling in Europe are these adresses also to consider:

Monks from 4 Tibetan traditions…contact to ask ordination is possible.
http://www.tibet-institut.ch/content/ti ... unity.html

Nalanda is a unique Monastery for Western monks…
http://www.nalanda-monastery.eu/
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby MontrealMonk » Wed Jul 24, 2013 4:14 pm

Indrajala wrote:
kalzang wrote:In either case, the travel expenses are so high for me that I can't imagine flying over there, spending some time, flying back home and then deciding... and then flying back to one of them to ordain.

Help.


Western monasteries seem to face a few problems:

- Money problems.

- Nutcase visitors and basketcase residents.

- Excessive expenditures requiring fees and so forth from visitors and residents.

Ironically as a monk you're not supposed to have money, but it is required usually that you pay for something or other. The excessive expenditures ensure that costs remain high.

Here in Asia there is a lot more support depending on where you go. I agree that you shouldn't have to come all the way here to become a monk, but at the end of the day if you have the connections you can live on a minimal budget and not have to worry about food, shelter and clothing. I'm always surprised by the generosity people show me here.

Being a wandering monk isn't so difficult actually. In fact, if I went back home I'd just show up at monasteries and politely request accommodation. If not, homeless shelters would be fine and it might be a good opportunity for teaching Dharma, too. Food is never an issue in a country like Canada where you can eat for free in various places or just humbly beg for things. A monk is supposed to beg. Bhiksu means beggar. The standard of living for homeless people in Canada is higher than what most people in India have, so I wouldn't be worried.

Actually in a city like Vancouver with a large Asian population I could probably stand around downtown and chant sutras with a bowl and receive alms from people. You see monks and nuns doing this in places like Taiwan and Japan all the time.

Basically just live as a homeless mendicant and you'll probably be happier than living in a monastery full of politics and nutcases.


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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 24, 2013 4:25 pm

MontrealMonk wrote:THANK YOU for being you, staying true, and telling it like it is. :namaste:


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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Luke » Wed Aug 14, 2013 10:47 am

Indrajala wrote:Being a wandering monk isn't so difficult actually. In fact, if I went back home I'd just show up at monasteries and politely request accommodation. If not, homeless shelters would be fine and it might be a good opportunity for teaching Dharma, too. Food is never an issue in a country like Canada where you can eat for free in various places or just humbly beg for things. A monk is supposed to beg. Bhiksu means beggar. The standard of living for homeless people in Canada is higher than what most people in India have, so I wouldn't be worried.

Yes, indeed, your comments are very inspiring, Ven. Indrajala! :D

Have you ever thought about forming your own small order of wandering, homeless monks?

May the Three Jewels always protect you! :namaste:
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 1:55 pm

Luke wrote:Have you ever thought about forming your own small order of wandering, homeless monks?


It'd be fine to have a companion or two.

I'd love to see more western monks to be honest.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 14, 2013 2:51 pm

The wandering lifestyle is actually quite well-suited to those of us monks who are more independent minded. Because Ven. Indrajala studied widely in an academic setting, it is particularly appropriate (because he has had exposure to Buddhism and Buddhist scriptures).

For those with different circumstances, though, who might just have attended weekly teachings for a couple of years, or have not been immersed in Buddhist studies or practice, I would advocate trying to spend at least a couple of years in a monastic setting. After you have learned the teaching and discipline, wandering is a great way to test what you have learnt in the world.

Most of the senior Western monks in Thailand are wanderers of one sort or another, such as Ven. Dhammanando. It helps to build a special type of detachment and equanimity and is a wonderful way of practice.

For myself, I have stayed in both Asian and Western monasteries and communities. To be honest, I don't feel so comfortable living in Western monastic communities. Asians tend to be much easier to live with in large groups, and sometimes I feel in Western monasteries we were making things up as we went along (which of course is normal, I guess, since Buddhism is still rather new here).

If you want to ordain in the Tibetan tradition, my advice is (frankly), look at having a way to support yourself. I wish it wasn't like that, but it is the reality. For example if you do the translator training program like I did you will have a valuable skill that will be appreciated in the centres. You will be able to connect with teachers and also delve into the texts with a greater depth. The harsh reality is that most of the Vajrayana centres see Western monks and nuns as an added expense they cannot afford.

At the centre where I work in the Netherlands, there are four monastic Sangha that actually live in the centres- 2 Tibetan, and 2 Western. The 2 Tibetan Sangha are the teaching Geshes, Ven. Kaye is a resident teacher in Amsterdam, and I am an interpreter. We all have very clear roles to play. My feeling is the centre would love to have monks or nuns in administrative or teaching roles, but only if they could serve very specific functions in which they were trained previously (our centre struggles constantly with money like most Dharma organizations).

If I were not working as a translator for a terrific Geshe who I see as my teacher, I would probably try to live in Asia, though with visas this is not the easiest thing.

Since you seem to be more Nyingma/Kagyu oriented, why not consider Samye Ling in Scotland? They have terrific long retreat programs as well as shedra courses.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:02 pm

I think being a monk in a Tibetan tradition isn't viable unless you have sponsorship or have a way of securing an income.

On the other hand, if you're ecumenical and open minded, you can just ordain and float around wherever, be it a Theravada or Chinese or whatever temple.

Most of the monks I know who are successful wanderers are very open minded and not really interested in ethnocentric approaches to Buddhism. That's why they mix and mingle with everyone, and receive funds and resources to do what they do.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:16 pm

I am really happy that as a monk I was able to stay in monasteries of all three traditions.

I would be interested to meet these ecumenical wandering monks. I must admit I am surprised they get lay support as lay donors are often quite ethnocentric too, sponsoring sangha from their ethnic or chosen tradition/teacher.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby greentara » Fri Aug 16, 2013 5:12 am

Indrajala. 'Actually in a city like Vancouver with a large Asian population I could probably stand around downtown and chant sutras with a bowl and receive alms from people. You see monks and nuns doing this in places like Taiwan and Japan all the time.

Basically just live as a homeless mendicant and you'll probably be happier than living in a monastery full of politics and nutcases"

Great, I give you a thumbsup for an excellent posting and for sincerely trying to live the teaching!
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