And these are the same people you want to sponsor your monastic lifestyle?
I know that this is directed at H. but I'd like to address this attitude and statement. People somehow have this impression that Western monks and nuns expect support, and moreover aren't willing to do anything to receive it. Perhaps my story will help counter this myth.
I have never asked a layperson for a cent in my 8 years of monastic life. If people wish to give to me, I accept but often for example end up sponsoring pujas and initiations at Sera and making offerings to my teachers. My savings are enough that I could maybe sustain 2 weeks of hospital care in India if I were to fall seriously ill. I have never been comfortable fundraising for myself and have gone on faith that if people find my work useful, they may help a little bit. (Fortunately as a translator this happens from time-to-time, but not every often). A small monthly stipend from the centre and the fact that Geshe la (unlike most teachers) always gives me a little bit of the offerings he received during teaching events I translate, cover my basic needs.
I want to address this sort of statement in the context of my story. Those of you from E-sangha are perhaps familiar with it.
Since middle school I had the wish to be a monk but my teacher advised me to finish an undergraduate degree at university first, which I did. Then at the age of 23, using money that I had earned working at Chapters (a bookstore) while a student, I flew to India for the first time to stay 6 months at Sera at my teacher's urging. I decided that becoming a monk was indeed what I wanted to do, flew back to Canada, and worked for another 6 months as an Office assistant, serving cofee at Starbucks and doing other menial adminstrative jobs for friends to save up enough money.
I returned to Sera but at that time could not get a long visa,but having finally taken ordination, after 6 months returned again. Once again I was not able to get a visa to stay long term in India. I spent the summer in robes in an office, working at a travel company that took care of the arrangements of foreigners studying English in Canada. I encountered a lot of open hostility from several co-workers and managers although initially told that my robes were no problem.
The last visit to India I pretty much lost all hope of being able to learn Tibetan if I had to spend the rest of my life doing 6 months in 6 months out. When I returned to Canada the third time my parents who had been initially supportive of my ordination saw that no support was forthcoming and began to worry for my future. They said if I continued to stay at their home, I should think about returning to lay life as there was obviously no support for me in the Buddhist community. Obviously if I had to pay rent in an expensive city like Toronto there was no way I was going to be able to save for a plane ticket and expenses in India. And if I wanted a better paying job, I would have to live in Canada year round as that would have been the only way to build up a career.
At the end of my rope, I considered disrobing. The funny thing is, I was criticized with venomous words by several laypeople. "We would have supported you and always thought highly of you." I found this funny because they knew well my situation all those years, saw me in a positive light as I had been with my teachers since the age of 14, but never indicated they'd be willing to help until I was in a difficult predicament. Though several people offered help, none of them came through in the end.
Deciding that I really couldn't disrobe, a kind nun at a Chinese temple offered me a job working in their bookshop. From there I went to a Chinese Mahayana monastery where I was very unhappy but stayed for 7 months, eventually leaving and going to Thailand. In Thailand the community was very supportive and provided me all the requisites of life, and I served the community at temples both in Thailand and New Zealand.
The Thai Lao community in New Zealand was not rich. But recognizing my sincerity, the work I did with their kids, and my willingness to submit to monastic discipline, when I said I wanted to study further they gave me money for a plane ticket to wherever I wanted to go. I never asked, they just gave from their heart. And these were poor refugees.
Only then did things finally come together for me. My teacher Khensur Rinpoche told me I should try, "one last time" to do something with my Tibetan. FPMT offered sponsorship to study the Translator's course, my parents offered a plane ticket and I was able to learn enough Tibetan in two years to become an interpreter.
After finally experiencing just a little support, I am able to be of service to the lay community, translating teachings of our precious Geshe not only in Holland and France but all over Europe (and hopefully this summer in the US and Canada as well). In addition, I serve as the attendant and often cook for Geshe la. I cook dinner several times a week here, do fundraising for monks in Sera Jey and Sera Mey, help out with odd jobs around the institute, and have corresponded with several prisoners interested in Buddhism. I even volunteer on a Buddhist discussion forum .
I am only able to serve in this way because a small number of laypeople decided to take a risk and support Western Sangha. The amount was small- because it was a few people it really didn't hurt anyone financially to give a little, but I think the result was more than worth it.
I have never asked for a free lunch, support, even one rupee. I have faith that if I continue to serve, I probably won't be out on the street.
Many other Western monks and nuns feel the same.