Thinking about ordination

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Thinking about ordination

Postby Sherlock » Thu Mar 21, 2013 6:32 am

Recently, I have been seriously considering ordination.

I'm from Singapore as I said before, and I'm waiting for university acceptances and rejections, and it's unlikely I'll get into the top schools in the US that I applied for; I didn't receive an interview offer from Harvard, which is a bad sign for an international applicant. I might still get into an above-average school there, but the cost will be very high (Harvard can provide financial aid to international students), and my sister wants to go too, so that will be asking a lot from my parents. I'm not sure I will be able to repay that debt after I graduate either. On the whole working conditions in Asia are worse than those for similar jobs in the West, with lower salaries. Maybe I will be able to pay them back if I go into STEM and get a job in the US, because salaries for STEM jobs are higher there, but if I come back, it will take a long time, assuming the future doesn't get any worse (which is doubtful).

I am no longer interested in many of the things people buy or do to get their minds off their jobs; the one thing that I do still take pleasure in out of all that is training at the gym. Is there any motive left for slogging away overtime at some unsatisfying job?

I posted a similar thread on a non-Buddhist related forum. Many people were actually quite sympathetic. Some admit that if you don't want to start a family and don't have much other material desires, monasticism makes sense. Others pointed out other careers such as in aid organizations that might not be as soul-crushing as many jobs are today. To some, it seemed like based on what I posted, it was a huge dichotomy between either getting into the Ivy League or becoming a monk and asked what's wrong with settling with some mediocre university and career.

Well, I don't think anything is wrong with that per se if the status quo continues, but personally I doubt this, and if it means working here in Asia, I find it a very miserable life, with worse working conditions than in the West. I see people I know working overtime everyday, spending their money on things that leave them ultimately dissatisfied in the weekends to distract themselves. Probably starting a family is a big enough affair to help motivate most people though.

I don't know, am I approaching this with some kind of escape motive? Is it wrong to approach it with such a motive?
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Yudron » Thu Mar 21, 2013 6:47 am

Does having a spouse or kids appeal to you? You hardly mentioned that compared with job stuff.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Konchog1 » Thu Mar 21, 2013 7:11 am

You can return to lay life and then return to being a monk. Five times maximum if I remember correctly.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

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Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Indrajala » Thu Mar 21, 2013 8:05 am

In the near future I'll be getting a haircut and change of clothes, so I can sympathize with what you're saying here.

I have no interest in having a family, or owning much for that matter. I rather enjoy living a spartan lifestyle. My greatest pleasures are quiet meditation and reading followed by travelling on the open road.

I could still do all that, though living as a monk would facilitate a lot of opportunities I otherwise wouldn't have.

Over the last few years I've gradually renounced and abandoned a lot of mundane activities: drinking, dating, romance, sex, etc., with the intent of abandoning desire altogether. It is something akin to detoxification as I can see the causes for unnecessary anguish a lot clearer now.

When you abandon all that mundane nonsense, you see how the mind is driven by irrational passions; irrational in the sense of engaging in activities that only perpetuate suffering with nothing to be gained by heartache and lament. The less desire and worldly ambition you have, the greater your inner peace and equanimity.

On that note, though, I believe monasticism can be an obstacle to practice and cultivation in some respects. In many places, particularly within Chinese Buddhism, monks and nuns are worked endlessly and any complaint is seen as a sign of their spiritual immaturity. Most Chinese monks I know in Taiwan seem to meditate when they have time. They are swamped with responsibilities and their organizations plan our their schedules for them. They surrender all personal autonomy to the sangha authorities. No questions asked.

If you're fine with that, then you'll be quite content and will never go hungry. Though if you're more inclined towards serious practice and study, then choose wisely where to go, otherwise you might end up in an organization that thinks office work is great practice.

On the other hand, in Tibetan traditions you can easily ordain, but support might not be forthcoming.

Theravada seems pretty reasonable and they take good care of their bhikkhus.

I think your perspective on things is good. The ordinary world is awful. Modern first world working life is so stressful. You'll inevitably have to work with ambitious and competitive types of people, even in not-for-profit arrangements.

I honestly think it best to abandon all that nonsense. True nourishment in life is found in meditation and cultivation of wisdom, with which you can be of genuine benefit to others.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby muni » Thu Mar 21, 2013 9:41 am

Wordly wealth is artificial poverty.
Contentment is wealth without artificial boundaries.

All the best.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:11 pm

What will you do if monasticism gets boring?
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby plwk » Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:32 pm

Image

Mother Abbess: Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems.
You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.

The Sound of Music
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby kirtu » Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:46 pm

In our time is monasticism still the best way to gather merit? Is it still a strong path to possibly attain liberation or enlightenment in this life? The five degenerations are strongly advanced.

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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Indrajala » Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:56 pm

kirtu wrote:In our time is monasticism still the best way to gather merit? Is it still a strong path to possibly attain liberation or enlightenment in this life? The five degenerations are strongly advanced.

Kirt


Got a better alternative in mind?
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Sherlock » Thu Mar 21, 2013 1:22 pm

Yudron wrote:Does having a spouse or kids appeal to you? You hardly mentioned that compared with job stuff.


Not really at this point. I certainly do respect lay bodhisattvas (of whom there is a long tradition since the beginnings of the Mahayana) who can integrate their practice with family life. I do think wanting to start a family and raise children properly is one of the better motivations to stay in the working world rather than just amassing wealth and having no wisdom as to how it is spent.

There was a guy on the other forum I mentioned who said he had in mind something similar, though he isn't a Buddhist AFAIK, but didn't go through with it after falling in love and deciding to start a family.

If you're fine with that, then you'll be quite content and will never go hungry. Though if you're more inclined towards serious practice and study, then choose wisely where to go, otherwise you might end up in an organization that thinks office work is great practice.

On the other hand, in Tibetan traditions you can easily ordain, but support might not be forthcoming.

Theravada seems pretty reasonable and they take good care of their bhikkhus.


I heard stories about Chinese monasteries that make them sound worse than the military or prison. I think it probably varies from place to place; I doubt some out-of-the-way Malaysian monasteries would be like that, but I don't know for sure.

I'm personally more interested in Tibetan monasteries though, since my personal practice leads me more towards that direction. I have asked Ven. Khedrup some questions and I'm grateful for his replies. From what I gather, if you can handle your own transport costs and legal stuff, Tibetan monasteries can support you for a least the basic stuff -- a place to sleep, tsampa and tea. More than that I'm not sure, I remember a story ChNN told about how he shared away most of his allowance for lamps and other stuff in his first semester at his monastery college, but maybe the situation now is different.

I had a talk with a Kathog monk today. He said that ordination is certainly good, but I should think very seriously and examine my motivations. If I just want to escape working life, that is not such a good motivation; I should really think about wanting to liberate all sentient beings. He mentioned that there was actually an American monk at Kathog the last time he visited, and that he had been there for 2-3 years, which is quite interesting in light of the legal situation. He recommended that I go to Larung if I wanted to ordain in Tibet though. He said there are some very good teachers, disciples of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who speak Mandarin very well there. Honestly, my Mandarin isn't that great and I would rather learn Tibetan and get the teachings in the original language, but maybe it would be good as a starter.

What will you do if monasticism gets boring?

I haven't lived in a monastic setting before, but the short periods of retreat I have had were more satisfying than any day-to-day experience. Honestly boring isn't the problem, I can take a boring job if the hours are reasonable and the pay is decent. There are few such jobs in Asia though.

In our time is monasticism still the best way to gather merit? Is it still a strong path to possibly attain liberation or enlightenment in this life? The five degenerations are strongly advanced.


I am still a Dzogchen practitioner, not a practitioner of the path of renunciation. Some amount of renunciation has naturally arisen within me however, and I think a monastic setting reduces a lot of the obstacles to practice that you would find in the secular world. I think that is the main purpose of the sangha anyway; creating merit isn't the end-goal for monks in Theravada either it is attaining enlightenment, monasticism is a support system for your practice.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Indrajala » Thu Mar 21, 2013 1:45 pm

Sherlock wrote:I heard stories about Chinese monasteries that make them sound worse than the military or prison.


Yeah, me too. I've seen it as well.

In plenty of seminaries they don't let the students out as if it were a boarding school for juveniles. They're not treated like adults. They supervise them every waking hour. Once graduated they might even need to apply for permission to leave the compound even to just take a break and have a change of scenery for a few hours.

At one major Taiwanese monastery if you don't return right away after your scheduled holidays they announce in the monastic newsletter that such and such left forever and ain't coming back. Apparently they let one bhiksuni back in only after she crawled on her hands and knees through the dining hall in front of everyone to beg forgiveness and to be let back in. This wasn't so long ago either!



I think it probably varies from place to place; I doubt some out-of-the-way Malaysian monasteries would be like that, but I don't know for sure.


My friend from Singapore who is a monk seems to have had a much different experience as a Chinese monk there than from what I've seen in Taiwan. It sounds a lot like gonpas in India... very relaxed and easygoing. Monks all have plenty of free time to pursue their interests and practice.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Sherlock » Thu Mar 21, 2013 1:50 pm

Huseng wrote:My friend from Singapore who is a monk seems to have had a much different experience as a Chinese monk there than from what I've seen in Taiwan. It sounds a lot like gonpas in India... very relaxed and easygoing. Monks all have plenty of free time to pursue their interests and practice.


I think in some cases local monastic education and discipline is too lax. There was the scandal with Ming Yi here a few years ago, when it was revealed that he was living with an assistant in a private condominium; another time there was a former nun who converted to Evangelical Protestantism disparaging Buddhism with a pastor and who didn't seem to understand certain fundamental concepts. I've personally witnessed an elderly monk pushing a man in anger on a crowded train here.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Indrajala » Thu Mar 21, 2013 3:58 pm

Sherlock wrote:I think in some cases local monastic education and discipline is too lax. There was the scandal with Ming Yi here a few years ago, when it was revealed that he was living with an assistant in a private condominium; another time there was a former nun who converted to Evangelical Protestantism disparaging Buddhism with a pastor and who didn't seem to understand certain fundamental concepts. I've personally witnessed an elderly monk pushing a man in anger on a crowded train here.


Here it Kathmandu it isn't necessarily better. :?

In any case, discipline is up to you as an individual. Peer pressure shouldn't be the motivating factor in maintaining one's decorum.

A senior Theravada bhikkhu I know gave me three conditions with which he can recommend ordination to someone:

    (1) Go into it with a full and realistic knowledge of what it’s like.
    (2) Go into it if you are able to discipline yourself and you can do your practice independent of others, cause you aren't gonna get much support or even encouragement for your academic or spiritual endeavours.
    (3) Go into it because you know and are impressed by the Dhamma.


Buddhism the world over has a lot of problems. There's no perfect sangha. Some institutions do a better job of hiding their dirty laundry than others, but nevertheless as I'm sure you're aware there's a lot of corruption and grotesque behaviour to be found if you just keep your eyes open. If you're in a large organization then presumably there will be more of it.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby gordtheseeker » Thu Mar 21, 2013 8:29 pm

Just out of curiosity, can one ordain in a Zen monastery? Not planning on it as I am married, but I haven't heard much about Zen monasteries. I suppose they are some of the ones in China that sounds a bit scary hehe.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby kirtu » Thu Mar 21, 2013 9:36 pm

Huseng wrote:
kirtu wrote:In our time is monasticism still the best way to gather merit? Is it still a strong path to possibly attain liberation or enlightenment in this life? The five degenerations are strongly advanced.

Kirt


Got a better alternative in mind?


Becoming a serious hermit with nothing but practice 24x7. Lots of Milarepa's, Kalu Rinpoche's and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoches at least on the outer level.

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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Indrajala » Fri Mar 22, 2013 2:26 am

kirtu wrote:Becoming a serious hermit with nothing but practice 24x7. Lots of Milarepa's, Kalu Rinpoche's and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoches at least on the outer level.

Kirt


That's the ideal, but without some kind of support, be it a community or your wealth, you'll go hungry.

That's actually one unfortunate part of being a western national -- you can't legally live as a mendicant in Nepal or the Himalayas. There are still yogis in caves and people support them, but they're generally locals, or maybe Tibetans.

If you are staying illegally long-term and they catch you in Nepal, you get a prison sentence unless you can fork over several thousand dollars cash as a bribe.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Indrajala » Fri Mar 22, 2013 2:28 am

gordtheseeker wrote:Just out of curiosity, can one ordain in a Zen monastery? Not planning on it as I am married, but I haven't heard much about Zen monasteries. I suppose they are some of the ones in China that sounds a bit scary hehe.


In Japan it is pretty easy. You just find a teacher and they ordain you. You don't need to be unmarried or celibate.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby gordtheseeker » Fri Mar 22, 2013 2:39 am

Huseng wrote:
gordtheseeker wrote:Just out of curiosity, can one ordain in a Zen monastery? Not planning on it as I am married, but I haven't heard much about Zen monasteries. I suppose they are some of the ones in China that sounds a bit scary hehe.


In Japan it is pretty easy. You just find a teacher and they ordain you. You don't need to be unmarried or celibate.


Thank you. Appreciate the reply.
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Re: Thinking about ordination

Postby Yudron » Fri Mar 22, 2013 3:24 am

Of course I am not a nun, so I can't say.... but as a practitioner I hear you saying that you are seeing the pointlessness of most humans' lives -- just working like a dog to put food in a hole in your face, have a place to sleep and perhaps accumulate some toys to help you feel better about the situation. It also does not sound like sex, cuddling, a feeling of intimacy with someone, or having kids are high on your list. That sounds like renunciation to me, and I share a lot of those feelings with you.

Sounds like, if you could find the right monastery, ordination might be right for you.

Personally, I could be a nun if I decided to be--but there just is not a connection for me with the rules and regulations and needing to appear to be somebody else's idea of "holy" all the time.
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