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Taking the Monastic Vow: An Everlasting Path to Freedom
A phone-call from a woman, who was approaching 40, had me reflecting upon the meaning of becoming a monastic practitioner. She asked if she could become a Buddhist nun at the age of 39. Confiding that she had reservations about her decision but also wanting to get out of her current situation, she asked many questions.
What qualifications and conditions were there? Did she need to bring some assets? What is the desired level of education?
Listening to her questions, I thought that in making her decision to become a Buddhist nun, there were questions that she needed to ask herself before others. Some of the foremost questions are,
Why do I want to become a monastic? What do I intend from the life of a monastic?
When I left home to become a monk 35 years ago, the will to renounce the secular world was enough. There were no limits imposed on the age or education level, and few questions were asked. I may venture to say that things were much more innocent then. The society, as well as the Buddhist community, has become more complex since then, and some basic requirements have been established.
Some time ago two women visited me after having decided to become monastics. I asked why they wanted to renounce the secular world. One had studied engineering at a graduate school and worked for several years at a well-known firm. She found the secular life lacking, as well as the married life. One day she realized that she wanted to change her life and began searching for alternatives. She soon stumbled upon Buddhism.
The other woman had studied law and was on the Honors Program for the four years of college. She also felt early on that she was not suited to the secular life. Once, when she was in elementary school, she followed her mother to a Buddhist temple and heard a Dharma talk. A passage from that talk she never forgot and kept in her heart: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Later, she had the opportunity to read the Lotus Sutra. As she prayed and recited the Lotus Sutra, she came to realize that the life of the Buddha is the ultimate path that all people needed to walk. She later decided to take the monastic path.
All Buddhist monks and nuns have individual motives for renouncing the secular world. The two women I mentioned earlier, now postulants, had lived comfortable lives, enjoying things many people would desire, but they came to realize that such was not the life they aspired to. Those who decide to become monastic practitioners come from all walks of life. However, they are one in their decision in the commitment to find the spiritual path and search for genuine happiness and satisfaction. If they had found genuine happiness and satisfaction before their renunciation, they would not become monastic practitioners.
Often, the happiness and satisfaction we experience from the secular pursuits do not last, fading away in a few hours to days. However, the happiness and satisfaction we seek when we take monastic vows are world apart. The everlasting satisfaction comes from encountering our noble and spiritual inner nature. This is what inspires the monastics, to follow the spiritual nature, to leave the secular world behind and seek everlasting freedom.
Every moment of the life we are making choices. We make these choices without the certainty of one decision over another being beneficial. Every moment, life compels us to make a decision, either passively or actively, and these decisions create our future. The decision I make here and now makes my future.
Choosing to become a monastic practitioner is not an easy decision. The monastic path is not chosen by many and is thus largely unfamiliar to most. Most people choose a path familiar and shun the unknown path in fear. However, not all people fear the unknown.
The people of courageous digress from the beaten paths, which may often be monotonous and dull, and make bold choices to renew their lives. Taking the monastic path may be compared to the taking of the unknown path. This unknown path often leads to discovering the genuine values of life. For those who live in self-interest only, the monastic path is neither easy nor pleasurable. However, for those who seek true and lasting happiness, it provides great freedom.
Everyone who comes into this life engages in his or her own work and in time passes away. It is said that a monastic postulant accumulates more merit than any wheel-turning king. Performing good deeds is laudable, but all good deeds performed in the realm of truth become pure offerings to the Dharma realm of the universe. Such offerings not only expunge an individual’s karma but also expiate the karma of countless sentient beings. Thus, one’s decision to become a monk or nun brings happiness not only to the individual we call “I” but also brings liberation to all sentient beings.
Once you summon the will to take a monastic vow, your practice and your reliance on the Dharma become offerings to the Buddha for your entire lifetime. Based on these merits, you gain the freedom to choose the place and social status of your rebirth. To take the monastic vow and join the Buddhist community is to pursue the greatest of all freedom and a lifelong commitment in the pursuit of truth.