The Sravasti Abbey monastic community begins the formal opening ceremony/Contributed

Ask A Buddhist: Entering Monastic Life

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By Ven. Thubten Samten

How do I determine if I should enter monastic life?

Our motivation for becoming ordained is crucial, so it is most important to think deeply about why you want to consider exploring such a path.

If you are very new to Buddhism it is better to wait and develop a spiritual practice by making the effort to attend a number of teachings by different teachers as we need to find a teacher that is a good fit for us. Ask people if they know of a teacher that they can recommend. You may consider driving up to Sravasti Abbey for a retreat to hear the teachings from Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron. You may also want to attend teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama or great masters of  other Buddhist traditions. You can find out where His Holiness is teaching by checking his website.

If you have not spent time at a monastery, it is quite common to have rich fantasies about what monastics do. You may imagine that the monastic spends most of the day on the meditation cushion and has people around her or him who shop, cook, clean, and take care of the facilities. When not on the cushion the monastic is totally absorbed in listening, reflecting, and meditating on the teachings. You may dream that as a monastic you have the freedom to travel to teachings all over the world whenever the thought to go arises and then when you finally get to India you will just sit underneath that bodhi tree until you become a Buddha…and so on.

Rest assured that the above description is fantasy. All monasteries have a daily schedule and in addition to scheduled meditation times, all the monastics are fully engaged in offering service activities that help to support the Abbess/Abbott and to facilitate the functioning of the monastery. At Sravasti Abbey we do not have a hired staff to cook, clean and take care of all the administration of the Abbey, the online teachings, caring for our websites, maintaining the buildings, cleaning toilets, washing the dishes caring for the garden, the ongoing forest thinning project to maintain forest health, run retreats….it is the monastic community who does this along with the kind assistance of guests and volunteers.

Every August, Sravasti Abbey offers an 18 day program called Exploring Monastic Life. If you are truly interested in exploring your monastic thoughts/aspirations this will give you the opportunity to live the schedule we have here, listen to teachings from Venerable Thubten Chodron that specifically address monasticism, and spend time offering service with like-minded individuals who are also exploring monastic life. The experience includes a daily discussion facilitated by Venerable Chodron which encourages students to look deeply into what it means to live a meaningful life and what we can do to move towards that in a way that allows our compassion and wisdom to develop and grow.

The Sravasti Abbey website has an entire section devoted to Monastic Life that includes videos, teachings that have been transcribed and a Q & A section.

Unlike worldly learning pursuits, we need to not only hear Buddhist teachings but we also need to study, reflect, and meditate on them. All of these are best done under the guidance of an authentic teacher. You may ask, how do I know if a teacher is authentic? The Lamrim teachings (A Tibetan Buddhist genre of texts that present the stages of the path to full awakening as explained by the Buddha) identify ten qualities to look for in a spiritual teacher. Maitreya says in his Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras:

Rely on a teacher who is disciplined, serene, thoroughly pacified;
Has good qualities surpassing those of the students,
is energetic; has a wealth of scriptural knowledge;
Possesses loving concern; has thorough knowledge of reality
and skill in instructing disciples;
And has abandoned dispiritedness.

You may read more about these qualities in “The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment by Tsong-Kha-Pa.

Becoming ordained is a process that is not to be hurried. Take your time, attend teachings, and eventually make a connection with a teacher. Arrange to spend time at a monastery both for a retreat and to stay for a period of time to offer service and practice with the community. Monastic life is a life of self-discipline. By voluntarily following the Buddha’s guidelines to pacify body, speech, and mind, we create peace in a chaotic world.

May your exploration be fruitful!

About Ven. Thubten Samten

Ven. Thubten Samten met her teacher, Ven. Thubten Chodron, in 1996 when the future Ven. Chonyi, took the future Ven. Samten to a Dharma talk at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle. The talk on the kindness of others and the way it was presented is deeply etched in her mind. Four retreats with Ven. Chodron, eight months in India and Nepal studying the Dharma, one month of offering service at Sravasti Abbey, and a two month retreat at the Abbey in 1998 fueled the fire to ordain on Aug. 26, 2010.

Ven. Samten's full ordination took place in Taiwan in March 2012, when she became the Abbey's sixth bhikshuni.

Right after finishing a Bachelor of Music degree, Ven. Samten moved to Edmonton, Canada to pursue training as a corporeal mime artist. Five years later, a return to university to obtain a Bachelor of Education degree opened the door to becoming a music teacher for the Edmonton Public School board. Concurrently, Ven. Samten became a founding member and performer with Kita No Taiko, Alberta's first Japanese drum group.

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