L I F E S T Y L E  ии  M O N A S T I C

R  E  S  O  U   R  C  E  S



click thumbnails to enlarge

boundary stones






going forth
samaneras & nuns
[3 pics]

Undertaking training in any field requires commitment. Without it the best of intentions can founder. Without any form of supporting 'container' our finest resolutions can leak away. The monastic form creates very clear boundaries, particularly around behaviour as moral and social codes [see: VINAYA]. Monasticism and training are ideally synonymous. The idea of developing a standard of proficiency through practice and instruction requires effort and a monastery tries to provide the role model - seen in the life of senior monastics - and the teachings with clear guidelines for practice. The monastery creates the opportunity - the effort can only be made by each individual.

Getting in:
It usually all begins with the first Noble Truth. Some dissatisfaction comes into life and alternatives are sought. There are many opportunities in a Buddhist monastery for lay people and so they come - perhaps for a meditation workshop or a retreat or to visit the library or to just wander about the grounds. For many, there is something that registers as 'interesting' - or even inspiring - and they come back. Most monasteries have some guest accommodation for lay people and this is often the next step - a stay of some days or weeks. Each monastery will have different limitations on the length of a visit but the question will eventually arise: 'what are your long term plans?' There are two things to consider here:
monasteries are primarily for monks and nuns (the sangha) to live in and:
to be able to sustain the level of training - which reflects the 'quality' of a monastery - the ratio of lay people to monastics needs to be kept balanced. This is also true of the ratio of junior to senior monastics.
The process of training a monk or nun is one that involves time and is not just about 'learning the rules.' There is much that can only be learnt by patient observation. Even patience itself is something that often needs to be cultivated and junior people tend not always to have this quality - so, if there are too many of them, their views and opinions can disproportionately dominate - to the overall detriment of the community.

After several weeks or a few months, if there is a wish to continue living in the monastery, then the next step is ordination as a novice. The monk or nun overseeing guests will make this wish known to the sangha who will consider that person's suitability. There is no test or exam and the decision is quite organic with factors such as willingness, honesty, being open to criticism, the ability to get along with others and give up to the group dynamic and so forth having more importance than worldly skills, like being able to cook or build. The time from requesting ordination to a decision being made can vary a lot and until the sangha feels comfortable about accepting a candidate they often just wait. This can be a bit frustrating, even unsettling, for candidates as many people are used to the 'in or out' job interview approach. There is no hurry. Where is there to go? It is usually not a very protracted process for novice ordination and the majority who wish to receive this ordination.
The new novice is expected to commit to a stay of one years training under the general guidance of the sangha. The ordination ceremony itself is quite simple. It would usually be in the evening on a full moon day, as part of the communities usual observance, and the candidate would have had help learning the necessary chanting and the 'choreography' of the ritual. Initially novices wear all white - this is a practice in itself - and they would be helped to procure (or sew) two or three sets of such clothing. They wear a 'wrap' on formal occasions - the beginnings of learning to wear a robe. Someone would help them shave their head - another practice in mindfulness. It is done with an open edged razor and heedlessness is directly visible as blood. The ceremony involves formally requesting a period of training from the senior monk and the taking of the Three Refuges and Eight Precepts. They are now called anagarika. Much of the anagarika's life is around offering service and generally being willing to help with whatever needs doing. It is appreciated that there is much that is new for the anagarika so there is a lot of tolerance around what is expected and time is allowed to adjust to the new life. There is no stigma if they choose to leave at any time.


senior is centre

Respect for elders is a significant part of defining the monastic 'container' and seniority is measured in relation to the time of one's ordination, not physical years. One aspect of this is that juniors will bow - both figuratively and literally - to seniors and it is not that uncommon for an older man to have to bow to one younger. When we consider the second Noble Truth of desire and see pride, selfishness, arrogance and the like as manifestations of this then bowing serves as a wonderful antidote. As a novice, or junior member of the sangha, one obviously arrives with a range of preferences and views. In monastic life there must always be a readiness to relinquish these and 'bow' down to the lead suggested by more senior members of the sangha. Not to the degree that one becomes a mindless servant but always with an attitude of selfless humility and patience. The bottom line is that one will never be asked to do anything immoral.
The decision making process in the monastery is not always obvious and there are sometimes situations when the question: 'Who's in charge around here?' doesn't have a clear answer. There is the senior monk - who is always deferred to as being senior. There is the abbot - not always the senior monk; there are various officers (guest, work, tools, stores, etc) and sometimes the matter under question involves worldly knowledge and more junior members may have specific experience. The general process is one of patience, calmness and humility. Monasteries are blessed in that they don't have production quotas or deadlines and training is able to be seen as a lifetime's work; efficiency and practicality are not major issues. The process is not deliberately wasteful or impractical - although it might feel that way sometimes - just that there is no hurry. Relax.


senior is higher


on the line

Higher Ordination:
After a year or so, an anagarika may still be appreciating the monastic opportunity and wish to stay on. For men there is an intermediary ordination where one wears the brown robe as a samanera. This ordination is taken more seriously than anagarika and there are a number of changes involved. With the shift from eight to ten precepts the use of money is relinquished along with a range of other worldly activities like cooking, driving and gardening. Many of these matters, and many other behavioural issues, are covered in the 75 training rules [see: RESOURCES - SEKHIYA] found in the monks patimokkha [see: VINAYA] which the samanera observes. There is also an increased responsibility as one is now a more 'visible' member of sangha. The longer both male and female novices stay in the monastery the reference point for training is increasingly seen as related to the monks' and nun's vinaya and behaviour is expected to reflect study and development along these lines. The ceremony is quite a bit more complex than anagarika ordination with much more focus being given to the individual(s). There is a lot more chanting required and it all needs to be memorised.

Full Ordination:
After about another year the novice or samanera could consider ordination as a monk or nun. During the previous two years the novice will have moved between different branch monasteries for various periods and by this time would have a pretty good idea of what monastic life involves. The sangha will also have had a good chance to asses the various qualities of the candidate.
One must be: at least 20 years old - of a certain moral caliber - physically and psychologically sound - free of debt and household responsibilities - not subject to any government duties - have permission from parents or guardian.
The ceremony requires an ordination boundary - sima - [see: ART - ARCHITECTURE]; a preceptor and a quorum of monks. Most of the ceremony is in Pali and the candidate begins by requesting ordination. 'Please venerable sirs, out of compassion, give me the going forth.' The candidate literally 'toes the line' of the sima. Family and lay friends would also be outside the sima. There is a fomalised examination of the candidate by two monks confirming the above points. 'Do you have a set of robes? An alms bowl?' etc. They then report back to the sangha assembled inside the sima. If there is agreement then the candidate is invited to enter the sima and the ordination proceeds. At the end of the ceremony the new monk is instructed on 'the four things never to be done' and the 'four requisites'. Finally the whole sangha surrounds the new monk to chant verses of blessing.

Staying in:
This is not so easy.
Monastic life works on many levels but two are often felt - encouragement to mindfulness and the frustration of desire.
Mindfulness is supported through routine, ritual, structure, form, etc. What time of day is it? Who am I with - junior, senior, male, female, lay, monastic. What space am I in - the shrine room, the woods, the village, my bedroom, etc. Sometimes it feels as if everything is manipulated and regulated with different 'codes' applying in every situation. Remember - wake up - be mindful. It works, but can trigger the second element.
Desire is something we all have a bit of - nibbana assumed aside for now? - and this energy can be quite powerful. Our desires seem so reasonable and worthy. Why can't I have what I want? Indeed. And monasticism is what I wanted and now I have it. But - ah yes, but. And the form, the rules of training, having to be with people one doesn't like, eating the food that is offered, sit in this place, bowing now (not later - when I feel like it). The monastic situation challenges desire, frustrates it, questions it. Is this need or greed? All the basic needs are provided and usually the object of desire is not essential. Logically one can see this but emotionally we hold on. We suffer. Let go! Relax.
Monastic vows are not taken for life and there is no stigma if someone decides to disrobe and return to lay life.