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samaneras & nuns
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
senior is higher
on the line
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.
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.
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
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.
This is not so easy.
Monastic life works on many levels but two are often felt - encouragement
to mindfulness and the frustration of desire.
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.
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.
vows are not taken for life and there is no stigma if someone decides
to disrobe and return to lay life.