I thought of sharing a real life story of a nun, relayed firsthand to me for those who consider going for ordination and facing objection from parents.
This nun was kind to share with me her own story, because saw me as the same person she was years ago.
Many readers had mistaken me for a man, or even a monk. I am actually a laywoman.
And I’ve always have the affinity towards temple. I remember the first time years ago I went and stay in a forest monastery as a 8 preceptor, tears went down my eyes as I sat, last along other nuns as we are eating with the monks at the sala hall. And the same thing happened when the monks recited Dhammacakkapavatana sutta (Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma) during evening chanting. I felt my life belonged in the temple- that I had eaten many such meals in my past lives and that I was likely a monk. That feeling of familiarity was unmistakable- when I had to leave the monastery to go back to work, I felt so sad.
That time I was working and felt trapped by the demands of worldly life.
Back to the story of this nun- she came to know the teachings of a particular monk around her twenties. That time she was a laywoman working with the government service. Like me, she spent her holidays and leave in retreats. The teacher sometimes travelled and she had been part of the entourage to different countries (of course she paid for her own expenses).
She wanted to ordain, but her mother repeatedly said no.
At the age of forty, she made a firm decision- she went to work one day and submitted her resignation. It was only much later that she told her family that she had tendered her resignation. Her mom asked why didn’t she consulted her?
I was surprised and told her that if she had just waited, she could opt for early optional retirement (during her time government workers can submit request for early optional retirement as early as age 45- they will not get the full pension, but at least every month, there would be pension paid and they will enjoy medical benefits). She nodded but told me that at that time, she knew about the option but was determined and stubborn. She had been so sure that this is the life for her. She couldn’t wait- so sure was she of her decision that she did not want anyone to sidetrack her of her plans.
She was told her mom that since she is not allowed to ordain, she would just ‘obey’ but she will just stay at home and remain as a white robed 8 preceptor laywoman. She made it know that while her body was there, her heart was in a monastery. She will not look for a job, but will spend time living as a contemplative at home, just that not at the forest.
That time, she had put aside some savings so she was relatively independent and could even make some retreat trips overseas. Her mom was devastated but knew she could do nothing about it.
But she broke her mother’s heart. For about 8 or 9 years, her mom watched her with sad eyes, helpless to do anything. No matter how successful other siblings were, it did nothing much to heal her mom’s broken heart. She ordained shortly after her mother passed away.
As she told me her story, her eyes were red and she was trying to hold back tears.
It has been decades since she is in the robes- but she told me in no uncertain terms that she deeply regretted hurting her mom like this. She realized years later that her mom would have given her permission to ordain, once her mom knew that she is financially secured and that the pension would take care of her. No matter how many children her mom has, her mom still love all of them- even though she has other brothers and sisters, she was still special in her mom’s heart. And because she left with no pension, and her savings is now drying up, she had to still worry about living and medical expenses, since she also now have health problems.
I could see that the guilt and regret had affected her practice…even though her mom had passed away a long time ago. There was no way she was able to make amends and therefore the regret stays with her forever. She told me that she now suffered from joint pains and at times like that, it reminded her of how much she misses her mom deeply. Her mom would have know the right kind of medicine to give her and comforted her.
This nun has been very kind to me- by sharing with me her story at the time when I was tempted to follow her shoes. On the outward, she looks calm and happy and she is always there to help others. But when she saw that I may be heading the same direction as her, she shared…
Like her, I had felt that I belonged to the temple life. In fact, I have spent sometime living in the temples of Thailand after I eventually left my job. I had wished so desperately that my family will understand and accept- and sadly, during that almost one year that I was away, more than half my mom’s previous dark hair had turned white (from the heartbreak that I caused her). My brother told me that the family is too small to be broken down further – there’s only the 3 of us as we do not have close relatives.
My teacher asked me to go back because my family needs me. She said that the time will come, in future as I have strong Dhamma inclination. The fact that my family needs me indicate that the time is not now. I asked her, ‘but many people including yourself had ordained even though they went against their family and in the end, their family had accepted’.
(In fact, my teacher’s life story was that- and her family had grown to accept after 7 years….when her father saw one of the Head District paying respect by bowing down at my teacher. And her father figured that her daughter must have accomplished something to earn that kind of respect. From that day on, her father never asked her to disrobe. )
She told me, “yes, there are those who have ordained despite against their family’s wishes. But I can tell you that if you do it now, your mom will die from heartbreak because of you. Years later, with very deep concentration, you will realize the love your mom had for you and how you shattered her heart. And the guilt will kill you and obstruct your practice. Do you think you can live with the guilt?”
I felt silent and lowered my head. I knew my teacher was right.
I came back and eventually got myself a job- which I took because she called me and asked me to stop sabotaging my interviews (she had knew that I purposely make potential interviewers don’t want to hire me so that I could tell my mom I could not find a job and wanted to go back to Thailand to complete the vassa). This job turns out to be a great blessing- I had to face situations that made me apply the teachings of the Buddha- such as forgiving those who were really mean to me and eventually earning their respect, being patient and overcoming a lot of personal limitations.
Through ongoing practice (my teacher told me that daily mindfulness is important- she said, whenever I remember while doing work or any task, try to chant Buddho, Buddho). With that, I spent more time meditating everyday instead of just that 10 minutes sitting on the cushion.
And I am beginning to realize that indeed I do have a lot of ‘unfinished business’ on this earth to complete.
As my mind calm down, I realized that I had certain abilities that can be put to help a lot of people. I am now putting these abilities to use to benefit other people instead of previously just earning big bucks. My relationship with my family is so much better and closer now- than it ever had been before I had gone to Thailand. In the past, I was so pressured in my previous job that I had so much inner rage and guilt when I constantly lose my temper. Now my temper seemed to be non existent- and I spent a lot of quality time with my mom.
We can discover meaning in life in this lay life. We can realize that inner peace can be found regardless of anywhere we were so long as we put the teachings of Buddha into practice. If we have not sorted out the inner garbage and thinking that the whole world is cruel and want to escape in the monastery, the same problems will resurface. And we may disrupt the peace of others.
Eventually I know my place in future is in the temple- because I felt more at home at a temple than anywhere else. But right now, I have worldly duties to fulfill- and I will fulfill them with a willing heart and at the same time, improve on my practice and others as well. The worldly situation thrown to us daily is actually a good practice and testing point of our Dhamma practice.
Because, like the world outside, staying in monasteries also present similar sets of problems. The world works like this- so long as we have not faced up to a situation and overcome our limitations, the same annoying scenerios will appear again and again. Ever notice that the same problems that causes you to resign from your job presents itself in your current job? The issue could be within us and it requires courage to deal with it.
When in the monastery, dealing with our inner demons become a full time job- and I don't know why a lot of people have the idea that everyone who stay in the forest are escaping from reality....some are, but some aren't.
Dealing with your own self (because a good teacher will make you take accountability and stop blaming others for your misery, discomfort and unhappiness) on an ongoing basis is so much more tougher and difficult. I can tell you that because I've been through that- once the novelty wears off, you are left with the daily grind of self-practice. Those who gone to the monastery to escape the problems of the world or to run away from facing their inner self eventually found that the answer is not in the forest or cemetery. When they could not find the solutions or develop psychic jhanas they leave.....and sometimes blame the monastery for their failed practice.
Because as much as people think that monks and nuns have an easy life- but if you're in it for real, my friend, it's times harder than the real world. But the inner treasures that you bring with you are priceless and worth it that it cannot be bought by all the wealth in the world.
I share my humble personal experience of the above because I know some of you may be in the same shoes. The decision for each one of us may differ according to our own conditionings. When in doubt, pray to Buddha for answers with a sincere heart. With sincere faith, someone, perhaps a teacher or a friend who would come along and offer you just the advice you need or a point of view that you’ve missed out. Keep an open mind and don’t immediately dismiss what other people are saying just because they don’t fit into your way of thinking.