Why Do You Want To Be Ordained?
“Pure life refers to the life of a monastic order, the life of an ordained monk. This is in keeping with the example of the master, Buddha himself. In Buddha’s own life, he grew up initially as a Prince in a kingdom, showered with all the luxuries of princely existence, but he gave up all of these and cultivated detachment and sought the life of an ordained practitioner. As the Tibetan expression goes: the teacher’s example of the past must be followed by the disciples of the future. However, this is not to suggest that in order to attain true liberation or nirvana, it is indispensable for everyone to become celibate and join the ordained life. However, there is an understanding that an ordained life is the best, most suitable circumstances or framework within which one can make spiritual progress and work towards the attainment of liberation from samsara.
The text states that the whole purpose of joining the ordained life is to engage in the practice of Dharma. So the core activity – the task of an ordained member – is to engage in studies and engage in the practices. Such practices as single-pointed meditation require grounding and some understanding; otherwise, there is nothing to practice. So what we require is to first cultivate deep learning and understanding. Then that understanding needs to be implemented through single-pointed practice. In other words, the task of an ordained member is to engage in all the activities such as teaching, studying, writing, composition, and so on, so that you uphold the precious Dharma.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, extracted from teachings on The Prayer of the Virtuous Beginning, Middle and End, given in Pasadena, California, 12 – 14 Oct 1999. Transcribed by Ven Tenzin Tsomo and edited by Thubten Jinpa. Reprinted in Sangha Magazine, 2002, as Renunciation and the Ordained Life.
The Purpose of Becoming a Monk
A student asked Lama Zopa Rinpoche about ordination and practices. Rinpoche responded with the following advice [from LYWA]
My very dear Henri,
It comes out very good to become a monk right away. The purpose of becoming a monk is because we have delusions and an unsubdued mind, so we need to subdue the mind and cease the delusions that harm ourselves and other sentient beings who are numberless. We need to cease the delusions and also, in the future, the subtle obscurations, so we can complete the realizations and achieve full enlightenment.
This is not for you, but for sentient beings: for every single one of the human beings who are numberless, for numberless sura beings, numberless asura beings, numberless hell beings, numberless animals—even the dogs and cats in Nalanda; even the fish and animals that live in the river at Nalanda; any insects that live in the water that we can’t see with the eye but only with a machine; every insect on the ground, every fly and so on—for every one of the hungry ghosts who are like a forest outside and for numberless intermediate state beings.
You are becoming a monk for every single one of these sentient beings, to free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. So the reason you are becoming a monk is not a small one. It is not because you are upset with your wife or your boyfriend, or because that person dislikes you, therefore you want to become a monk. It’s not like that. [Rinpoche laughs] In that case, you would become a monk for a few days or months, or at the longest a year. After that, your mind would degenerate and you would think, “What is the use in being a monk?” and give up. You would be happy to give up being a monk because you would feel like you were in prison. You wouldn’t want to be in the monastery. Becoming a monk is not like that at all.
The purpose of becoming a monk is because now you are in prison—you are in the prison of samsara and you want to be free from that prison. That is a big reason, a huge reason, it is bigger than Mt. Everest. You can’t measure it; it’s huge. Also, you want to free the numberless sentient beings of each realm from the prison of samsara and bring them to enlightenment.
Generally, the purpose of becoming a monk is that you have less work and less activities, so that gives more time to practice. You are in the right situation to be a monk right now, so it will be easy to practice Dharma and have realizations. That’s why you should become a monk. For laypeople, generally speaking, there are a lot of distractions and a lot of work, so it is difficult to practice Dharma. In order to subdue the mind, we have to subdue the actions of the body and speech. That’s why monasteries are needed and why we need to live according to the monastic discipline. These are Dharma rules, not country rules. The purpose is to help the mind practice Dharma and to be able to keep the vows and precepts. Being a monk is also the basis for the bodhisattva practice and the basis for tantric vows and tantric realizations. So it helps on the quick path to enlightenment.
“It is especially meritorious to take ordination in the present era, this age of the five degenerations. We can see a decline in religious values now in many parts of the world and this makes it so much more difficult to keep a religious mind and maintain a proper practice. It is said that the amount of merit accumulated in a single day by a person who simply takes the first step of going forth from the householder’s life in the present age, when the obstacles and temptations are greater, will far exceed the merit of a person who maintained an extensive and faultless practice during the Buddha’s time. And this merit would be even greater if one took ordination in an outlying land, where even to meet another Buddhist monk or nun would be quite rare. All of this is true because at the present time, the influences, which work against a proper and pure religious way of life, are so much stronger. It is like driving in a very busy and crowded city, surrounded by reckless drivers with traffic whizzing in all directions, as compared to driving on a vast, empty, smooth plain – even I could drive on such an empty plain – where nobody would call it difficult. But in the bustling traffic of a city, one has to be a skilful driver even to go a short distance. So, I think there is great merit to put aside worldly involvement in this day and age and “go forth” as an ordained person. It is one of the most important and beneficial things we can do with our lives.
When we reflect deeply on the disadvantages of cyclic existence, the determination to free ourselves from it and to attain liberation arises in our mind. The method to do that is to practice the Three Higher Trainings: ethics, concentration, and wisdom. To develop the wisdom that liberates us from cyclic existence, we must be able to concentrate. Otherwise, we will not be able to meditate on emptiness in a sustained manner. Developing concentration requires us to subdue the manifest disturbing attitudes in our mind. A firm foundation for doing this is created by pacifying our gross verbal and physical actions motivated by these disturbing attitudes. Ethics – living according to precepts – is the method to harmonize our physical and verbal actions, and thus to subdue the gross disturbing attitudes…”
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, founder and current Abbess of Sravasti Abbey. From The Benefits and Motivation for Monastic Ordination in Preparing for Ordination: Reflections for Westerners Considering Ordination in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition, ed. Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
“As a householder, we must do many things for the sake of our family. We easily find ourselves in situations where we must create negative karma by lying or cheating. We are surrounded by distractions: the media, our career, and social obligations. It is easy for disturbing attitudes to arise and more difficult to accumulate positive potential because our lives are so busy with other things…. As a monastic, we have more freedom from such distractions and difficulties. On the other hand, we also have a great responsibility. We have decided to be more aware and not to act according to whatever impulse arises in our minds. Initially, this may appear as a lack of freedom, but in fact, such awareness frees us from our bad habits and the difficulties they create. We have voluntarily chosen to keep precepts, and so we must slow down, be aware of our actions, and choose what we do and say wisely.”
Bhikshuni Tenzin Kacho, from The Benefits and Motivation for Monastic Ordination in Preparing for Ordination: Reflections for Westerners Considering Ordination in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition, ed. Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron