Recently someone asked how long it will take me to go from being a novice (
sramanera) to a full-fledged monk. In my order, there is no direct timeline.
Although some things that need to be accomplished have to be done a specific number of times or for a certain number of days, it doesn’t really add up to being able to say that “I’ll be a monk in three years” or such. What is needed is to accomplish is a variety of task. Memorize this, read that, attend these. I’ve started that list but have a ways to go.
The question that goes along with ‘how long’ sometimes is ‘Why do you want to become a monk?’. The answer, surprising to some, is that I am not sure I do. On the other hand, I am also not sure I don’t.
What I actually want to get from my monastic training – the reading, wearing of robes, a study of the dharma, etc. – is to simply be able to respond skillfully.
“I am not strong or weak; I am whatever the situations require“
To me, to respond skillfully means that when someone says I offended them, or I see a piece of trash next to a trashcan, or a stranger mentions that their father has passed away, or I am accused me of being insensitive, or a homeless man asks for a dollar, I want to respond in a way that reduces suffering and is aligned with having a purpose greater than myself. This can be accomplished by being attuned and intimate to whatever is happening at that moment. And that requires a release of judgment. In most situations, I am trapped in my own personal bias. My attachment to what my deluded mind has decided is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘tasty’ and ‘repulsive’. It is only when I can “gain liberation from my programmed way of responding” that I can be of use. Of use to an individual, a group, or to the world. As an example, if someone came to me and said “I am thinking about putting my dog down”, my mind might immediately pull up precepts about taking life, or the story of the monetary that routinely drowns puppies to keep the population under control, or the time my dog got cancer, or what my teacher says about caring for pets, or a million other things. Instead of “hearing” them, I am taking input and processing through a mind that is already filled with thoughts and stories and examination. Instead of being with the feeling of someone who might be going through a very challenging time and someone who is in pain over an action they feel forced to take. Someone who hasn’t asked for my advice or judgment. It may well be that perhaps they do seek advice. Or my thoughts. Or it may be what the need is just a witness to the pain. How will I know when I am stuck trying to make everyone’s reality conform with mine? I see Buddhism as a place to find a wealth of information on how to be a compassionate listener, a mindful friend, and to perhaps have some wisdom to share when it is called for. And to help me develop this intimate interaction with the world. When I see a homeless person or a friend yells at me for some slight, I don’t want to wonder ‘What should I do?’, I want to respond, to do. To do that which is aligned with my best nature. I see monastic teaching as a method to focus on that training. To remind myself that I am more than the selfish being I once was, to always keep in mind that the purpose of being alive for me is to serve. I’m not always sure what or who I should serve. But I have found, via my training, that when I am wearing my robes and am angry, I reflect hard on what that means. When I have certain lessons in the forefront of my mind, it is easy to recall ‘emptiness’ or ‘mudita (selfless joy)’. When I spend every morning reciting certain gathas and meditating, I am more likely to be fully engaged in the day. So, do I want to be an ordained monk in my order? Today…I don’t actually have an opinion one way or the other. At some point, I will have an opinion perhaps. But today, it isn’t important. It is even less empty than my opinion about political maneuvering or broccoli – I would rather neither was part of life. But others would miss them greatly. Who is wrong? Who is right? Who cares.