Why We Become Sangha: A Reply to an Online Friend
Recently an online friend contacted me with some questions about the process of taking someone as a teacher and also about becoming a monk. They said that they have a strong desire to become ordained in the future but for now they have familial responsibilities to take care of. It was a very sincere message and I felt I had to reply to them. So I recorded a message which I then had one of my students transcribe because I wish to share with others here as the information may be of benefit to you also.
I sincerely rejoice for anyone who has the wish to become ordained. When someone has this wish, it shows they have the seeds of renunciation in their mind. This means they have the potential to renounce their attachments in the same way the Buddha did and take their first steps towards enlightenment. Renouncing doesn’t mean giving up the things we like but it means cutting away our attachment and grasping to those things. It definitely is a key component in our practice and Buddha Shakyamuni himself showed this when he left the palace and all its wealth and pleasures, in order to seek a path to enlightenment. He cut off his hair and discarded his princely clothes, and took on simple robes to become, at first, an ascetic and later the first Buddhist monk. Hence we say that the very, very sacred lineage of monk and nun ordinations began with the Buddha Shakyamuni 2500 years.
For most people to become a monk or nun in this day and age is not easy at all. There are many distractions that we create for ourselves and obstacles that arise as a result of our karma manifesting. So it is said that in today’s world, the merits of holding the monk vows for just one day is so great, it is comparable to holding the vows for an entire lifetime during Buddha’s time.
Because it is so difficult to be a monk or nun in today’s world, it also means that supporting the Sangha is very important because they are the ones who do what many others cannot. They ‘sacrifice’ secular success to live and breathe the Buddha’s teachings, so that the blessings in the Dharma are alive and potent for others to benefit from it too. This is why the the Sangha as part of the Three Jewels is very important and making offerings to them and supporting them is very meritorious. It creates the causes so that we will be successful in our own practice and gain attainments.
Actually to become a monk or a nun is not a sacrifice. ‘Sacrifice’ implies that we had to give up something positive and pleasurable, for something that’s negative and not pleasurable. But there is nothing negative about becoming a Sangha and there is nothing positive about samsara. Samsara contains all of the causes and results of our suffering whereas monkhood and the vows contain all of the causes for our liberation. So it was one of the happiest days of my life when His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche accepted my request to become a monk and he cut a strand of my hair as an auspicious sign of his acceptance.
I hope many more people will be inspired like this person below to consider taking up ordination vows, even temporarily as they do in the Thai tradition. As I said, to hold the vows for just one day creates great waves of merits for us and our loved ones. Please do read the post below carefully and understand why the Sangha is so important as part of the Three Jewels.
Transcribed by: Pastor Khong Jean Ai
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/WhyWeBecomeSangha.flv
For one to accept another person as a teacher, they do not need to be physically present or even necessarily physically have met the teacher. In the mind of the student, when they think, “This is my teacher”, then it becomes the teacher. When you think like that very strongly, even without a formal ceremony or formal introduction, the person becomes your teacher. So therefore it is possible to have faith and respect, and also a draw to a person who are karmically connected with. So in short, when we think the person’s our teacher, then we should hold the person as our teacher and very loyally and very strongly, and study the 50 Verses of Guru Devotion and also the teacher-disciple relationship as written by Tsongkhapa. That will be very good.
Next one is – in order to become a novice monk, one can be basically any age. For one to become a fully ordained monk – a bhikshu, a gelong – you have to be above the age of 21. So to be a novice monk, you can hold the basic preliminary vows and that one can be at any age. Again, to become a fully ordained monk, you have to be a novice monk first. After becoming a novice monk, after the age of 21, then you are a fully ordained monk (a bhikshu or, in Tibetan, a gelong). It is possible to become a monk and outwardly live a lay person’s life, working, paying bills and taking care of responsibilities with a strong aspiration that one wishes to become a monk also outwardly, not only inwardly. Within the monk vows, you have the tsawa shi, or the four main root vows. It’s the most important that one needs to hold and keep very sacred, and keep very strong. So I would highly recommend for you now, to read the monk verses which you can Google online and find. I think it should be on my blog also, on a post. Read up on the monk vows, especially the four root vows. And feel and think as if you are a monk already, and then behave and act and do and speak and talk as if you are a monk.
Many years ago, when I was in Los Angeles, when I was living with the master Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen, I also expressed to him my strong wish to become a monk. But because I had bills, I had payments, I had loans, I couldn’t take off and leave the United States and go to India immediately. So it took me, from the time I wished to become a monk until I left, it was five or six years before I could accomplish it. So Geshe-la told me, “Although you are not a monk now, you should behave like one, act like one, speak like one, talk like one and most importantly, think like one. Although you are not wearing the robes of a monk, or you’re not in a monk environment and physically acting like a monk, the attitude should be one of a monk.” This is what he told me.
So when I actually take my monk vows, then it becomes very, very powerful and it becomes very easy, and it’s a very smooth transition. You don’t want to behave and act and think like you’re a monk when you become a monk. You have to act and behave and think like one before you become one so it becomes a very smooth transition. To take on the monk vows these days, and to hold on to it for one day is equivalent to holding on to it for one lifetime during Buddha’s time. So if we were to hold monk vows now, or nun vows now, one day of holding our vows strongly and well, we collect the same amount of merit as if during Buddha’s time, we are holding our vows for a whole lifetime. And the reason is because it is more tough and more difficult to hold our vows these days, the obstacles are much more. Since the obstacles are much more, the merits are much more, similarly.
And the reason we wish to become a monk is, the monkhood is based on the self-liberation vows, pratimoksha. And what we wish is that we see the faults, we see the disasters, we see the repercussions and the repetitiveness, roboticness of samsaric life. How we just engage in actions that are robotic and repetitive, that have no purpose. Seeing the faults of this in samsara, and understanding the faults of this in samsara, we develop a very strong renunciation. When we develop a strong renunciation, we seek and we wish to go towards full enlightenment. Because we wish to go towards full enlightenment, then Lord Buddha has offered us the vows of a monk and a nun which we can take. And upon taking them and living within the vows, we create the causes for nirvana or self-liberation. When these vows are taken with a motivation of benefiting others, then the power of the vows extend more and further and wider and much more bigger. So taking on the vows of a monk is very powerful.
Taking on the vows of a monk or a nun is very powerful because one creates the causes for one to get the five senses under control. Think how difficult it is to control our speech, our thinking. Think how difficult it is to control our feelings, our attachments and what we see, and our desires. When we take the vows of a monk or nun, we create the causes and every day we collect the merit to control our five senses. To control our mind that instead of it or they becoming objects or venues that create more sorrow, they become venues that create more peace and happiness. Ordinary people use their sight to find negative actions, they use their ears to listen to negative actions, they use their speech to perpetuate negative actions, and they use their mind to increase and plot and plan for more negative actions. Negative actions do not make a person negative, but negative actions arise from a person’s ignorance. So negative actions and negative thought doesn’t make a person evil or bad, but it’s natural and spontaneous because of habituation and because of ignorance.
So therefore we are not in control of our mind. We are not in control of our senses and we are always looking for sensory gratification. And when we look for sensory gratification, this increases the desire and hatred and anger and attachment in our mind, which fuels the sensory attachments and fulfilling those attachments. And then those attachments make us thirsty and then we want to find more fulfilment, and then that makes us even more empty and more lonely, and it goes round and round and round and round. So therefore taking the vows of a monk or a nun, the main purpose is to cut our attachment, cut the basis of all that increases our attachment through the five senses. All that increases our attachment through the five senses are cut by taking on the vows, and therefore when we take on the vows and we hold it well, we gain control of our mind, we gain control of our five senses.
Therefore our five senses are used as venues to create virtue, peace, happiness and liberation for ourselves and others, as opposed to our five senses being used to create more desire, more anger, more thirst, more lack of peace. So therefore holding on to these vows is extremely important, and when we think about it, we should think about Lord Buddha very strongly, and we should take refuge in Lord Buddha very strongly, and we should think about Lord Buddha very strongly. And by thinking about Lord Buddha very, very, very strongly, we take refuge in Lord Buddha. We take refuge in Lord Buddha and we realise that Buddha became a Buddha by the practice of the Dharma. And therefore we take refuge in the holy Dharma.
When we take refuge in the holy Dharma, the Dharma has all the methods to eradicate every single neurosis and negative thought and negative action and its propensity within our mindstream. And therefore Dharma is the real path that brings genuine happiness, genuine peace and genuine fruition of good actions. So therefore we take refuge in the Dharma, realising that when we practise and when we engage in the Dharma, it has the real genuine methods for bringing peace and an end to this robotic existence that we are stuck in over and over, life after life.
And therefore those who embody these teachings, those who embody and practise and learn and meditate and engage in the teachings are Sangha. Monks and nuns, Dharma brothers and sisters who give up their worldly attachments and they engage in the Dharma strongly, and therefore the Dharma arises in their mind in the form of the eradication of these attachments. So when the Sangha have the eradication of these negative states of mind, and positive states of mind arise and therefore their actions are virtuous, they become a true Sangha and someone that we can take refuge in, and we can take inspiration from.
So therefore realising the power of the Buddha and his / her enlightenment, and the holy Dharma that is the cause of this enlightenment, and then the Sangha who embody the Dharma and practise the Dharma, where we can receive the Dharma from – we take refuge in the holy Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha from our heart, and we develop renunciation. And from renunciation, we develop a true longing to escape the unhappiness of ordinary, robotic, empty, attached life. And therefore,
“I wish to become a monk, I wish to become a nun so that I can live the rest of my life in spiritual peace, in peace, in mental peace where I am protected by my vows from being attached to another person romantically, from being attached to money, materialistically, from being attached to clothes and perfumes and ornaments and fun and music, and all these things that actually, that when I engage in, they only bring more and more emptiness. So I am protected from this. And within this protection, I am able to have the space and the time and the peace to practise Dharma. And therefore when I practise the Dharma, I develop my mind. When I develop my mind, I become spiritually aware and I grow spiritually so that in the end, whatever I have missed in my life as a monk or a nun doesn’t become something I have missed. It is something that I have avoided, that would’ve caused a lot of problems.”
And therefore no regrets come from avoiding all secular activities, all secular so-called ‘fun’. Therefore being a monk and a nun is pure protection. It is like wearing a fireproof suit that even though you’re near the fire, your body does not burn because you’re protected. So by having the vows of a monk or a nun, we are protected from the fires of passion, anger, attachment, desire, robotic life and basically wasting our life on doing things that bring no benefit. So it’s like having a fireproof suit against samsara and its burning activities that bring no satisfaction whatsoever. So therefore before we become a monk, before we become a nun, we should behave like one, think like one, act like one and we should focus that we are like a monk and behave like one. And how do we behave like a monk or a nun? To be extremely humble, to be respectful of others, to be infinitely patient in other people’s behaviours that we might find disturbing. We should be infinitely tolerant of others and we should use our body and our speech and our mind to bring benefit to others, to increase other people’s faith in the Dharma. Not in a showy way, not in a way of showing off but by practice. So therefore as a monk and a nun, what’s most important is that we behave in such a way that increases other people’s faith, increases other people’s practice. And if we are highly attained, we can use many methods to bring other people to the Dharma, to tame their minds to the Dharma. But as ordinary monks and nuns, we should be very humble, we should be very caring, we should take care of others when they’re ill, we should make sure they are fed, we should protect them from the elements, we should focus out and make sure that others are comfortable, at least those around us as a beginning. So to have the aspiration to become a monk, to think of Lord Buddha very strongly and to have that aspiration to become a monk and to pray to become a Sangha – a monk or a nun – is extremely virtuous.
Remember, the lineage of the Sangha – monk and nunhood – arose not from a Tibetan lama or an Indian pandit but it arose from Lord Buddha himself. Therefore whatever has arisen from the mind of an enlightened being such as Buddha can only bring benefit. In today’s world, when you tell people you wish to become a monk or a nun, it creates fear and disgust in their minds thinking that you’re wasting your life. The truth is, they are wasting their life. When you become a monk or a nun, you don’t waste your life. If you waste your life by becoming a monk or a nun, then Buddha Shakyamuni would’ve wasted his life. That’s not possible.
So therefore I rejoice in what your aspiration is and I offer prayers to the Three Jewels that your aspirations come true. Most important now is to think and behave and act like a monk. Study up on the monk vows and understand why you want to become a monk. Understand that well within yourself. Actually, laypeople are not allowed to study the vows of a monk or a nun but in this case, it is an exception because you wish to become one.
I wish you very well and I offer my prayers to Lord Buddha for your success.
For more interesting information:
- Making Offerings to Shar Gaden Monastery
- Offerings to the Sangha in India
- Kyabje Zong Rinpoche Cuts My Hair
- I’m Requesting Ordination in 1987
- For those who hold vows
- The Practice of Sangha
- Dharma work, attitude & TDL
- Complete Commentary on 50 Verses of Guru Devotion
- 2nd wealthiest man’s son is a monk
- 30,000 ordained as monks in one go!
- Buddhist monks far off in the Russian mountains
- NEW: OFFERING OF MONK ROBES!
- Jesus was a Buddhist Monk (BBC documentary)
- The Mind and Lama Tsongkhapa
- The Farm of Your Mind
- Discovering Yourself: A Teaching on Karma & Mindstream
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team