Nun Path

What is this path of enlightenment, retreat, and monastic vows?  What is she doing on that cushion all the time?  What journey is this?  Some thoughts to share on the subject...

Enlightenment is the sublime state of ego-lessness, selflessness, which is imbued with boundless unconditional compassion, the wish to free all beings from suffering, and boundless lovingkindness, the wish to promote their happiness.  Enlightened mind knows the true nature of reality: all things lack intrinsic existence although they exist relatively, even the self which we cherish and cling to; living from the view of "I like, I don't like, I want, I don't want" leads us to chase after fleeting pleasures and creates suffering.  In Buddhism this is called samsara.  The wish to be free of samsara and liberate others from samsara is the bodhisattva's aspiration.  Freedom is possible because every being already has the seed of enlightenment or Buddha nature within.

While on the path towards enlightenment, the bodhisattva must tame and train her own mind to be free of the shackles of self-centeredness, afflictive emotions, and non-virtuous actions.  Her job is to fearlessly unwind the habits of the ego - to train in a stable mind with equanimity, to open her heart, and to dissolve emotions which cause harm to self and other.  This noble task is the highest use of a precious human life, as it lead to the pinnacle of human qualities which is vast compassion united with vast wisdom.  You can imagine His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a living example of the bodhisattva way of life.

The path to enlightenment involves great courage and fortitude; much strength is needed to dismantle the self-cherishing ego and understand the true nature of mind.  The bodhisattva follows a prescribed training program which includes practicing ten virtues, ten transcendent actions, four boundless states, thirty seven practices of the bodhisattva, and cultivating mindfulness of body, speech, and mind.  This is done within the context of developing the habit of cherishing others and serving them with compassionate, skillful action, while at the same time resting in the essential nature of non-dual  reality.  There are innumerable practices and trainings but this is the core of the path.

In short, the job of the bodhisattva is to reach enlightenment for the sake of herself and all sentient beings.  She is on the clock 24/7 and keeps a full-time watch on her mind, speech, and actions.  Her training is vigorous and unites discipline and delight.  Moreover, she sees the people ahead of her on the path are cheerful, compassionate, kind, and happy, this inspires her practice and motivates her to continue.

Retreat is a time for extensive and intensive study and meditation.  Retreat means to extract oneself from the distractions of daily life and focus only on the bodhisattva mind training and taming.  Retreat is not a vacation or a time to flop and space out.  Retreat involves a strict schedule of practice and study.  It is time for the bodhisattva to engage her aspirations with freedom from phones, computers, social engagements, and making/spending money.  Retreat offers time to focus on what really matters for the bodhisattva in training.

Offering a practitioner the time, space, and means to create a retreat is a great gift.  By supporting a retreatant, a patron receives all the benefits of the practice as well.  The patron understands and appreciates the incredible path of the bodhisattva and acknowledges that the world needs more patience, kindness, compassion, and wisdom.  Retreat benefits the practitioner, patron, and indeed the surrounding area and whole planet.  Retreat creates peace and the mind aimed at benefiting all beings.

Some people decide to make retreat and becoming a Buddha or bodhisattva their main aim in life.  With revulsion towards the intrinsic suffering of samsara and respect for the path to freedom, nuns and monks renounce worldly life to embark on a full-time quest for enlightenment.  With time and support for practice and study, a monastic can become a fully enlightened being who spontaneously acts for the benefit of others with unconditional compassion and skillful means.  A lay person with the same aspirations is called a yogi or yogini.  Whichever the case, imagine a world with more people who radiate lovingkindness, happiness, patience, and peacefulness without a residue of ego.  Isn't that amazing?

A monastic person traditionally holds a place of honor in the community.  Monks and nuns have chosen the life of a renunciate mendicant because they see it as the best way to engage in the heavy-duty business of enlightenment.  The monastic life offers the freedom to study and train in the practices of the bodhisattva.  While this is common in countries with a long history of Buddhism, in the West it is like being a radical pioneer.  Purposefully giving up possessions, family life, entertainment, and making money might seem like a crazy idea.  It goes against the general tide of Western society which does not tend to value inner transformation, spiritual pursuits, and enlightened mind.  Yet Westerners still forge ahead and take vows.  Their courage helps support and protect the Buddha's precious teachings.  What a joy to have such people who are dedicated to the pursuit of unconditional happiness, service to others, and ego freedom.

I took to Buddhism like a fish takes to water.  For me it is the most exquisite combination of science and spirituality, mind and body practices, practical knowledge and mystical experience, not to mention a well-outlined path for how to be a healthy, happy human being.  It contains everything and leaves out nothing.  I continue to fall more and more in love with the Buddha's vast teachings and explanations of reality and the mind.

Buddhism saved my life.  During a period of intense emotional suffering, I could not turn my mind towards recovery.  I felt trapped by my own thoughts and beliefs.  By a twist of luck, I received an invitation to a Buddhist teaching and there the message landed.  It was to stop seeking happiness from outside my own mind and to work for the benefit of others.  Not easy!  But it sounded like a good idea.  Slowly, slowly I started practicing and found my way out of the darkness.  Yes, it saved my life.

I knew early on that I wanted to dedicate myself to this pursuit.  Almost from the start,  I knew I wanted to become a nun - it seemed like the obvious, natural choice.  I am clear and committed without effort.

That said, becoming a Buddhist nun is still challenging; it is what i want most in life and in the West it is not easy.  I write this with the hope of educating my friends and family about what I'm doing and why.  I believe in the path to enlightenment and I have faith that with focus, I can do it in this very lifetime.  More than anything, I want to dedicate my life to the bodhisattva path.  I have motivation, devotion, and discipline.  Now is the time to direct it towards practice and study and realizing my aspirations.

My plan is to take vows this autumn 2011 and join a community or retreat center with other monastics, probably in India, for the time being.  Eventually, I would like to do a traditional three year retreat with my teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, when he offers that.  Finally, I hope to design and develop a Buddhist women's retreat center and hospice based on permaculture principles and ecological intelligence.

But...first things first!  I will take the leap under the guidance of Rinpoche and see where that leads.  My mind is clear and my heart is open; step by step I will take this journey towards the apex of human experience.  May all beings benefit!