How to know if you are suitable?

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.
Coyote
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How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Coyote » Tue Mar 12, 2013 10:57 pm

Is there any criteria for knowing if you are "fit" for the Bhikkhu's life? Obviously being able to keep the rules would be one, and seeing the value in living that way as opposed to the lay life.
I was think along the lines of "if by one year, you are not happier than you were as a lay person you shouldn't ordain". It seems common sense to me, but does anyone know of any advice that speaks along similar lines - from the canon, well-respected monastics? Your own opinions, thoughts?

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LonesomeYogurt
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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Tue Mar 12, 2013 11:47 pm

I've heard from a few monastics that one should spend around a month straight at a temple as a lay resident before deciding on whether or not anagarika ordination would be suitable. Afterwards, the general one-year period in the white robes is a good test run for how you handle sense restraint, meditation, etc.

At the end of that one year,I can imagine the questions all boil down to, "Do I still want to do this?" You just have to be honest with yourself. If one month feels good, commit for a year; if that year feels good, keep going. You'll never know until you take the plunge and try it.

Good luck :)
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby polarbuddha101 » Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:03 am

If you can tolerate and endure:

And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating? There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, endures. He tolerates cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words & bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. The fermentations, vexation, or fever that would arise if he were not to tolerate these things do not arise for him when he tolerates them. These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


If you can follow the vinaya

He dwells restrained in accordance with the Patimokkha, consummate in his behavior & sphere of activity. He trains himself, having undertaken the training rules, seeing danger in the slightest faults. This is the second prerequisite for the development of the wings to self-awakening.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


And if you're determined to follow the path to completion no matter whether you're more happy after a year or miserable then I think you're good to go for sure.

"And who is the individual who goes against the flow? There is the case where an individual doesn't indulge in sensual passions and doesn't do evil deeds. Even though it may be with pain, even though it may be with sorrow, even though he may be crying, his face in tears, he lives the holy life that is perfect & pure. This is called the individual who goes against the flow.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


I think being a bhikkhu is pretty damn hardcore if you actually plan on living in isolated forest dwellings, so be prepared for more dukkha before less or none.

"Yes, brahman, so it is. It's not easy to endure isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. It's not easy to maintain seclusion, not easy to enjoy being alone. The forests, as it were, plunder the mind of a monk who has not attained concentration. Before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me as well: 'It's not easy to maintain seclusion, not easy to enjoy being alone. The forests, as it were, plunder the mind of a monk who has not attained concentration.'
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html



"Endowed with four qualities, a monk is fit to stay in isolated forest & wilderness dwellings. Which four? [He is endowed] with thoughts of renunciation, with thoughts of non-ill will, with thoughts of harmlessness, and he is a discerning person, not dull, not a drooling idiot. Endowed with these four qualities, a monk is fit to stay in isolated forest & wilderness dwellings."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


[3] "Then there is the case where I see a monk sitting in concentration in a village dwelling. The thought occurs to me, 'Soon a monastery attendant will disturb this venerable one in some way, or a novice will, and rouse him from his concentration.' And so I am not pleased with that monk's village-dwelling.

[4] "But then there is the case where I see a monk sitting, nodding, in the wilderness. The thought occurs to me, 'Soon this venerable one will dispel his drowsiness & fatigue and attend to the wilderness-perception, [1] [his mind] unified.' And so I am pleased with that monk's wilderness-dwelling.

[5] "Then there is the case where I see a wilderness monk sitting unconcentrated in the wilderness. The thought occurs to me, 'Soon this venerable one will center his unconcentrated mind, or protect his concentrated mind.' And so I am pleased with that monk's wilderness-dwelling.

[6] "Then there is the case where I see a wilderness monk sitting in concentration in the wilderness. The thought occurs to me, 'Soon this venerable one will release his unreleased mind, or protect his released mind.' And so I am pleased with that monk's wilderness-dwelling.

[7] "Then there is the case where I see a village-dwelling monk who receives robes, alms food, shelter, & medicinal requisites for curing the sick. Receiving, as he likes, those gains, offerings, & fame, he neglects seclusion, he neglects isolated forest & wilderness dwellings. He makes his living by visiting villages, towns, & cities. And so I am not pleased with that monk's village-dwelling.[2]

[8] "Then there is the case where I see a wilderness monk who receives robes, alms food, shelter, & medicinal requisites for curing the sick. Fending off those gains, offerings, & fame, he doesn't neglect seclusion, doesn't neglect isolated forest & wilderness dwellings. And so I am pleased with that monk's wilderness-dwelling.[3]

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


If you can accept the challenge for the sake of the goal, then you're ready.

:namaste:
Last edited by polarbuddha101 on Wed Mar 13, 2013 4:45 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby lojong1 » Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:04 am

I heard recently that bhikkhus at a certain monastery who had planned to be there long term were more likely to disrobe early, while bhikkhus who planned no more than a day/week/month ahead tended to stay on longer, month after month after year after year.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Nyorai » Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:32 am

Recommended is to stay in the temple as laybuddhist for 2 years. The purpose is to get yourself use to the happy stoical living of monastic lifestyle. One will face many people from all walks of life and each and every monastic themselves also may have their impressionable wisdom, so get in tune is helpful for yourself. So your purpose of being a laybuddhist for 2 years in the temple is to handle this consciousness in complete harmony and peace. 2 years in the temple are not studying their life but learn to be complete and sincere loving kindness with all, doing the routine chore there, live simple lifesyyle such as light food, and at the same time, your consciousness is always remained peace. Hope as many as possible enjoy being monastic as their simple lifestyle has been cushioning the worst impact for the environment, and helping themselves easier in reaching the within. There is a sutra that specifically extolling the merit and blessing of being bhikkhus / bhikkhusni. Well! expressing this greatness and you may ask why don't you renounce, may i confess it is not easy for me as having family to feed and people to care. And my vow never cease as renounced life in every life until all sentience become buddha, upon my attainment of supreme enlightenment metta :anjali:
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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby convivium » Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:06 am

i think even if you've stayed around buddhist circles for years you might still have to flip a coin.
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby James the Giant » Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:26 am

Just go try it. It's not like you have to cut off a body party or tattoo your forehead. You can go back to lay life at any time.
Then,
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
SN 9.11

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby makarasilapin » Wed Mar 13, 2013 3:15 pm

James the Giant wrote:Just go try it. It's not like you have to cut off a body party or tattoo your forehead. You can go back to lay life at any time.


lol +1!

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Mr Man » Wed Mar 13, 2013 4:19 pm

Ajahn Chah used to ask those ordaining to make a commitment of at least five years, Ajahn Sumedho the same.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Coyote » Wed Mar 13, 2013 5:35 pm

Thanks for the replies everyone :) It is really insightful to know other people's opinions on this topic.
I guess what it boils down to is what the standards should be for evaluating what route to take your life down when faced with a choice. The statement "if it tends towards dispassion, to freedom from dukkha" seems good, but Polarbuddha you bring up a good point about the suffering that naturally goes along with the monastic life, before the fruit.
And of course, as James points out, it need not be a permanent choice.
You have all given me lots to think about.

lojong1 wrote:I heard recently that bhikkhus at a certain monastery who had planned to be there long term were more likely to disrobe early, while bhikkhus who planned no more than a day/week/month ahead tended to stay on longer, month after month after year after year.


This is interesting. I wonder if it has anything to do with the idealism of those who want to ordain long-term, vs. the practicality of those who are just testing the waters.

Coyote
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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby kmath » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:37 pm

Hi Coyote,

kmath here. I spent 18 months at a Western Thai monastery, 9 as a lay person and 9 as an Anagarika.

One great aspect of the Thai tradition is: even if you ordain, there's no expectation that you will stay in robes forever. In fact 70% of Westerners and 90% of Thais disrobe eventually. So don't think of ordaining as necessarily a lifetime commitment.

Also, you are correct about why people disrobe. When I asked the senior monks why so many people leave, the majority of monks said idealism. That is, people come in with lofty ideas about what their practice will be like, and when it doesn't live up to those ideals, people become disillusioned and leave.

And I can speak from experience on that one...

Now I'm curious, what makes you want to ordain? How's your lay life and practice going? Do you have any monasteries in mind?

Take care,

kmath

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Coyote » Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:41 pm

kmath wrote:Hi Coyote,

kmath here. I spent 18 months at a Western Thai monastery, 9 as a lay person and 9 as an Anagarika.

One great aspect of the Thai tradition is: even if you ordain, there's no expectation that you will stay in robes forever. In fact 70% of Westerners and 90% of Thais disrobe eventually. So don't think of ordaining as necessarily a lifetime commitment.

Also, you are correct about why people disrobe. When I asked the senior monks why so many people leave, the majority of monks said idealism. That is, people come in with lofty ideas about what their practice will be like, and when it doesn't live up to those ideals, people become disillusioned and leave.

And I can speak from experience on that one...

Now I'm curious, what makes you want to ordain? How's your lay life and practice going? Do you have any monasteries in mind?

Take care,

kmath


Thanks for your post. I'm thinking of staying at a monastery with an eye towards anagarika and eventually bhikkhu if all goes well after I complete my degree and pay off the (sorry for boasting) relatively small debt. My plan is to keep all options open so that I don't become disappointed - I've never even visited a monastery. And I try not to have any high ideals about what the experience will be like, but hopefully whatever comes I will take with equanimity.
As far as my reasons for wanting to ordain - I guess it is wanting to do the best with my life that I can - the "good life". We only live once (at least in this body, with this opportunity) so I want to take the opportunity if I can. Spending my life as a lay person seems like a waste if I don't have to, not to disrespect the lay life. Though the pull towards sense-desire is very strong. No doubt a lot of idealism and desire in there, but those are the truth of my reasons.
There are several well-renowned monasteries in the UK (Ajahn Chah branch) so I don't see any need for looking outside the country unless something drastic happens.
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby kmath » Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:57 am

Well, it sounds like you have a pretty balanced attitude about it. Feel free to contact me if you have any more questions.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Fri Mar 15, 2013 6:15 am

kmath wrote:Also, you are correct about why people disrobe. When I asked the senior monks why so many people leave, the majority of monks said idealism. That is, people come in with lofty ideas about what their practice will be like, and when it doesn't live up to those ideals, people become disillusioned and leave.

And I can speak from experience on that one...

Interesting. It would be great to hear your story!
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby kmath » Sun Mar 17, 2013 10:38 pm

Well I went to the monastery with a gung ho spirit about meditation and Buddhism. For the first year or so I practiced hard and saw some results. But eventually I lost my steam. Then the whole lifestyle became kind of a grind and my meditation more or less fell apart. After six months of drudgery, I left!

Many Westerners who leave tell a similar story: initial excitement => ordain => overly vigorous practice => burnout => disrobe.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby convivium » Sun Mar 17, 2013 11:13 pm

this is like my story with the burmese vipassana movement. i went insane with it and hurt my back, and got disillusioned. it's dangerous trying to be a supermonk off the bat...
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Anagarika » Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:57 pm

My two baht on the subject is to determine what your intention in ordaining might be. I ordained temporarily as a samanera in Thailand, to get a "taste" of the life. I was in the company of some truly excellent and enjoyable people, both farang and Thai Bhikkhus. My abbot gave me the opportunity to teach vocational English to Thai parks and rec workers at a beautiful hot springs wellness center. We samaneras and the Bhikkhus woke early, chanted early, went on alms rounds and connected with the community, and during the day studied, discussed, and generally integrated with the local community that came to the Wat. At night, chanting, meditation, and Dhamma study. Sleep 4-5 hours on a wood platform, lizards on the walls of your small cell, mosquitoes in your ears nightly, (no mattress: you get the mattress and internet once you are a Bhikkhu in a kuti!).

So, rather than focusing on an austere sense of what the Vinaya prescribes, maybe take a look at what life is like for a monastic at various Wat and monasteries. Historically, the Forest tradition prescribed long stretches of meditation, individual development, and asceticism. Today, it seems to me that if you have the spirit for loyal devotion to the Vinaya and the practice, and combine that with a desire to be of service to others, you can craft a very good monastic experience. One of the reasons (of many) I have so much respect for the Ajahn Chah-era monks is the grueling asceticism they endured. Today, the monks eat reasonably well, there's not as much risk of severe illness, and some Bhikkhus these days are really showing what teaching and engaged practice looks like.

My point of all of this is perhaps to try not to hold onto projections of the austere (boiled frog and rice once a day) life of a 1970's Thai Forest monk, and perhaps look at the life going forth as one with some variety and opportunity for personal and engaged development.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Coyote » Mon Mar 18, 2013 5:28 pm

Thanks for all the replies, advice ect. It has given me lots to think about.

It is interesting to hear about the "burnout" phase. I wonder if anyone knows of any sutta's that are on this topic, or if there are any Bhikkhu's reading if they could give their advice about this.

BuddhaSoup wrote:My point of all of this is perhaps to try not to hold onto projections of the austere (boiled frog and rice once a day) life of a 1970's Thai Forest monk, and perhaps look at the life going forth as one with some variety and opportunity for personal and engaged development.


What do you mean by this exactly? Do you mean looking at the broader picture? Because that is something I have given a little time to thinking about. The exploration of going-forth will give me the time to think about what I want to do with my life, whether I want to ordain fully ect. Just like the temporary ordination in thailand - it will hopefully give me some perspective.
Also I am a real study-head, I love reading. So even if the main aim of the Bhikkhu's life is not study, I'm sure it will give me ample time to study the tipitaka. Do you know if monks have to/get to learn pali?
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Anagarika » Mon Mar 18, 2013 5:50 pm

Coyote:

My thought was that there seem to be many opportunities to go forth that may not involve the hardships that Bhikkhus like Ajahn Brahm and others endured. I've spent some time at Wat Metta in San Diego, and have observed that the young monks there are very smart, very engaging, studious and serious, but not enduring hardships or illnesses like malaria. Ven. Thanissaro seems to me a strict abbot, but I have also seen him in moments when he is sitting with the young monks and discussing in a friendly and engaged way world issues, Dhamma, and Dhamma as it develops in the west. I've not visited Amaravati ( http://www.amaravati.org/about_us/C9 ) but as you are from the UK, this seems a very positive and solid monastic community and could be a very good choice. Again, little chance of boiled frogs and malaria there. :)

As for the Pali question, yes, of course you will learn Pali. You will chant Pali. Your ordination will be in Pali. Even I, an absolute idiot abroad farang had to learn enough Pali to convince my Preceptor that I should be allowed to ordain. I studied the Pali before leaving for Thailand for months, and even with a lot of prep by my Bhikkhu friends/teachers I stumbled through my ordination, and at one point thought my preceptor would wave me off and send me back to Disneyland.... yes, you will learn Pali and have a lot of chances for study and scholarship if you're so inclined.

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Re: How to know if you are suitable?

Postby Zom » Mon Mar 18, 2013 7:48 pm

It is interesting to hear about the "burnout" phase. I wonder if anyone knows of any sutta's that are on this topic, or if there are any Bhikkhu's reading if they could give their advice about this.


This is because most people do not understand the right way of practice. Everybody today thinks that "practice" is just sitting as much as you can, doing anapanasati and the stuff. But if we look deeply into the suttas, we will see, that Buddha never spoke that one should start practice with meditation. On the contrary - there are some very important stages that are to be fulfiled before you put an effort into retreats and so on. And those stages are to be practised for many many years - they aren't an easy ones to fulfil.

Read it carefully and, may be, you will understand - MN 107: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .horn.html

Many people rush into the last stages while they haven't accomplished previous ones at all. That is why their meditation "fails" and they "burn out", fall into depression or doubt and drop either monkhood or Buddhism at all .)

That's why the "first stage" - is to read very carefully as many suttas as possible, so to understand things correctly. And even this first stage can take up several years.
Last edited by Zom on Mon Mar 18, 2013 7:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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