Like a bride getting cold feet on her wedding day, I was freaking out about my relationship with Buddha just one day before I was to be ordained as a Buddhist monkess.
It was more than 15 years ago now, but I remember the experience as if it were only yesterday. I had travelled south from Sydney to study Buddhism at the Nan Tien Temple, the biggest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere.
“Nan Tien” in Chinese, literally means “Paradise of the South”. It is a branch temple of Fo Guang Shan, a Buddhism rooted in the Mahayana tradition which emphasises that Buddhahood is within everyone’s potential reach.
Soon to be twenty years of age, I was still kinda fresh out of the Catholic girls school education system. I’d worked hard to get the best possible TER score in my final year. I wanted to achieve in life, to tick all the right boxes, but was struggling on the inside as I tried to figure out who I was, what my place in the world “should” be and how to be happy in general…
Without the proper good life spiritual guidance to draw on, I was a younger and, unfortunately, a somewhat angsty and self-loathing version of my now loving Self. I’d dabbled in a bit of Buddhist reading through my teens, and if there was one thing I believed that I understood implicitly, it was the accuracy of the first of Buddha’s noble truths… that life is suffering.
But, I was curious. During the months I’d spent travelling through Thailand, Vietnam and Laos with my family, practicing Buddhists I’d met along the way were so calm and happy all the time. How did they do it? What was their secret?
I wanted me some of their happy love juice, so surrounding myself with their wisdom seemed like a good move… especially knowing that the remaining three of Buddha’s four noble truths are:
2) The truth about the cause of suffering
3) The truth about the end of suffering
4) The truth about the path that frees us from suffering
My 5 day silent retreat at Nan Tien temple was to include 4am starts, hours of Chinese chanting, daily meditations and dharma classes as well as the opportunity to be ordained as a Buddhist monkess. (We would renounce that vow later at the conclusion of the retreat.)
My first impression on arrival at the temple grounds, was the abundance of nature and wildlife all around. Pink lotus flowers stood tall above the central pond, butterflies and bird life was flapping, swooping and calling to each other from surrounding tree tops and rabbits were flashing me with their white cotton tails as they hopped around happily, not a trouble in the world.
Our bags filled with clothes and creature comforts were taken as we entered and exchanged for long grey robes which we proceeded to swaddle our bodies with. Men were sat down to have their heads shaven to bald and smooth. For us western women, it was optional. Hmmm…
One of the Buddhists highest wisdoms is the practice of non-attachment, such as mine to my long, golden and shiny hair. Hmmm… to shave or not to shave?
Part 2 – Find out whether I went the whole shaven hog here: http://soulsessions.org/free/blog.php?id=156
Part 3 – Read more about one Buddhist nun’s wisdom and how I digested it, here: http://soulsessions.org/free/blog.php?id=157