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In our last issue Ven. Losang Monlam, director of the International Mahayana Institute (IMI) introduced a new regular feature on issues that affect the Sangha in our midst. The saga continues as he describes a recent groundbreaking conference …
In February 2008, twenty IMI monks and nuns representing the monastic communities and regions of the world participated in a four-day IMI Planning Retreat at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, California. The conference drew on the experience and skills of the delegates to creatively assess and strategize on how IMI could serve its community of monks and nuns, and set the foundation for the future generation.When I took over as director, I was troubled by a lack of clarity on what was this thing called IMI, and exactly what direction was I to take it. Certainly, I had my ideas on who we were, and where we needed to go. Yet I was only one member of the community, and although I might consider my ideas to be visionary, others certainly may not. As a community it was crucial to get others involved, to share ideas and to grapple with the history of who we were, to understand where we needed to go. Key to where we need to go as a community is understanding where we have been, as envisaged by Lama Thubten Yeshe. And so we began by reviewing the development of the IMI community from its early beginnings in the ’70s. Delegates also focused on those aspects within their own lives as monastics that have been beneficial and supportive. These successes were key in identifying what needed to be included in any vision we might embrace for the community. …
By Ven. Chantal Carrerot, Director of the IMI
People have asked: “How to help monks and nuns to protect their ordination while working for a center?” “Western Sangha have been disrobing in large numbers. That is very sad. What can we truly do to help? “Can Sangha members work? Can we ask them to help with a particular job?”
Buddhist Sangha is such a rare phenomenon in our Western world, and even if people are keen to support the Sangha, they don’t necessarily know how to do it. There is a need to raise the awareness about the importance of the Sangha in terms of preserving the Buddha’s teaching, and there is a need to provide some guidance to the lay community. Particularly, center directors must realize the responsibility they have to support the Sangha:
Sharon Gross said: “We should be more informed what it means to have Sangha. Some people have had the karma to have this ripen, to hold these vows. In the West we don’t have the appreciation for this lifestyle. I would like more awareness for lay people and to develop information for the centers, so people understand how valuable they are.”
They have been instrumental in starting centers and making the organization progress. Now, so many centers need qualified Sangha and are requesting to have them. We are so few; especially elders and qualified monks and nuns are in such small number. The centers must support them. They will not find someone outside the organization to do it.
Paula de Wys Koolkin said: “I think it is good to fundraise outside; it’s also strong for us to make a karmic connection. They hold the vinaya for us. It’s crucial for us to contribute to them.”
Support for Sangha can be seen on two fronts: funds and education. Education applies to Sangha members, but equally to lay people. What are the mutual responsibilities of centers and Sangha?
Centers should support Sangha by providing the best conditions possible for them to live purely according to the vinaya and protect their ordination. Monks and nuns working in the centers should be given enough time and opportunity for Dharma practice and studies. Center residents could be aware that their behavior in relation to the Sangha serves as a model for visitors and the general public. It is important that they set up good examples by being respectful to the Sangha.
Because they are a basis for other people’s refuge practice, Sangha members, from their side, would, through their behavior, stimulate, support and enhance people’s refuge in the Three Jewels. They would be subdued, humble and kind; be willing to help with the spiritual program of the centers, or any other work according to their capabilities, the needs of the place and the situations.
“What is an appropriate work for Sangha in a center?” Resident Sangha members should support the Dharma program when capable: look after the gompa, lead meditations and discussions, meet visitors. Lay people would preferably take charge of ordinary tasks such as cleaning etc., but monks and nuns could also be asked to participate, according to needs and situations. Lama Zopa Rinpoche said:
“I remember, Lama Yeshe stressed very much that Sangha should do other work [cleaning, etc.] It’s how you regard yourself as the lowest according to the practice of the training of the mind, specifically the second of The Eight Stanzas: ‘In all circumstances and whomever I accompany, I will practice regarding myself as the lowest of all and hold others as supreme.’ This is from the side of the practitioner. Lama was saying: ‘If you are humble and serve other beings as much as possible, they should respect you as much as possible.’
“It’s not the case that the lay can’t ask Sangha to help at the center; you can ask for help. From the lay side, one should pay respect as much as possible. After one has taken refuge vows in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, concerning the refuge in Sangha, the main precept is not to follow the wrong guide. Any Buddhist Sangha wearing the red robes, wearing any different color that Buddhist Sangha is wearing, immediately one should think: ‘This is my guide who helps me to end samsara. There are many qualities in this person I don’t see, this is my guide.’ Also, regarding Sangha robes, one should not step over them – this is not only for lay, but also for Sangha.
“From the Sangha side, the purpose of being ordained is to serve others. But you shouldn’t treat them as servants, put them down or look down on them, even if they are doing service at the center.”
How can we help? Some suggestions were made:
- Attendance at teachings should be free for Sangha. At big events, why not set up a special Sangha Fund to support the attendance and accommodation costs of Western Sangha?
- Thanks to our Lama Yeshe Sangha Fund (LYSF) we are supporting a few of our members such as monks in Nalanda Monastery and long-term retreaters at Shiné Land in California. If we could build up the fund, more people could be helped: we could organize Sangha education more effectively and more widely.
Centers are to make an annual contribution to the fund. Although that has been set up as a policy many years ago, not every center contributes. Still, some are champions for their faithfulness (special thanks to Vajrapani Institute, Institut Vajra Yogini, Maitreya Instituut as well as Tse Chen Ling, LYWA and Shiné); others are champions in providing special conditions to Sangha members, such as free accommodation and food.
- Create merit for the centers by making offerings to and help the Sangha. Why not establish an FPMT tradition of an annual “Offering to the Sangha Event” day – of robes or other items. Rinpoche thought that was a good idea: “Centers could do on the auspicious days of the year, the days of 100 million times the merit. Then they create merits with the Sangha. The best thing would be to increase the Sangha Fund. That fund will help for a long time. Yes, this is a good idea.”
- Help the happening of special Sangha events. Special teachings and gatherings where a lot of Sangha are likely to attend are opportunities for the monks and nuns scattered all over the world to get to know each other, live together in a monastic setting and develop a sense of community. The three Enlightened Celebrations, which have been held in the past, have been such occasions. Let’s hope for EEC4 to come about in the near future. In anticipation, we are encouraging our Sangha to participate and meet at another Dharma Festival: the three-month Vajrasattva retreat that will be led by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Land of Medicine Buddha in California next year.
- Develop the Sangha section of the FPMT website.
- Avoid terms such as “robed Sangha” or “ordained Sangha,” which imply lay people can also be Sangha, and develop awareness of the importance of the continuation of the lineage of ordinations for the spreading of the Dharma.
Through our joint efforts, may the Sangha of the ten directions and particularly the Sangha of the FPMT flourish. May their activity, as well as all the practitioners’ works, at the service of our precious gurus for the benefit of all beings, be most favorable to the world
INTERNATIONAL MAHAYANA INSITUTE: SANGHA OF THE FPMT
By Lama Yeshe
First Enlightened Experience Celebration, Dharamsala, April 1982
I’d like to recount a little of the history of the International Mahayana Institute. Some people had doubts when I called this organization the “International Mahayana Institute”: they didn’t like the name. I don’t care! Who cares whether some like it and some don’t – that’s just the dualistic mind at work. But I came up with this name because the words mean something. The members of our sangha come from all over the world, so we are truly international; the Buddhism we practice is Mahayana; and since we’re an educational phenomenon, I called it an institute: International Mahayana Institute.
Why form such an institute? Well, take this Dharma celebration for example: how many people did it take to organize it? Even two people living together as a couple need to organize their lives. We do need organization. Some hippies reject organization – that is stupid; they don’t understand. They can’t organize even their own lives, let alone do something that benefits so many others.
So why did I create this institute? Because I felt that according to the vinaya rules, it was my responsibility to do so. Our Sangha members started their studies with lam-rim; this gave them some understanding of the nature of samsara, the benefits of renunciation, and the best way to practice. Through their own experience they were enthusiastic about getting ordained. So I said yes. But, you know, for me to say yes is easy; I can ordain anybody just by reciting the words of the ordination ceremony, “blah, blah, blah.” But Lord Buddha said that you have to take care of your Sangha. But how do you take care of the Sangha? When I checked out what needed to be done, it appeared difficult for me to take responsibility for what has now become almost 100 monks and nuns. This process led me to conclude that if I created a Sangha community organization, its members would help each other. We need security. As far as society is concerned, we’re outcasts. So I felt that we needed the security of creating our own category so that we could exercise our own reality. Therefore, about eight years ago I started this organization.
It took a long time to establish Nalanda, our first Western monastery [in France]. It wasn’t easy. In the West you have to get involved with dollars. Without money, you can’t buy land. Fortunately one devoted student offered us the property in Lavaur, so finally now we have a place that offers us the opportunity to lead a monastic life and take care of each other.
We have renounced comfort to a certain extent, but we still have our problems. We’re not buddhas. We need to take care of each other emotionally. It’s difficult for lay people to do this for us. If monks cry, lay people don’t understand: “This monk is supposed to have renounced samsara, now he’s crying for it?” But other monks and nuns do understand and can comfort each other, can be warm to each other: “Oh, don’t cry. Yes, today’s a little cloudy, but it will clear up tomorrow.”
There are many differences between lay people and those who are ordained. Their lifestyles, their thinking, their responsibilities are different. But up until now, just a few of the older monks and nuns have been dedicated to organizing food, clothing, shelter, transport between Nepal and India, and retreat and teaching facilities in order to keep our Sangha community together. Newer monks and nuns can’t appreciate how hard we have worked; the old ones know. We have tried our best; we have a long history.
I cannot organize all this myself. I have a vision of what needs to be done, but I can’t take a needle and thread and sew all your robes myself. I cannot do all these everyday tasks. You people need to get organized to help each other. This is very necessary. You see, monks and nuns need education. How can we offer them a good education if we don’t get organized? You can see how difficult it will be.
Edited by Nicholas Ribush.
By Jane Chesher
The International Mahayana Institute (IMI) is committed to meeting the Sangha community development plan goals for 2008-2013. Ongoing consultation and discussion forums with the worldwide monastic body are continuing. The latest research comes from group discussions with around 75 monks and nuns at Nalanda Monastery, France, in May 2009.
The results from Nalanda unveiled immediate community needs and areas for further inquiry. IMI will use the findings to situate the delivery of programs and services within the unique socio-cultural and legal framework of all our member countries. IMI plans to work closely with regional representatives and local FPMT centers to nurture the needs of the community over time.
The overall message from Nalanda confirmed better communication networks will enhance sharing knowledge and resources to meet the challenges of an aging Sangha population. A more connected community offers a chance to feel in touch with what is happening outside local groups and can better utilize the wealth of experience from Sangha members around the world.
The group discussions at Nalanda reflected on central aspects of community life. Providing the conditions for adequate health care and housing was seen as the foundation for a thriving community. Other important areas explored in the discussions were family, finance, legal, work, social responsibilities and communications.
Being Sangha is about joining community, and even if you’re not living in community, we need to understand that just by becoming a member of the Sangha, we are becoming part of community.
Access to comprehensive and affordable health services was highlighted as an essential priority for the community. While most Sangha are over 50 years old, there are a significant number of younger Sangha who also agreed good health care is critical. The findings raised a number of important considerations for IMI program services.
Development priorities for creating access to adequate health care are:
- Ensure Sangha living alone and outside a community network have access to healthcare.
- Review options for country-based grouped health care plans.
- Identify FPMT center health insurance schemes suitable for Sangha members.
- Build a program for the sponsorship or adoption of a senior monk or nun with a disability.
- Assist FPMT centers with information about how to value older Sangha members.
Keeping senior Sangha within monasteries, nunneries and Dharma centers is good for junior Sangha to see, and to help us age and die.
The housing arrangements for monastics can be grouped into three categories. Many nuns and monks live in an FPMT mixed residential center, a Dharma community or a monastery. Over half of Sangha live alone or in a non-Dharma household. And a small number of Sangha are in transitional housing at teaching events, retreats or are looking for permanent housing. The findings from Nalanda identified several areas for development across each housing category.
Development priorities for improved housing are:
- Provide a guide for FPMT centers on how to combine Sangha and lay students in shared accommodation.
- Set service expectations for Sangha within FPMT centers and promote a realistic vision for what can be achieved within the vows.
- Ensure physical facilities at centers are appropriate for older Sangha (e.g. wheelchair access, limited stairs or hills, and easy access to medical services).
- Research assisted living options for senior Sangha (e.g. large private houses close to transport, shopping, caregivers and medical services).
- Create a Dharma buddy program for older Sangha with sight or hearing difficulties.
- Share lessons from FPMT centers already providing hospice or personal care to older Sangha (e.g. Nalanda Monastery, Chenrezig Nuns Community and Land of Medicine Buddha).
- Review current respite housing models utilized by other traditions.
- Research low-income public housing, new housing, respite and hospice care for older Sangha.
- Provide aged care and dying training for Sangha and lay students interested in this service.
As part of doing social work for FPMT centers, the center itself could take on the care of looking after aged Sangha.
The research confirmed a need to adopt important family matters, where necessary, into community life. Keeping family and personal issues separate can sometimes create extra challenges, and the support of the community experience could be beneficial.
Development priorities for handling family matters are:
- Prepare a guideline on how to provide spiritual conditions for dying that considers moral, ethical, legal, health and psychological needs (e.g. a “wishes document” for patients, dying care practices, ethical ways to manage disease).
- Provide advice on resolving family conflict over important issues (e.g. ordination and legal rights).
- Review options for grouped care facilities and hospices that provide residential options for family.
Bring families more into our ordination, discussing with families ahead of time, especially the points relating to any kind of legal documentation, so they understand ahead of time.
Financial and Legal
The groups agreed that neglecting financial and personal legal matters can lead to difficulties and that it’s important to create the causes for a sustainable future. Many felt there is a need to promote community awareness on the benefits of taking responsibility for financial and legal affairs.
Development priorities for financial and legal demands are:
- Publish advice on how to prepare a will to ensure individual Sangha wishes are upheld.
- Review options for establishing an IMI bequest or legacy fund specifically for the community.
- Expand knowledge on how to manage finances, and, raise awareness on the benefit of giving to support shared community resources.
- Offer l egal advice and information sources to protect individual Sangha rights when dealing with family matters.
We should raise the awareness so those who have money to help can sponsor other Sangha who don’t have funds.
The discussion groups found there is an opportunity to educate FPMT centers on the evolving contribution of aging Sangha. Older Sangha can participate and serve at a center during senior years in new and valuable ways.
Development priorities for work and service are:
- Raise awareness at centers about the value of new roles for Sangha during older years (e.g. mentoring, studying or touring as a teacher).
- Support Sangha to accept offerings instead of generating income from work.
When we are unable to offer service, we need to depend on others, and we’d like to have the support of other Sangha or good lay people within a Dharma environment.
The role of behavior within the Sangha community and broader society was rated as very important at the Nalanda discussions. The robes are perceived as a reflection of the Dharma, Buddhism and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the minds of others. The groups expressed a need to protect the future of the tradition through living and portraying positive behavior. Poor conduct, particularly by those in authority, can be detrimental to the community, students, lay people and FPMT centers.
Development priorities for sustaining social responsibilities are:
- Build skills to help carefully resolve problems or conflicts rather than resist difficulties.
- Highlight aspects of the vinaya that address behavioral responsibilities and ways to coexist with compassion for individual difference.
- Nominate senior Sangha and teachers with ethical knowledge and conflict resolution experience as special support mentors and advisers.
- Ensure FPMT centers have realistic expectations of what Sangha can achieve within their vows.
- Cultivate greater awareness for the role and responsibilities of Sangha living in the West.
- Nurture the values of clear respectful communication, mutual respect and trust while kindly recognizing the difference in people.
- Continue training newly ordained Sangha, particularly on aspects of shared community living.
- Promote Sangha awareness days at FPMT centers and in the community.
- Spotlight role models within the Sangha who stand out over time as a representative of how to live the vinaya.
- Post information about behavioral roles, responsibilities and rights on the IMI website.
How we behave very much affects people. People judge a community and the tradition so it’s important how we behave in the world.
Most agreed at the discussions that being together in-person within the local community or at teaching and retreat events was the best way to communicate. When it’s not possible to be present together, electronic communications are the foundation for staying connected and up to date with community activities.
Development priorities for Sangha communications are:
- Expand eNews with more information about Sangha, teachings and advice for monastic life.
- Produce more IMI regional meetings as a way to come together to discuss goals and share experience.
- Promote multiple channels for communication (e.g. Skype, email, eNews and IMI website).
- Enhance the IMI website with more interactivity and information including:
- Details on Sangha members via the profile function.
- Teachings on living the monastic life.
- Community stories, experiences and images.
- Interactive discussion forums to explore issues for monastic life (e.g. living the vows, desire or a specific problem).
- A Sangha buddy system (e.g. similar to Facebook).
It’s good to have an idea of what’s going on in our community; it gives the community access to monks or nuns, monasteries or centers. We then can have a frame of reference.
The Nalanda discussions provide a rich and important source of insight for IMI program and service development. Most Sangha members are now aged over 50 years and live as part of an FPMT center. There is an increasing need for health services and housing facilities for those who are less physically mobile.
It could be useful to assist centers with an understanding of the changing role of Sangha in their communities. A handbook or series of thematic guides may be a way to raise awareness and educate the entire community on our evolving roles and needs.
For those Sangha who live outside a community network or when it’s not possible to be together in-person, digital communications provide a sense of community connectedness and well-being. IMI will work on expanding news and interactivity between members during the coming months.
The range of community development areas for action can be summarized as follows:
- The need for health care services for all Sangha members.
- The need for housing for older Sangha both within and outside FPMT centers.
- The need for special advice on familial relations and protecting individual rights.
- The need for financial management skills, legal protection and promotion of shared community resources.
- The need to promote new and valuable work options for older Sangha.
- The need to protect and uphold social responsibilities within and outside the community.
- The need to enhance current communications channels to build closer connections across the global community.
IMI is pleased to report that the first pre-ordination monastic training led by Sister Jotika and Ven. Thubten Saldon was successfully completed last month at Land of Medicine Buddha.
After the retreat, IMI was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with Sister Jotika to reflect on what motivates her commitment to training new monastics and why she puts so much emphasis on community living.
Sister Jotika was born in Spain in 1945 and was educated during her teenage years at a progressive convent school run by nuns. It was this experience that influenced so much of the way Sister Jotika approaches her training today with new monks and nuns.
After her schooling years, Sister Jotika took novice ordination at Chithurst Monastery in England with Ajahn Sumedho in 1983, and there she began to get involved with monastic training. Later in 2004, she took full ordination with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Taiwan.
Sister Jotika has lived in monasteries for the last 18 years in England, Taiwan, Burma and Spain. She is currently most affiliated with Tushita Meditation Center in Dharamsala.
IMI: How has the experience of growing up in the convent school informed what you’re doing today?
Sister Jotika: The role of those nuns was building community and a sense of responsibility in each classroom. I learned without knowing I was learning. I learned through the example of the nun-teachers and their wise influence. They were trained on how to get a class of thirty young women to be united and successful – intellectually and spiritually.
I ordained in 1983 in England, and then two things became clear. Firstly, the value of the Buddha’s vinaya, the main teaching for monastics on how to train the mind. Secondly, the role of the teacher, that the teacher should be living in the midst of the community and present there with us all the time.
The teacher should be an ongoing guiding force within a monastic community. The community has an established routine and also the vinaya discipline code of honor, but even though we promise to follow high standards, sometimes we fall short. The teacher is there to help us see when we are being moved by the mind. They have a presence and a different way; they offer reflection on why you are getting angry and upset. A community needs a teacher within the community to be a successful leader, guiding members and training newcomers.
In the West we think everyone is the same, but it’s not like that on the spiritual path, and that needs to be recognized. You need to see when you need to be trained and helped with living in the vinaya and monastic traditions.
When we ordain, we commit to becoming enlightened through the monastic vessel, and this means you will need to be trained. The Buddha created a Sangha as a fast track to enlightenment. When we took the vows we agreed to enter into a community that is governed by the vinaya, and this was for the purpose of training the mind. Some mature and senior people can be teachers in the community and work with the lay people, but the real teacher is the most senior person. This is someone you trust. You go to that person, you like their character and their approach; it’s not something that’s imposed on you. You might respect them or you may not even like their personality. That’s not the best way to have a student-teacher relationship, but you bear it.
There could be a few different leaders within the community, although that’s not ideal. Some teachers are stern, and some are quiet. You have to decide which teacher you are going to work with. Once you decide, you have to do it 100%. This means deciding to bear the grating feeling in your mind when you don’t understand what is being imparted from the teacher. But you give in and trust that they are wiser than you and see the way forward. If you hold on and resist, it becomes a fight. Sometimes when we are faced with the most selfish aspects of the mind, we need to trust the person. You feel like you don’t want to give in, but you know the person is right.
IMI: What is the role of individual Sangha members in a community?
Sister Jotika: Teachers get whoever wants to ordain, they don’t have a choice. Some people have a lot of baggage, but everyone needs to be given a chance if they want to reach their goals. There are a lot of romantic ideas about monasticism and what it means to be a nun or monk. When we do the application form and write why we want to ordain, nobody says they want to ordain to reach enlightenment. They say they want to work for the Dharma. You don’t need to ordain to work for the Dharma. You can take the bodhisattva vows and just work. As monastics, we have to go back to the way the Buddha wanted us to become his children. Most people want to go back to their homes, work, etc. Taking rabjung, the first level ordination, means going forth and leaving behind your home.
Sangha literally means community. You are living with other monks and nuns who are upholding the same values and code, and you have their support across all the issues of your entire life. You are practicing together, working and sharing resources. It’s not a group of individuals coming together and defending their own path; it’s being together to train the mind and be of service to the lay and broader monastic community. If we establish the right relationship, we offer support to the lay people and, in turn, the lay community provides us with financial support. This is an interdependent relationship that is balanced. The monastics don’t need to be closed off and separated from the world. When the teacher says you’re ready now that you don’t show signs of being controlled by the mind (for example, expressing jealousy and anger, or gossiping), then you can work and inspire the lay community. You can give back and this supports the monastics. There is nothing more depressing than a monastic that is frustrated and angry. In that case, what is the point of being a monastic?
If we don’t keep the monastic communities going and continue with the trend of living on our own, the Dharma in the West will not live long. The Dharma is passed on among the generations of monastics. If we care about the tradition, we have to create monasteries so the teachings can survive. The trend now is to live on your own and to keep working. Look where that has taken us over the last 30 years. People are not trained today. You have your own practice, but, the monastic community is the repository. The trend to live alone started among the Western Tibetan nuns and monks, not by the Chinese or Theravadins. It’s time to reflect on the consequences. We need to think about how to change the trend and create new monasteries and communities. If we are bodhisattvas then let’s get on with it and benefit the Sangha, Dharma and lay community. We need to plant the seeds of the teachings so in the future there is fruit for the monastic and the lay people.
IMI: How do we determine community well-being?
Sister Jotika: By the level of harmony. People should be happy and relaxed, doing their practice with a sense of spiritual well-being. The leader must nurture well-being and find out what’s going on when there is not harmony or when people’s minds get clouded or they say something unskillful on a daily basis and need to let go of that which is obstructing them.
This means you are able to live with people you like and are close with, and also with those people who from a personality point of view you don’t like. You give them compassion to be completely themselves. You see their character and not make a problem out of it. You’re spacious and don’t make everyone fit in a square hole. The other person can be there in full expression. You don’t try to force people into becoming a quiet or extrovert person. We all come with different karma and we have to learn how to coexist.
We usually want to be selfish and make it all about me. But if you have taken the bodhisattva vows, you should be helping your roommate or a person in the gompa because they are all sentient beings. So we need to be patient and considerate of that person we don’t like.
We all bring different qualities into the world and our communities. Some people have a gift for writing, teaching, helping others, solving problems in the lay community, databases and computers. We each need to allow the expression of unique talents by nurturing individuals but remembering that the primary goal we all share is the gold of enlightenment. When we purify the mind we can allow all these individual gifts to manifest even more. If we have gifts and we don’t purify the mind, we can burn people. Look at the world where people are fighting, trying to get advantage over each other. Why? Because people are selfish. We have to see what a mind tainted by selfishness does. It doesn’t mean that we are enlightened when we start teaching. It means we know our mind and how to control it. When you have other people who depend on you, it’s essential to practice sincerity.
IMI: What are the benefits of rules in a community?
Sister Jotika: If the rule is to train your mind, then it must be a living experience. The rule is the container for training the mind. Otherwise the mind burns you out. The rule is a vehicle for training your mind. You might have a rule that says you cannot sing and yet you have the intention to sing. If you are guided properly, you will see why you want to sing, and that reason may be an attachment to your definition of happiness based on past longing. You see what is arising. It’s using the rule skillfully, not as a hammer – that has no point, and that’s not how the Buddha taught. You’ll see it’s not the action of singing that’s a problem; rather, it’s the attachment in the motivation. You can contemplate and see: “I’m clinging to a memory of the past of when I was happy.” Community is about training the mind and having the opportunity to be faced with your mind all the time, especially through the reflection of the teacher. If you could do that on your own we’d all be enlightened and not have to be so humble to put yourself in the hands of someone else and face pride.
IMI: Who is the source of your inspiration?
Sister Jotika: His Holiness the Dalai Lama is my inspiration, main teacher and guide. I want to help the Western Tibetan monastics in whatever I am able to do, whatever they need.
IMI: What are you plans for the future?
Sister Jotika: I am now going back to Spain to set up a nunnery. We are in the process of administering the building permit. We need enough space for around 6 to 15 nuns. It’s not all about numbers. We’ll start with a few and build a solid community base, making sure everyone in the community is OK.
By Ven. Losang Monlam
“I pray for a more friendly, more caring, and more understanding human family on this planet. To all who dislike suffering, who cherish lasting happiness, this is my heartfelt appeal.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
All together, the family of monks and nuns within the FPMT numbers about 1,000. These monks and nuns serve throughout the FPMT in many capacities: as teachers, retreat leaders, center directors, spiritual program coordinators, editors and counselors, with many engaged in study and retreat. Every year on Wheel Turning Day (this year, August 5), FPMT celebrates the presence of the Sangha community with International Sangha Day.
We find this a very special time to reflect on the value of having the monastic community among us, the service they give and the inspiration they provide. Centers throughout the world host various events developing the relationship between the lay and monastic community.
Traditionally, this relationship was integrated with various ritualized methods. The lay community provided for the basic requisites of the monastic community (food, clothing, accommodation, medicine) and the monastic community provided a basis for merit, for inspiration and the continuing lineage of Buddha’s teaching. Times have changed, and now the ritualized daily point of contact between the monks and nuns and the lay people is not so well defined.
International Sangha Day provides an opportunity for the lay and monastic communities to recognize their interdependence. We rely on each other for our practice of Buddhism. …
Ven. Losang Monlam, director of the International Mahayana Institute (IMI), introduced the importance of the FPMT Sangha community in Mandala December 2007/January 2008. Now he reveals the need for a fundamental shift in attitude towards and by those people who have committed themselves to the ordained life.
Although the majority of the millions of Buddhists are lay people, it is taught that the ordained Sangha are crucial: The existence of the Buddhadharma in any one place depends upon the presence there of at least four ordained Sangha practicing the full extent of the Vinaya, Buddha’s guidelines on moral conduct. Lord Buddha himself said, “Wherever there is a bikkshu observing the Vinaya, that place is luminous, is radiant. I see that place as not empty: I myself abide there peacefully.” Mandala, October 1996.
About a month after I took over as Director of IMI, the community of Buddhist monks and nuns in the FPMT mandala, I was reading a Sunday news magazine and the feature story caught my eye. The article was about a small community of Catholic nuns in the Bay Area, and how they were surviving in a more secular society. Seeking to understand the parallels to the difficulties faced by the modern Buddhist monk or nun, I had to read the article, especially in light of Lama Yeshe’s early advice for our community to look at the Catholic community as models for our own.
A young nun’s experience
After I took ordination as a Western nun, I felt like I had taken on a foreign identify within my own culture. Strangers rarely say anything positive to me, unlike Ven. Lobsang Kelden’s heartwarming experience [Mandala August/September 2007]. Maybe it’s my age [the writer is in her early 30s], but I often get cat-calls. It’s as if people feel affronted that I have this religious dress on. When I am with others of my age, who are not Buddhist, I often feel like I am an alien.
Before I was a nun, I was familiar with relating to men in a certain way. After ordination I had to completely change. I didn’t understand this aspect properly until after ordination, so for my first years as a nun it was quite confusing. One day you are viewed as an object of attraction, the next as an object of ridicule. Normally when we learn or experience things, the change is gradual, but when you become a nun it’s very sudden, literally from one day to the next – like growing old in one day, rather than gradually over a lifetime. I sometimes feel serious identity confusion when I have to deal with normal householder requirements in the West – banking, shopping and so on – while wearing robes.
My experience is that people, even complete strangers, impute a lot on what I should be doing and how I should be. By donning the robes I am making a public statement, and thus become public property. This can bring stress. But although the unexpected challenges I have experienced took me by surprise, of course there have been incredible benefits as well, and I feel so fortunate to still be a nun. I think the biggest thing I have learnt is trying to be honest with myself in all aspects and a little gentle, rather than to try and be something that I am not.
Often families can feel deserted when one of them gets ordained (although this is not my experience, thankfully) and so there can be no support coming from loved ones, or comments like, “Oh, you won’t have children!! Or, “It’s just a passing fad.”
The number of FPMT sangha has stayed pretty constant at around 300 in the last fifteen years – about the same number ordain as disrobe. This is a sign that it is not growing: why? Many Sangha who ordained in the early 1970s have stayed ordained, and possibly that could be because of the foundation they received in the lam-rim, and by living together at the “Injie Gompa”.
One of my teachers recently said to me, “Just wake up each day and say, ‘Today I will be a nun.’” In this way I am taking it one day at a time.
The Catholic nuns’ community had similar difficulties to those that our community faces today – a more secular society, an aging population, etc. – but the one sentence that captured my attention and intrigued me more than anything was ever so simple: Each of the nuns who were out working (for the diocese) in teaching positions, etc., were supporting 2.7 members of their community.
I have often noted that Lama Zopa works in mysterious (and sometimes very unconventional) ways, and I believe it was due to his kindness that I happened to read this particular article on this particular day. This singular simple fact of community opened my mind to propel a tremendous shift that could help the community of monks and nuns whom I was asked by Rinpoche, only a few weeks before, to serve. The insight has given focus to the main task as the path begins to take shape.
Having some experience as a monk living in a residential center in the West, I had already formulated thoughts on the vulnerability we face in a culture that does not value (i.e. support) the decision we make in becoming monks and nuns. But I also needed to hear from the rest of the monks and nuns in the larger world community about their experiences and their situations: the difficulties and the priorities. A survey was compiled, providing an in-depth look at the individual situations for members of the community: those living in community and those on their own. With a fifty percent response rate, the results seemed credible.
By chance, in serving my teacher Ven. Geshe Ngawang Dakpa I also had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world and meet with my fellow Sangha members; to talk to them in person and listen to their stories. I have also taken the time to discuss the Sangha with staff at FPMT international office, teachers (and abbots) within the FPMT mandala of centers, my predecessors who served the IMI community, as well as Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
And I went back to the beginning! What did Lama Yeshe say when he started this IMI thing? What did he really envision for the community of monks and nuns…?
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About Mandala Publications
Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
Mandala print magazine is published in January, April, July and October. Mandala is available via the Friends of FPMT program.