I Am Thinking About Becoming a Monk

May 1, 2020

QUESTION

Dear Robina Courtin,
 
I hope you are fine and that everything is going well. Here we are doing a retreat, and it is a good opportunity to meditate!
 
I am writing to ask you for advice on something that is very important to me. For some weeks now the aspiration to take vows as a monk has blossomed in me: I discovered that it was something I had inside since I was about 12 years old, but that only now I can feel clearly and intensely.
 
The study of the FPMT Basic Program and my work for the center have been like gunpowder and spark: they made me understand that I have the desire to dedicate my whole life to Dharma, and thus benefit those who do not have the conditions for be able to achieve true happiness.

Although I consider myself very lucky to be born and to live in a state of well-being with loving parents, I perceive deep suffering within me, difficult to listen to, but always present. It is that type of suffering that pushes me to want something (affections, social approval) without finding a real fulfillment. This is why I wish to put an end to this condition and give up all that is a source of suffering.
 
 I let myself be inspired by figures like you, or like Claude Anshin Thomas, who practice “Dharma in action,” that is to do concrete things to help people, and in deep connection with them. I think this is the way to overcome barriers, to love people and make them feel loved.
 
The aspiration in my heart is strong, however I would like to understand well and analyze well before making this choice. For this reason I would like to ask you for advice on how I can question myself, how I can understand that it is the right choice and how I can make it possible to achieve it in a concrete and rational way.
 
 I thank you infinitely for listening to me,
 J.

ANSWER

Good to hear from you, dearest J.

Well, to be blunt about it, the bottom line is: you’re ready for becoming a monk if you’re not preoccupied by sex, have no interest in babies and families, really appreciate the power of vows, and can see the benefit of devoting your life to the study and practice of Dharma and, indeed, to helping people.

So, tell me. What plan do you have? What’s your ideal scenario? 

Love,
Robina

 

QUESTION

Dear Ven. Robina,

I really appreciated your kind reply. Regarding the sex, family and babies, I can perceive and observe that a part of me is still subjected to hormonal, physiological and instinctive influence. However, I am confident that with the right motivation and wisdom this type of renunciation is not an obstacle.

My current plan is to reflect deeply and start training even before taking the vows: I think that the beginning of a monastic life should be a spontaneous consequence of an already aware lifestyle, when one is still lay.

I am currently going through a period of indecision. I do not know whether to complete my university studies, which for me is a source of emotional inconvenience: after a few years I discovered that the studies I have chosen no longer inspire me, however I do not know how far to insist or let go.

On the other hand, in addition to the Buddhist studies I have another love: I teach martial arts.

My ideal scenario is that of a monk in a dynamic reality, in contact with people and with places of suffering and degradation. As a monk I would like to study Dharma, teach it, and give people the tools to get rid of suffering.

I wish I could continue practicing martial arts and turn it into a physical language to easily understand Dharma and promote peace.

I’m not sure that retreating to a monastery is right for me. Another thing I have doubts about is: how does a monk support himself? What I feel like missing is the perspective of a long-term life plan, in a practical sense. 

I thank you infinitely for the time you spend listening to me.

With love, I wish you all the best.
J.

 

ANSWER

Dear J,

Good to hear your thoughts. It seems that you are not clear yet about your path. And that is fine. You can’t force it, so just go one step at a time.

You have the ideal vision in your mind of being a monk, and that is good. But clarity needs to be there. It seems you have more steps to go before that certainty.

It’s a question of priorities, isn’t it? This is the case with no matter what decisions we make. If you want to fully commit yourself to becoming a professional tennis player, look at the various other parts of your life that you must give up. In our world, we admire that kind of dedication.

So, as a monk, what would you be giving up? Well, the key one, as I implied at the beginning, is, as they refer to in the Buddhist literature, the householder’s life. That’s pretty clear. And why? 

Given that as Buddhists our job, all of us, is learn to know our minds intimately and deeply so that we can gradually lessen attachment, anger and all the other neurotic states of mind that cause us suffering and cause us to harm others, we need to find the appropriate conditions in which to do that job. That’s the bottom line of being a Buddhist. 

What are those conditions? The monastic environment is the tennis club: you won’t find any other things there to distract you from your tennis! Makes sense, doesn’t it? 

Second, your doubts about the benefits of simply living in a monastery and studying are not sound. How can you rush off to help other people play tennis if you haven’t spent a long time practicing it yourself, eight or ten hours a day every day in the rarefied confines of the tennis club? 

In order to qualify to help others we need to develop ourselves by living in vows, studying the teachings, and plenty of meditation. 

On the other hand, other people are happy to live in a monastic environment, living in vows, and at the same time offering their services right there by taking care of the grounds, working in the kitchen, etc.

As for how we support ourselves, there are various ways. Some people have savings, others are given scholarships, some people receive donations, others work in exchange for their studies, board and keep, etc., others find their own sponsors.

So, in order for clarity to come in your mind about whether or not it’s right for you to become a monk, the best thing to do, the very best, is to just keep moving, doing everything you’re doing, not adding or subtracting anything. Continue your martial arts, continue offering service at the center, continue your university studies, continue your Buddhist studies. 

And then, every day, as soon as you wake up, and throughout the day, continually make this aspiration, very clearly, very consciously, very sincerely: “May I do what is most beneficial. May I do what is most beneficial.” As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “Always aspire to do what is most beneficial, and if we can, long term better than short term.” 

It’s so clear! This doesn’t mean that you have to know what is most beneficial. Right now, you don’t, do you? That’s why you should state this aspiration every day.

It’s a bit like this. You’re walking along a road, and it’s your road – it’s your life! – and you just don’t where the turn-off is. So what can you do? You can’t stand still, you can’t go back, you can’t just take any old turn-off because it looks cute (that’s what following attachment is). No choice: just keep putting one foot in the front of the other, living your day nicely, doing your practices, helping in the center, doing your studies, doing your martial arts.

The function of that aspiration is very real. It’s a thought, right? And thoughts are the start of the process called “creating karma” – as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “Everything exists on the tip of the wish.” Every time you express that thought, it nourishes the karmic seeds you’ve planted in the past to do what is most beneficial, and then one day it will manifest as exactly that, and you will do it. There’s the turn-off. By then you’ll know which things you won’t continue, that you will drop. It will be clear.

Don’t chew on the options like a dog with a bone. Live your life, underpinned by, informed by this motivation. And everything will be perfect!

Are you clear?

Love and prayers,
Robina

QUESTION

Dear Ven. Robina,

It was simply wonderful advice! I thank you infinitely for giving me the key to a correct mental state and for helping me to clarify the doubts I had in my mind. In this period of change – sometimes more impetuous, sometimes more kind – mental stability has helped me a lot on aspiring to what is most beneficial for all beings.

Your advice reminded me of Socrates, when he said: I know that I don’t know.

I will keep nourishing the seeds of bodhichitta, every day, step by step. Hope to see you again and talk with you again soon. 

I wish you all the best and I hope that all of your wishes will come true soon.

With love, in Dharma
J

More Q & A

How to help my deceased partner and start my Buddhist path

QUESTION Dear Venerable, I hope this email finds you well and that you don’t mind me emailing you. I attended the talk you did yesterday on Zoom about grief. Thank you for this, it gave me clarity around what I have been experiencing. My partner passed away recently....

How to decide what’s best?

QUESTION Dear Venerable Robina, I had the pleasure of watching several of your teachings and have, of course, been watching your discussions and Q&As on YouTube. My family have been listening to you and your straightforward manner has put them at ease that I’m not...

Help your father be peaceful, that’s all that matters in his old age

QUESTION Dear Venerable Robina, Hoping this finds you well. I’m having a hard time dealing with something. My mother passed recently. We’ve just discovered that she gambled away all the family money in bad investments. My father is old and refuses to acknowledge this....

We don’t know who anyone is, so don’t judge

  QUESTION Dear Venerable,   I hope that you are well.   I know that sometimes my mind has a tendency to kind of lean toward being distrustful, so I'm working on that.   There has been a couple of times in the last year or so when I have heard a...

Share this article