I recently received ordination to become a novice Buddhist nun after a waiting period of three years. During this time, people have asked me, “How come you want to be a Buddhist nun at such a young age?” Some of these people are strangers whom I encountered at work or at temples and some are friends who have known me before I became a nun. This question has often been asked with different intentions. Some asked out of curiosity. Some people are looking for inspiration from my answer because they might have the same interest and want to take on the same journey. Others have asked in search of understanding to why I chose to renounce many aspects of life that they consider to be enjoyable at the age of thirty such as: career advancement, making good money, dating, getting married and hanging out with friends.
The answer is “I want to be liberated like the Buddha”. My answer may be a very common monastic response to this type of question. It is so common that it tends to lose its value. Because it is hard to believe that one can be liberated, I often sense people’s doubts through their short silence or pause following my response. However, I would rather receive silence over the voiced judgment; especially when it comes from my family and friends. Either way, I am always perceived as an eccentric or one who is living an unrealistic life.
Honestly, I would not have given that answer if it were asked seventeen years ago, when my family first immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, or even four years ago. My family considers ourselves Buddhist but we were not Buddhist practitioners. We rarely go to temple unless it is for the Vietnamese New Year (Tet). At home, we light incense every day and make offerings of flowers and fruits to Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva and our ancestors during the full moon and the last two days of the lunar calendar months to ask for protection. I have come to realize that I was raised with my family considers to be Buddhist, but did not know Buddhism’s transformative aspects of meditation and self-awareness.
There was a time I would answer that becoming a nun has never crossed my mind. That was the answer to my best friend who decided to become a nun one summer, eight years ago. She drove me to visit her temple where she would reside. As she asked me, I did not hesitate to tell her that “I am not fit to become a nun.” I had just graduated from high school. My mind was only focused on getting a college degree in the field that would take the least amount of time but provide a good salary. I chose Information Systems and then Accounting. To make my parents proud of me and for their assurance, I decided to tailor my choices to their wishes when mapping my life’s plan. I planned on getting a good job after completing my bachelor’s degree to make good money so we can own a house (according to my dad’s wish) and get married one day; hopefully to a nice guy who would like my parents and they would like him.
These plans took a different turn when I got my bachelor’s degree. Life, family, work, and friendship forced me to find the answers to these questions: “What is the meaning of life? What is the true happiness? Will money and material things bring me happiness?”
Suddenly, I found the answer to these questions when I received a phone call from my monastic friend. I was invited to chanting session of “The Lotus Sutra” at her temple. After the chanting session, I felt refreshed. It felt alive! I found the answer to my hidden questions about life. Buddhism has brought me the satisfaction and contentment beyond material things, and the yearning to be loved or approved. It also has been the safe shelter from many challenges I have encountered in life thus far. Finally, I have caught a glimpse of inner treasure.
Buddhism has been my greatest treasure up until now. It still waits for me to uncover its total values. It is up to me to discover and utilize its values. Two years ago, I found the additional purpose to my choice. I was teaching dharma for a Buddhist Youth Group. I witnessed the positive benefits that Buddhism has on the youth once they understand the teachings. They are able to radiate kindness, unselfish love and tolerance through their speech and actions.
This experience solidifies my desire to become a nun. I want to be liberated like a Buddha not only for myself but for the benefit of all sentient beings. I am grateful for the compassion, dedication and forbearance that the Buddha has granted through his teachings and admire the services and effort of the charisma monks/nuns to expound Buddhism.
I would like to follow the footsteps of the Buddha and the other monastics, including my Buddhist teacher, who are serving and making a difference in people’s lives. I would like to become enlightened in order to offer guidance and share the dharma with our youths. From now until the day of liberation, I will try my best to contribute to Buddhism; especially to the youth of western society who might one day have to face their inner questions and have to make a choice like I once did.
Post by Venerable Nhu Lien.