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Monastic Life


About this section:
The Buddhist community includes monastics and lay people. Both are necessary for the preservation of Buddhism. However, monastics choose a life of vowed simplicity, a life directly related to the preservation and dissemination of the Dharma to benefit others. They are the core of that lifestyle that all Buddhist practitioners are committed to. In the articles here, Venerable Chodron shares with us the joys and difficulties of being a nun and the special challenges of being a Western Buddhist nun. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama notes, all Buddhist nuns have a unique role to play in the evolution of Buddhism where the universal principle of the equality of all human beings takes precedence. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be a monastic, you'll find these articles intriguing and stimulating.


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Eight participants spent an intense and fruitful 2 ½ weeks exploring their choice as well as aspirations to ordain. Two monastics, one trainee and five lay students lived in community.

The schedule included offering service, teachings on the history of the Vinaya and the original sangha by Venerable Chodron, and group discussions on key issues and questions about ordination.

There was also daily practice morning and evening as well as long walks in the forest. The retreat ended with skits and a sharing of everyone’s experience. Retreatants felt this time at the abbey extremely clarifying and inspiring.

 

EML retreatants and Venerable in the garden with Buddha

EML retreatants and Venerable in the garden with Buddha

 

Eric sanding the porch

Eric sanding the porch

 

Gedun with walking meditation prayer wheel

Gedun with walking meditation prayer wheel

 

Jyoti and her authentic Indian dahl

Jyoti and her authentic Indian dahl

 

Team building - applesauce making

Team building - applesauce making

 

Tsundru clearing the new garden

Tsundru clearing the new garden

 

Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi and Gedun in the garden.

Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi and Gedun in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Monastic Life 2006
Conducted by Ven. Thubten Chodron©
Sravasti Abbey, USA
August 2006


 

Session 1

Part 1. [21 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 2. [19 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 3. [22 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for hearing teachings.
Overview of the topics to be covered in this program and why they are important.
The Buddha's life.
The Buddha's whole life is a teaching in how to practice.
What really is renunciation?

Part 4. [23 min] : Download mp3 file

Questions and answers/Discussion:
  • Discussion on Buddha appearing in this world due to the karma of beings who had the karma to benefit from the Buddha’s teachings.
  • The different views of the Buddha held by the Theravada and Mahayana traditions.
  • Explanation of one of the 12 deeds of the Budda.
  • Discussion on how the 5 companions who criticized and left the Buddha when he decided to abandon ascetic practices were actually contributing to the Buddha’s Enlightenment.
  • How is it possible for ordinary beings to become omniscient?
  • Telling someone enlightenment can be attained in this lifetime and telling someone it’s going to take 3 countless great eons are not necessarily contradictory.

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Session 2

[22 min] : Download mp3 file

Explanation before taking of the 8 Mahayana precepts. How the one-session precepts came about. ~ Why taking precepts is an important practice in all traditions. ~ Why these particular precepts? ~ What it means to have the bodhicitta motivation.

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Session 3

Part 1. [29 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 2. [26 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
Is there a need for monastic life?
Stages in the development of the Sangha/monastic community.
From being a group of wanderers to gradually settling in one place and becoming more structured and organized.
Development of the Vinaya and Pratimoksha vows.

Part 3. [29 min] : Download mp3 file

Questions and Answers/Discussions:

  • How things changed after Buddha's parinirvana. The impact on an organization when its founding leader passes away.
  • Discussion on the issue of bhikshuni status.
  • Were all the precepts made at the time of the Buddha?
  • Discussion on the 8 Garudhamma.

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Session 4

Part 1. [36 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
The development of the Sangha community. T
he development of individual Sangha communities with its own guidelines for living in that community. ~ How the Sangha community developed and how it became different in different Buddhist traditions because of different physical, social and cultural environments, though they are all rooted in how the monastics lived at the time of the Buddha.
The development of the Vinaya: As the community developed, precepts about how to live together as a community also came about. Precepts cover 2 kinds of faults: naturally negative and those which the Buddha prohibited. ~ The difference between the Vinaya and the Pratimoksa. ~ Historians see Vinaya as a code of law for the community, but most monastics see it as a code of training.
The rise of the monastic universities around 5th century AD with its emphasis on debate. How it came about and how the Sangha became easy targets for invaders.
Buddhism spread to Tibet during the time these monastic universities existed. The Tibetan tradition inherited this system of debate but the purpose has changed.
As Buddhism comes to the West, it is important to know what things we do not change and what are just forms that can be modified. E.g. Which part is Buddhism and which part is culture?

Part 2. [21 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 3.
[20 min] : Download mp3 file

Classification of precepts. Defeat, Remainder/Suspension, Lapses with forfeiture, etc.
Purpose of having novice ordination – a stepping stone to full ordination.
Ven. elaborates
on the precept of not handling money or doing business in today’s context.

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Session 5

Part 1. [34 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 2. [32 min] : Download mp3 file

Talk by Ven. Chokyi: Some of the most significant things that happen during retreat.
What the ego does to feed itself. All the things that one did or happened in one's life became distractions. ~ Precepts and vows help to reduce these distractions. ~ Learning to live without constant ego-gratifying feedback: how much we feed on a smile, someone telling us we did a good job, someone loving us, etc. Who am I without all these mirroring?
Handling silence.
Experiencing different levels of the sense of self.
Acceptance, making friends with ourselves.
Only then are we really ready to start the path.
Using karma and emptiness to deconstruct the view of self.
The value of purification and accumulation of merit.
Without these, realisations do not come.
Trusting the process and being patient.

Questions and answers

  • Did you do purification practices as part of your daily practice?
  • What was the difference before and after the retreat with respect to your faith, confidence, appreciation of the Triple Gem?
  • What is your retreat room like?
  • Did you have a time-table to follow?
  • Did your teachers give you any precepts to follow while in retreat?
  • Did you adjust your practice according to what was going on in your mind?
  • Were there some parts in the sadhana where you get stuck – where there is resistance or distraction?
  • What was your perception of time like during retreat? Did it seem slower or faster during certain periods of the retreat?
  • What made you decide to continue with the retreat?
  • What does it feel like to be going from one phase to another?
  • Do you feel closer to strangers now?

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Session 6

Part 1. [30 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
Continue from Session 4: Precepts.
Rules of deportment.
The 7 ways of resolving conflicts.
Why are monastics not supposed to do astrology, fortune telling, divination, and agricultural work?
The disciplinary procedures for certain misbehaviors.

Part 2. [25 min] : Download mp3 file

Vinaya. Seeing it as a legal code vs. seeing it as a training that one voluntarily undergoes.
Procedures. When the number of monks increased, Buddha started sending his disciples out in different directions to teach. Organization is needed, hence various procedures are set up.
How decisions are made in the Sangha community. Going along with the group decision.
Hierarchy in the Sangha community. How to relate to one's seniors and juniors.

Part 3. [23 min] : Download mp3 file

When one takes ordination, what really is one's responsibility? We can see from history that when the Sangha is persecuted, the Dharma declines. Ven. Chodron gives an inspiring account of what to her is the significant difference between being a novice nun and being a fully ordained nun, and the importance of having a Sangha community for the Dharma to continue. See Excerpt.

Questions and Answers:

  • About Sangha members doing astrology and divinition.
  • About the precept relating to sexual advance.
  • How do you deal with the nuns’ precept to not walk alone?

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Session 7

Part 1. [26 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
The development of the various Buddhist traditions. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Buddhist Councils. Buddhism spreads to Ceylon during the reign of King Ashoka.
Pali canon began to be written down in 1st century B.C. Is there a possibility of it being written down earlier?
Appearance of the Mahayana scriptures. Appearance of the Prajna Paramita sutras in the later half of the 1st century and the 2nd century A.D. ~ Initially the Mahayana wasn’t a distinct tradition.
Are the Mahayana sutras the word of the Buddha? Western historians say that Mahayana sutras are made up by people. Practitioners say they were taught by the Buddha but kept hidden as they were too profound for people at that time.

Part 2. [25 min] : Download mp3 file

Similarities and differences between the Pali Canon and Mahayana sutras – the topics, the style, the way things are explained.
Indian sages wrote many commentaries in the A.D. centuries.
Ven. Chodron shares her approach to studying the Buddhist Tenets.

Part 3. [20 min] : Download mp3 file

Questions and answers:

  • After the schism at the 2nd Buddhist Council, what happens to the Mahasangikas?
  • Clarification on the vow of accusing somebody of doing something that they did or didn’t do.
  • Is the Prasangika Madhyamika school considered the highest school by all four Tibetan traditions?
  • It seems like the Mind Only School is very prevalent in the Chinese Mahayana traditions? Is the Zen and Chan schools more Mind Only than Madhyamika?

Session 8

Part 1. [33 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
Abhidharma, the third basket.
The development of the Mahayana. A comparison of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions with respect to the meditation practice on bodhisattva deities. ~ The Vajrayana tradition is based upon the Mahayana and Theravada traditions, not separate from them.

Part 2. [22 min] : Download mp3 file

The development of the Mahayana - Cont'd. There is more emphasis on the teacher in the Mahayana texts. ~ The 3-tier system of relating to the teacher. ~ Extensive discussion on when is the appropriate time to see the guru as Buddha.
The Vajrayana. Importance of talking about the Vajrayana only to an appropriate audience to prevent confusion in people’s minds. ~ Purpose of the consort practice in Vajrayana.
The appearance of statues and paintings of the Buddha as well as stupas. People showing devotion to them as well as to the scriptures when they started to be written down. ~ Concept of Merit Field.

Part 3. [29 min] : Download mp3 file

How does what has been said so far relate to the theme ‘Exploring Monastic Life’?

Questions and Answers:

  • I read somewhere that people turned to the veneration of holy objects like stupas because the Sangha was degenerating at that time and people lost faith in them. With that also comes the empowering of the lay people to practice. What is your comment? (Includes discussion of what Buddhism is going to be like in the US in a hundred years if a monastic community is not established there.)
  • Comment on what is truly Dharma practice. Practicing in daily life as a lay person vs practicing as a monastic.
  • Discussion on an often heard comment that giving birth to a child is a virtuous action because one is giving the child a precious human rebirth.
  • About why some Tibetan lamas disrobe in the West.
  • About the practitioners of the consort practice and why this tantric practice is not so widespread in China.

Session 9

Part 1. [34 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
The Oral tradition and how it became a written tradition.
The effects of having a written tradition. E.g. Abbreviations were used; mistakes likely to be made in the copying process; possibility of having commentaries which spurred debating; a more literary style of presenting the sutras.

Part 2. [19 min] : Download mp3 file

More about the origin of the Mahayana sutras. Whether they are the actual words of the Buddha. ~ A few suggestions for how they originated.
Refuting the idea that study and practice are separate.

Part 3. [24 min] : Download mp3 file

Questions and Answers:

  • Do the scribes who wrote the sutras down do commentaries as well?
  • What are the qualification or level of realization required for someone to be able to do a commentary?
  • What does it mean to say that the teachings are in a pure form?
  • Clarification on the 2 versions of Abhidharma and what consitutes the Abhidharma basket in the Tibetan tradition.
  • What is the reason that Mahayana sutras are generally so extensive and flowery in language? Being literal-minded, I struggle with it. Instead of inspiring me, it makes my mind reject them because they seem so far out. How do we handle that?

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Session 10

[26 min] : Download mp3 file

Unwise sexual behavior.
Celibacy and the ramifications of celibacy. Overcoming emotional attachment.
The repercussions of sexual attraction.

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Session 11

Part 1. [30 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 2. [32 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
The development of Tantra in Indian Buddhism.
The various classes of tantra.
Why tantra is kept secret.
Views on how monastics should relate to tantra.

Part 3. [12 min] : Download mp3 file

Explaining the seemingly non-Buddhist elements in tantra.

Questions and Answers:

  • Discussion on how one’s culture and upbringing will affect how difficult or easy it is to become a monastic or to practise the tantra.
  • Discussion on the consort practice.
  • Question on the classification of tantra and teachings in each Tibetan tradition.

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Session 12

Part 1. [24 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
Are tantra and monasticism compatible? What the focus of Vajrayana practice really is. ~ Correcting the misconception that practising Vajrayana involves less restraint. ~ Qualification required to do the completion stage practice of Vajrayana.

Part 2. [22 min] : Download mp3 file

Cosmology in the Vajrayana. Addition of dakini’s purelands populated by peaceful and wrathful deities.
Unique features of the Vajrayana. The use of analogues in rituals. ~ The use of desire and anger. ~ Using unconventional behaviour as skilful means to help people break concepts. But remember that generating the wisdom realizing emptiness is what ultimately breaks the wrong concepts.
The various Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Similarities and differences between Buddhist tantra and Hindu tantra. What are the practices unique to Bism? Refuge, bodhicitta, emptiness and the level of renunciation.

Part 3. [14 min] : Download mp3 file

Questions and Answers:

  • Which comes first – Buddhist tantra or Hindu tantra?
  • Why did Gen Lamrimpa choose to focus on calm abiding practice?
  • Discussion on the tulku system

Session13

Part 1. [27 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 2. [31 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
Ven. Chodron explains the 'Sutra of the Fruits of the Homeless Life':
How is a monk perfected in ethical conduct?
Question and answer: On joking about a relative or friend who is not present or exaggerating a quality in a sarcastic way.

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Session 14

Part 1. [27 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 2. [33 min] : Download mp3 file
Part 3. [32 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
[Ven. Chodron continues with the explanation of the 'Sutra of the Fruits of the Homeless Life':]
Why do we keep talking about ethical conduct? The effects of keeping ethical conduct on self and others.
The sutra explains how a Buddha and his disciples keep pure ethical conduct through pointing out the wrong views and inappropriate practices of some ascetics and Brahmins. The five wrong livelihoods that monastics should not engage in.  
Questions and answers/Discussion

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Session 15

Part 1. [37 min] : Download mp3 file

Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
One of the biggest enemies of monastic training is attachment. Meditation on death is one of the most forceful antidotes to attachment. Needs to be applied repeatedly.
[Ven. Chodron continues with the explanation of the 'Sutra of the Fruits of the Homeless Life':]
Why is it that there is a lengthy introduction in this sutra that describes the wrong views of the non-Buddhists?
How a Buddha and his disciples keep pure ethical conduct - Cont'd.

Part 2. [23 min] : Download mp3 file

Guarding the sense doors. One of the basic practices to do at the beginning for a monastic.
What it means to guard the sense doors. It doesn't mean we shut down our sense doors and are afraid to come into contact with everything.
How is a monastic accomplished in mindfulness and clear awareness/introspective alertness?

Part 3. [22 min] : Download mp3 file

How is a monastic contented?
Summary of the rest of the sutra. Freeing oneself from the 5 hindrances to meditation. ~ Progressing through the various stages of concentration. ~ The higher training in wisdom. The stages that the Buddha went through under the bodhi tree in developing wisdom.
Overview of the sutra.
How to read sutras: When we read the sutras, understand that the Buddha is also teaching us, think we are there as part of the audience, take it to heart and put it into practice.
Dedication of positive potential.

 

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