Rising and Falling Through Samsara

We have lived innumerable lifetimes. We have lived as humans. We have lived as animals. We have lived as beings in the hell realms. We have even lived as heavenly beings. None of these lives were permanent. Some have been short. Others have been incredibly long. At the end of each lifetime, the consciousness moved on to be reborn as a new being.

We die and get born again, die again, are born again. If we are good, we rise through the cycle of rebirth. “Good” means we do not have thoughts of self-benefit. “Good” also means we unconditionally help others without counting the costs to ourselves. We are filial to our parents and respectful to our teachers and elders. We are compassionate and do not kill any living beings. We are generous and do not steal. We are honest and do not lie. We are faithful to our husbands or wives. We do not use language that is harsh, divisive, or enticing. We do not gossip. To be good means to do all these. So due to our exemplary thoughts, speech and behavior, our lives become better and better.

Then, at some point, because we had been thinking selflessly and had created and accumulated goodness our lives become very comfortable. Having relative position and wealth, we begin to think that it is our right to just enjoy ourselves. We forget about being good. We stop helping others. We become selfish. We start to enjoy the benefits that we have accumulated over many lifetimes, happiness, intelligence, and prosperity.

We gradually use up our store of good fortune which we created. Just as we rose through the cycle of rebirth, we now begin to descend. Our greed leads us to the hungry ghost realm. Our ignorance leads us to the animal realm. Our anger leads us to the hell realms. We rise and then we fall. And then we rise again, only to fall once again.

We have done this over and over and over again.





Loyalty to one’s family and friends, fellow workers or classmates, can enable one to inspire feelings of confidence in others, while, at the same time; it can foster self-respect in oneself. It can offer a sense of security in a world that is ever changing and often chaotic. Loyalty is not to be applied blindly, but judiciously, as it is given to those who are honest, ethical, and sincere. Wisely applied, loyalty ennobles both the giver and the receiver.



Pure Land Monastics, Part Two

Question: Is monastic life sponsored or does the individual have to financially support themselves?

Response: In Asia, it is traditional that monastics dedicate themselves to practice and teaching while the laypeople provide financially and materially for the monastics support. This system, which has existed since the time of the Buddha, enabled both the monastics and the laypeople to focus on what they were already doing.

The responsibility of the monastics is to provide teachings and that of the laypeople is to provide support, or dana. Since monastics live simply, providing for them is relatively easy.

In the West, most people are not familiar with this tradition. Monastics who remain within Asian-based sanghas receive support as the ethnic practitioners provide support and newer non-ethnic practitioners quickly learn how things work.

A problem often develops, however, when the monastic lives in a western culture. If there are people who have attended monasteries and Buddhist centers, they will understand the system and teach others. But often, the tradition of dana is unknown or there is not a large enough group to support the monastic. As a result, we see monastics having to take jobs, live on welfare, or find other means to support themselves.

When I started teaching in Elkhart, Indiana, where I had come to help my mother, I mentioned one day how I was going to Indonesia to attend a conference with my Teacher. In what could have been a study on how to ask a question without raising any possibility of offending the one being questioned, one of the ladies in the group asked how I supported myself. How did I have the means to fly halfway around the world. (I explained that since the request had come from my Teacher, my ticket and accommodations were provided through him.)

She quickly added that if the question was offensive, she was very sorry and there was no need for me to answer. I was glad she asked because it’s the only way to know an individual monastic's situation.

So the answer is that support in the form of the four requisites of food, shelter, clothing, and medical care is usually provided. But with monastics now traveling farther afield to teach, individual's situations can vary a great deal.



Appearing and Disappearing

Clouds panarama

All things appear and disappear

because of the concurrence of causes and conditions.

Nothing ever exists entirely alone;

everything is in relation to everything else.

~ Buddha 



Pure Land Monastics, Part One

Question: How does one ordain in the Pure Land tradition?

Response: I can only speak for how I became a nun but I believe it is fairly representative. After deciding that everyday life was becoming less important while dedicating myself full-time to Buddhism had become very important to me, I asked my Teacher, Ven. Master Chin Kung, if he would accept me as a nun. This was done through a translator who was at the Dallas Buddhist Association (DBA), where I was practicing and studying. She faxed Teacher, and he faxed back that I should "get ready."

It was arranged that I would spend the next year dividing my time between living at my home and living at the DBA. As the year was ending, I gave away all my possessions and prepared to move into a nun's dormitory at the DBA. I and nine others were shaved by Teacher who had come in from Taiwan for the tonsure and related ceremonies.

In 1997, the ten of us and some other monastics who had been shaved by Teacher but not yet been ordained went to Kaohsiung in Taiwan for the ordination training and ensuing ceremonies. About 600 monks and nuns studied and practiced for thirty-two days and at the end of the time were ordained in a ceremony that lasted many hours.

As you can see, becoming a monastic was a two-step process: first the tonsure and then the period of training that culminates in the Ordination Ceremony.