Posted in Buddhist Culture, Buddhist Health and Wellness, Chinese culture, Conflicts in Buddhist Life, On the Path, Precepts Holders, Sangha Relationships

Ex-Buddhists who ate bitterness in a Sangha – part 2

My ordination Master, the late Venerable Pu Miao

Come back.  This time you really change your approach.

Now I am going to write of my direct experiences of being a Sangha from novice to bhikshuni.  What follows is the actual encounters I had or observed.  Use them for ideas in your life but they are not set in stone as models for you or meant for you to criticize, copy or defame.

NOTE THERE IS NO CODE OF SILENCE IN THE BUDDHIST SANGHA …. we respect our country’s laws, our leaders and our community. We are not the police no matter how we present ourselves in temples and we are not your parents.

1. Corrections of Sangha behavior by laity.

Some times we need a little reminder of just who we are to the laity.  We get caught up in our own minds too. We are human beings.  So accordingly laity have come to rescue us from ourselves and restore our mindset with various degress of assistance.

NOTE do not touch us in an effort to copy the methods written about in this blog, it won’t work! You will be seen as disrespectful and potentially dangerous person and be dealt with accordingly. GET IT, no touching us. Not good. ALL OF THESE ACTVITIES REQUIRED RELATIONSHIPS OF EQUAL TO A CLOSE TYPE OF FRIEND WITH MUTUAL RESPECT ALREADY ESTABLISHED ALONG WITH TRUST!

1. Having a tantrum. Yep I did. I got really sick of struggling with the Chinese culture which demands a public face and it hardly ever gets put to rest in a temple! It’s like being on a stage all the stinking time (quite tiresome) and still gets to me at times!

I was a new sramanerika (a novice). And after the 25th time in the day which seemed like 100th time; laypeople kept calling me to do stuff for them, my abbot, my 2 senior bhikshunis had all kept me busy doing assigned tasks and studies, so these lay women thought it was good fun to add tasks for me to do for them. I wasn’t allowed to complain and if I did I would be scolded by the senior nuns. I hadn’t eaten a meal beyond breakfast or rested. So I showed my grumpiness. And my elders saw it. I knew it, I wanted to get away from the various laity bossing me around. So I kept it up.

Well in the Chinese culture for the more traditionally inclined (not always true in all situations) it doesn’t matter if your 44 and doing this or if your 4 and doing this. It’s all the same cure. Being backed in to a wall and up in your face scolding you (note not yelling in your face like schoolyard bullies, just solemly, firmly scolding you making sure you hear it well and remember what they say to you) for what seems to be a long long time is normal acceptable correction.

But to a westerner it seems like your being treated like a kid with them disrespecting you by doing this, and to the Chinese they are correcting your strange public behavior in a way you will remember, with logic, corrections and consequences of wrong actions. After all during training they are watching you to see how your coping, if your trainable and if your the type to  (ahem) have a tendency for ‘wack-a-doo’ type crazy or dramantic behavior.

You get degrees of corrections after that if not changed or you repeat it again; you get into the worse ways to be reprimanded, all like we know little kids get treated to by parents.  But you can’t regress into childhood real or imagined or they will think your nuts.  Grunts of disapproval, glaring icy looks of imminent doom about to happen if you persist in your  stupidity, and maybe resort to quick hard slaps, or later when the temple is closed are possibility of beatings on whatever part of body they feel like; mostly tho’ is being lectured and ordered or put in front of the Buddha being made to kneel on the floor in front of the Buddha for a long time.

Remember this does not happend all the time or life would be unbearble, and the young monk or nun would run away and the temple’s reputation would be lowered and other Sangha would avoid it.  Discipline is gender specific and monks admonish monks and nuns admonish nuns.  Laity are to stay out of the situation completely.  The the idea of it and the neccessary result is you learn quickly to change yourself and understand better your effect on other people and the temple community itself.

Cries of not being fair don’t matter when your new to the situation.  You also do not get the luxury of being a kid. You are treated as an adult who needs correction, it’s not meant to be mean to you or demote you to a child’s status or even a way to subdue you because of being a foreigner or new to the temple.

Just so you you know, there is little or no opportunity to work out any mental health, authority delusions, and parental relationship issues in any temple.  I really worked on me for 10 to 20 years before I went to a  temple to deal with my issues of uncertainly and my sheer lack of experiences in matters of community and foreign cultures and took the time to learn the language, history and culture of mainland China by travelling to China several times and joining my Chinese family.

When your a novice they know you don’t know about temple life.  Once you pass that training stage and become ordained fully then the consequences to yourself can be serious if you engage in such public behavior again.  It means during your tonsure time there; that’s the only time you get to be considered inexperienced, new and untrained.  As a bhikshuni or bhikshu you are expected to know how to behave in public, carry yourself with dignity and be able to guide and order laity about so they get tasks done they are assigned to and carry on their practices the way they should.  It’s not a ‘put them in their place’ thing. Its about being a dharma master who is capable of guiding them, teaching them proper practices and encouraging them to keep striving to studying sutras.

What is the consequences you may well wonder after you are fully ordained? Well corrections are more immediate and may include warnings and ground rules review, worse are the  lengthy lectures and reminders of how you are considered grown up; and the very worst is disharmony in the temple caused by your actions lending to appopriate disciplinary actions that you won’t want to face. It would be extremely uncomfortable I’m sure but I haven’t faced that level of correction and would fear it because it can led to being expelled from the temple with lots of gossipers to ruin your chances elsewhere.

Note just being kicked out of temple and even choosing to leave a temple for any reason does not mean you are not a bhikshu or bhikshuni.  You most certainly retain all your rights of ordination and all your robes.   Loosing the right to be a bhikskhu or bhikshuni is a process; it only happens if  you have confessed during a Pratimoksa recitation to a parajika  or decided to give up your robes talking directly to the elder Sangha member in charge of discipline in the temple.  Sangha doesn’t do this lightly and will often try to work with the leaver to reform behavior, repair the relationships, or accept with reluctance the request to return the robes.  Again laity have nothing to do with whether Sangha members’ choices stay or go.

Sangha alone in retreat or living indepently.  We are totatlly responsible for our survival which is frought with general lack of donations and great sacrifice for us and our walk on the path so we connect with each other as best we can during this time.  I moved to Iowa with permission and sought out Sangha for my own benefit to help me during this time, reporting my actions and requesting advice from elders as often as they have the time.  My concern is being influenced by the outside householders’ around me so I really want Sangha advice, correction and supervision.

Being in retreat elsewhere living away from a temple doesn’t mean you can’t face the same corrections.  It means it gets more creative and expensive for you to deal with the consequences of your actions.  One time I felt my abbot who was my tonsure master wasn’t paying me enough attention while being here in Iowa.  Feeling left out and lonely and Forgetting the relationship rules of hierarchy I called him to complain. So he called me back. And corrected the attitude.

I took the call expecting a good chance to catch up with him, really looking forward to it instead it turned into “THE LONGEST RUNNING CALL OF ADMONISHMENT EVER!” 4 hours of it, when the cell phone died in mid instructions another call of a HEATED kind came and it was worse to endure, because the senior nuns got on the line each and every one of them. Then my tonsure master came back on to spend another hour instructing me to change my attitude.

This experience taught me well, and was very good for me to evaluate how well or how much more work I had to do for myself.   I have deep respect for my tonsure master and appreciate anytime he has for me.  My best advice is when you get one of those calls, is to be absolutely quiet no jumping in there with opinions or ideas of how to proceed or even blurts of Americanishy ‘I’m a grown up and your not here anyway stuff’.  Accepting and listening are key to learning from the master and the elders. And in the long run it’s really better to keep your practice on an even keel so you can be a better teacher of the dharma to your own students.

Another way the laity can help you as a Sangha member is to remind you of your role by giving you good ideas of how to solve a potential conflict of yours with elders by concrete examples of why things are the way they present themselves.

For example a casual comment by myself to a manicurist who came by to often to pray for help from Guanyin Pusa told me that her belief in other power was more important to her than my ideas of all of Buddhist images reflecting the mind.  She was certain and comforted in the pursuit of her belief that a other was listening to her prayers and requests.  She said some people need that in or to survive the suffering they have in their lives.

So she sat down with me to help me consider her viewpoints seriously and to be sure I really understodd she came back and graciously brought up the topic again with more sutras to reveiw with me and show me that my position which was indeed faulty.  I figured in practicality and methods that seemed useful for myself and worked for others. But her ideas of prayer and requests came out of the same exposure to services and the effects of her practice in her life a full year after I lived in the temple, she was a new Buddhist who had never considered coming in the temple door.

She had an affinity for the ritual, practices and read lots of sutras herself. Her practice was breathtakingly dilligent and pure, she gained improvement in her life and found her faith in Buddhism.  So for once in my western stick in the mud mind, I really benefitted and thought about her words and eloquence in her sitting with me that night and other nights seriously talking about her path.  I changed my mind from that one encounter; respecting her greatly, and had to change my bias about ethnic Buddhists who really do have the right views and make the right efforts over even me at that time. As the Buddha taught us to teach dharma from the perspective of the hearer and not our own, we must teach in accord to the abilty and aptitude of the heaer who requests the dharma teaching.

Another way I was being guided by the laity is my need to understand what was going on about me, The need to know why.  That’s a big need when your in a new culture, coping with a new language and seems like an alien environment than what your used to.  That’s where you get to decide how much of it you dive into or when you decide your so tired of trying to fit in that you want to leave and regret your decision to be there at all because its’ just too hard for you.  I chose to stay and dive in trying to experience and learn as much as I could. It was a wise choice for me.

For westerners there is no support system in Buddhism.  NONE.

You have got to choose your life path as a Sangha member, what kind are you?

If your outside the temple you get NO support from the temple, your own biological family and friends around that are not Buddhist and live in a society that is Not Buddhist.  You must be strong to do this or you revert back to your lay NON Buddhist life.

That’s where the grinding stone of training you received in the temple really works for you.  YES it does! And the great effort you made memorizing your Vinaya vows really works for you to protect your feet on the path and guide your daily life.

So laity you save people who are Sangha when you confront them, guide them, offer ideas and solutions that maybe they haven’t thought of before to ease their transition into their own training and practice and the ones like me; far off in Iowa in the very edges of the Dharma borders really appreciate it, when you visit offer to pay respects to us by bowing in front our little Buddha altar in our little rooms or apartments. When you ask for dharma teachings it gives us support and joy to us to share it with you and sustains us in our solitude.

When the hierarchy is confronted it’s not always a bad thing.  Don’t be afraid to confront. Etiquette is not always necessary when you see something harmful or something that would lead to harm. Be quick, honest, and firm. It works well, if your blown off, hushed up, get scolded it doesn’t matter because you did your best.  Leave the community is the least favorible but definitely worth considering if the situation adversely affects you or those you care about.

Laying down the line so you can be comfortable in a difficult situation.  If the situation is not able to remedy and is harmful leave it and don’t look back. If you can live in the situation then lay the lines of definition of what you will put up with and keep to it.  People willl grouse about it but hey, you have the right to do so. Do lay that line often in the communtiy, you will need to to protect yourself and your practice.

Being known as a strong person will help you, and keep you in a certain role in that situation. Some of the nicest nuns with many accomplishments, that I know are quickly screaming banshees of a terrifying nature when their practice gets interrupted unexpectedly but unfortantely the circumstances require them to do this.

It happens because the environment they live in is not protected to help asssist them in their practice. That is a commmuity as a whole’s fault meaning their particular temple policy and/or laity demand more of their time and allow less of personal time for walking the path, so they are desparately trying to protect what little moments they have.

Any comments that are constructive are welcome, no comments that defame, degrade or condem the Sangha will be allowed to see the light on this blog, so please consider that if you want others to read your stuff here.  Spouters are given some leeway but not much.

Those of other religous persuations sending lengthy missels of condemnations, conversion attempts or any type of belligerance disrespecting Sangha or the Triple Jewel in any form, or academics and secularists who want to right our wrongs in any diatribe of length or in a rude way  will be automattically deleted and relagated to spam.

Clear and good, mutal respecting as this is my blog and I set the lines here for harmony sake.




I am a Bhikshuni ordained in Mahayana Chinese Buddhist tradition. I'm currently translating Vinaya sutras from the Chinese Mahayana Tripitaka.

2 thoughts on “Ex-Buddhists who ate bitterness in a Sangha – part 2

  1. Thank you what a lovely idea. The idea of spritual friendship is also in Mahayana Buddhism, unfortunately for some the lord and master to serf or slave/peon thing gets in the way if it’s a part of the temple culture.

    And sometimes if the directors and group is not experienced enough in life then it becomes acquired into their system out of sheer laziness or expediency.


  2. I recently came across a wonderful essay by a Theravada bikkhu which ponders recent American Buddhist history to find relevant lessons on these topics. His perambulations carry his Theravadan viewpoint (he is skeptical of the inherent emphases and social conditions of Zen and Vajrayana), but his essay is thorough in exhorting the reader to make sure of the social and spiritual hygiene of those they associate with. I especially like his framing of the master-student relationship in the context of “spiritual friendship”, a traditional category which is much more palatable for the egalitarian bent of Euro-American culture. Please give this bikkhu due consideration; his essay is worthy to read for people of any faith concerned with spiritual violence:


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