Buddhism: To Ordain or Not Ordain

Letter 7 from the Letters of Yin-Guang (mentioned here and here previously) is a particularly interesting letter. The original letter is lost, but it seems a woman is asking Yin-Guang for advice on how to leave home and a Buddhist nun, and that she wants to do this so badly that she will kill herself if she does not leave home.

Yin-Guang tells her that, as a woman, it’s much too dangerous to travel in China right now, since it is 1937 and Japan has already started to invade China, but also that it’s unnecessary and that she should focus on reciting the Buddha’s name (念仏) instead:

Once having developed deep Faith and earnest Vows [to be reborn in the Pure Land], you should hold fast to the words “Amitabha Buddha.” [阿弥陀如来] Regardless of the occasion, whether walking or standing, sitting or reclining, speaking or remaining silent, moving about, meditating, dressing, eating, even when in the privy, you should keep the words “Amitabha Buddha” firmly in mind. You should exert yourself until the recitations are constantly before you, the whole Buddha is Mind, Mind and Buddha are one — reciting to the ultimate point where all mundane feelings are forgotten. At that time, the mind being empty, the Buddha appears.

On more practical matters, he explains to her:

As far as receiving the lay precepts [五械] is concerned, you can visit this temple if you have the means the capacity to do so. Otherwise, why get so fixated on travel? All you need is to have an earnest, sincere mind, repent your transgressions before your home altar for seven consecutive days and express the wish to receive the precepts by yourself. On the seventh day, you should kneel before a Buddha image and say aloud:

“Your disciple, by the name of ——, vows to receive the five precepts and fulfill the obligations of a laywoman. I vow that for the rest of my life, I will not take the lives of sentient beings, steal, indulge in sexual misconduct, lie or take intoxicants.”

Repeating these vows three times constitutes receive the precepts. The most important thing is to do so in an utterly sincere frame of mind — in which case, the benefits and virtues of receiving the precepts are the same whether you do so by yourself or through a monk or nun.

And finally on being ordained itself:

As for your intention to commit suicide because you cannot become a nun, such determination, however powerful or intense, is deluded and insane. In the midst of this Dharma-Ending Age [末法], how many monks and nuns are worthy of being teachers? …. You only think that to “leave home” and become a nun is liberation, but you do now know the many difficulties and obstacles which monks and nun face.

Sometimes, it’s best to just make the most of what you got.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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