Leaving Home- Becoming a Monastic
The monastic life is one of beauty and peace. The ceremony for becoming a monastic is called Leaving Home. Traditionally, Leaving Home means to leave family home, to leave worldly afflictions, and to leave the Three Realms (the Desire Realm, the Form Realm, and the Formless Realm). Another word, Leave Home means to leave the attachments of the world behind for the practice of non-attachment. We leave family life to see the entire world as our own family. In this way we not only serve our parents, but everyone with compassion and without discrimination. While one does leave family life, they are at the same time able to help their family and be available for them more. As a monastic you have more freedom to practice mindfulness and cultivate your compassionate mind, which you can then use to aid your family in a better way. When one stays in the world and creates a family through marriage, it becomes harder to be of assistance to parents- you don’t have the ability to just drop everything and help them when they need, or it is more difficult because of your immediate family. By practicing the Buddha’s teachings to the fullest, one can reach the highest potential, and be most filial to parents; repaying the karmic debts we owe to our parents for all they have given us. As a monastic, we go wherever there is a cry for help. We are to serve the world with skillful means to spread compassion and peace. For this, as a monastic one learns many skills, not just meditative and liturgical, but skills such as how to build a community, gardening, cooking; also artistic skills such as poetry, singing, calligraphy, writing plays or skits, and more. One can come to the monastery and have none of these skills, but after a year of training they are able to develop many talents and their own creativity.
As a monastic we train our minds by reminding ourselves of the teachings by listening to Dharma Talks, chanting Sutras, sitting meditation, reciting the Buddha’s name, and practicing seriously to reflect our own minds. We discipline our mind and body in the four posture-forms: walking, standing, laying, and sitting. In this way we are able to train our minds at all times in life, so we are able to live in harmony with the world around us. By living in harmony with our natural environment around us, we are able to return to our true selves- it is easy to become outgoing and creative in daily life, without the need to be harsh on oneself- this allows a person to grow strong in body and mind.
Though monastics may not be related to each other by blood, there is a strong bond of community and spirituality. When one joins a monastic order, the monks become their spiritual brothers and sisters. This is part of the beauty of monastic life.
When a person decides to become a monk, they request their Master to take them on as an Aspirant- someone who will become a monk in the future. A person who wishes to start training as an Aspirant should write a letter of intent to their Master and the Sangha. The period of training for an Aspirant usually lasts about six months, during which they will strenuously keep the Five Precepts. After these six months, one is able to take Novice vows, and receive the Ten Precepts. Before this is done, the Aspirant should write a letter of intent for becoming a Novice and present it to their Master and Sangha, as before.
After one becomes a Novice, they practice with their Master generally for a period of five years before taking vows as a Bikshu or Bikshuni (Vietnamese: Tỳ Kheo/Tỳ Kheo Ni). One then takes on the Vinaya- 250 precepts for Bikshu, and 348 for Bikshuni. This is considered full ordination as a monastic. Even when one becomes a Bikshu or Bikshuni, their practice and study continue. Traditionally a monastic will stay with their Master for another five years before they are able to go out and teach at other temples or monasteries as a Dharma Teacher, or start their own. Also after these five years, they are able to transmit the Five Precepts to lay followers. There are two routes for becoming a monastic at Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery. Traditionally, one becomes a monastic for life; this is the main route at Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery. However, due to the nature of the modern world Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery has opened another route. The other route is to become a Bikshu/Bikshuni for five years (a total of ten after initial training as Aspirant and Novice), after this time one is considered a Dharma Teacher. The ceremony for Transmitting Light is performed when one becomes a Dharma Teacher. After this period, one is free to continue life as a monastic, or return to lay life. The benefit of this route is the full immersion into monastic practice, after which one can take their experience into the outside world and into their family. With these skills, should someone get married, they would be able to organize their family with love and understanding, creating a life of peace and harmony for their family.
If one wishes to disrobe (leave monastic life) after receiving full ordination, one would then request for the fully ordained Sangha to convene for the disrobing process. During this time, the Sangha offers their wishes of well being and makes sure the person leaving is able to rejoin the world safely.