For me it would be arrogant to think that I don’t need to be a nun in order to practice Dharma, in order to get realizations, in order to live a beneficial life, when our teachers such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and so on are all ordained. It’s like saying I’m better than they are because I don’t have to be ordained even though they are showing this aspect.
Ven. Sangye Khadro

How to Keep the Spirit

Ven. Sangye Khadro

An extract from a talk on “How to Stay Ordained,” given at the pre-ordination course, Tushita Retreat Centre, February, 1999

I find it helpful to think about the kindness of our gurus, to reflect that our gurus are not just ordinary beings like ourselves, but manifestations of the dharmakaya, manifesting in aspects that teach us, help us to understand the Dharma, inspire us, and provide examples for us to follow. All the actions of our gurus are for the purpose of showing us how to follow the path to enlightenment, in other words, what we need to do in order to reach enlightenment.

There was an occasion a couple of years ago when Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave an Avalokiteshvara initiation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Rinpoche arrived at the hall to do the preparation for the initiation, but first of all he started to do prostrations. The floor was wood and we tried to put a cushion under him but he refused; he wanted to prostrate on the hard floor. There were a few monks and nuns there, and we sat in the back of the hall talking amongst ourselves. I thought Rinpoche would just do a few prostrations and then begin the preparations, but he didn’t; he kept prostrating, for about an hour and a quarter.

I began to feel very ashamed, sitting at the back very comfortably while my holy guru was prostrating. Later I was thinking about this, and it occurred to me that actually, Rinpoche doesn’t need to do prostrations. He is a manifestation of the enlightened mind, so he doesn’t need to purify anything. So why was he doing them? Why does he do all the practices that he does? I thought that he is not doing them for himself, he is doing them for our sake.

The same applies to all our gurus. All the things that they do- daily prayers and practices, studying and teaching, retreat and so on – they are not doing these for themselves. They are beyond that, they don’t need them anymore. They are doing them for our sake, to show us examples of what we should do in our lives, how we should practice.

This also applies to their showing the aspect of being ordained. There is a verse in the prostration section of the Guru Puja that says:

We prostrate at your feet O holy refuge protector. You are the pristine awareness of all infinite Buddhas, playing the role of a saffron-robed monk as a supreme skilful means to appear in whichever way suits your disciples.

The enlightened mind can manifest in any form. All of us have teachers and gurus who take the aspect of being ordained, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche and so on. This is the enlightened mind showing the aspect of living the life of a fully ordained monk. The lamas don’t need to keep 257 vows. They could be lay people; they could appear in any form at all. But there is a reason why they appear in the form of a fully ordained monk: it is to show that this is the best lifestyle, the best path to follow for one’s own spiritual development.

In the West, the majority of Buddhists are lay people, and possibly even the majority of Western Buddhist teachers are lay. When we go back to the West and see this, we might think, “Why am I ordained? What’s the difference? What’s the benefit of being ordained? I can do everything that I’m already doing – practice Dharma, study, do retreat, and even teach Dharma-and live like a lay person, have relationships, children, make money, etc.” There are also Western Buddhists who think that there is no need for monasticism – they believe it is not relevant in the West, in this day and age.

So this can cause us to have doubts about being ordained. It’s one thing when we are here in India and Nepal and are surrounded by thousands of monks and nuns, but when we are back in the West, we really stand out. We are like a rare species. And then we see all these lay people around who are also studying and practicing and doing long retreats, and on top of that they can do all the things lay people can do. In this situation, it’s very easy to have doubts and think, “Why am I ordained?” To deal with this, it can be very helpful to think of our teachers, for example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is showing the aspect of being ordained. His Holiness could be a lay person but he is showing us this aspect, living his life as a monk, and this is to show by his example that this is the best way to live. Also, there are quotations in the sutras and the writings of Tibetan masters about the value of being a monk or nun, how it is the best lifestyle for one’s spiritual practice and also the best basis for practicing tantra.

So for me personally, thinking of the example of my teachers has helped me to maintain my commitment to live as a nun. For me it would be arrogant to think that I don’t need to be a nun in order to practice Dharma, in order to get realizations, in order to live a beneficial life, when our teachers such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and so on are all ordained. It’s like saying I’m better than they are because I don’t have to be ordained even though they are showing this aspect. So this idea, and the awareness that it would cause a great deal of sadness to my teachers if I were to give up ordination, are two of the main things that have helped me to keep going.