By Ven Lozang Khadro
I read Ven Legtsok and Khedrub/Dan’s article in the last IMI e-newsletter. Their article was courageous and honest, and it helped me to feel more connected with the wider sangha community, especially during the pandemic and India’s many lockdowns.
Ven. Legtsok’s suggestion on sharing and support resonated with me. It was pause for me to reflect on difficulties experienced in ordained life, as I am sure it was for many of us. I spent time thinking about what could be done to support each other. We cannot prevent these afflictions from arising within our own minds, let alone in the minds of others but perhaps we can create more conversation on this topic. It is a significant challenge for many of us.
I was fortunate to live my first three ordained years at Chenrezig Institute, amongst a large community of nuns. This provided me with a solid foundation, something of which I have been very appreciative, particularly when living on my own. Before I requested ordination, I had reached my utmost limit with the cyclical nature of romantic relationships and their inevitable suffering. Investigating alternative life paths is what brought me to Chenrezig, the Dharma and ultimately, ordination. However, for more than a year after ordination I struggled with strong attachment and desire. I was fortunate to know from experience where chasing that attachment would take me (back to past habits), but it did not lessen the intensity.
I kept this inner turmoil to myself for several months before I felt safe enough to approach a fellow nun. This nun connected me with a particular senior nun, and both sisters provided ongoing support, keeping my struggle to themselves without judgement. This kind of reception relieved some of the self-imposed isolation I had created for myself. Their kindness and acceptance meant a great deal to me. It did not prevent the attachment or desire from arising, nor did it lessen the intensity, but at least I was able to talk to one of my sisters when my inner turmoil became unbearable. A little of the mental steam could be released. We could talk about the nature of my attachment and the reality of my desire.
This did not stop the personal criticism I had for myself. For a long time, I carried a lot of shame and guilt. Thoughts of “That wasn’t the ‘right’ start” and “Am I deserving of the vows?” arose frequently. Other nuns I have talked to in general have mentioned similar shame and guilt around attachment. They also acknowledged an unwillingness to talk due to fear of judgement and gossip.
I have spent a long time thinking about it but not doing much. Ven. Legtsok and Dan’s article prompted me to be more proactive.
The senior nuns who gave the instructive explanations prior to my ordination provided a great deal of invaluable information and support about many aspects of living within the vows. I feel truly fortunate to have been a recipient of their kindness, time and effort. Over the past few years, I have wondered if there is additional benefit in having in-depth discussions on how to be with ourselves and how to see ourselves when attachment and desire arise. Perhaps in safe, private spaces within our communities we could discuss what to do about critical thoughts when those afflictions arise and talk a little more openly about how to come back from desire. And perhaps that we can come back without feeling that we are ‘lesser than’. These are just some of the points that have remained in my mind. I am sure many of us have similar reflections and experiences. For the longevity of the Sangha community, I would love to see us embrace a more open approach to these difficult things that may cause us to waver in our vows.