Being a nun by Abby Layton, Ven.Thich Minh Tanh
"Every action of a Buddha shows the Truth of the vision. Every action of a monk who will become a master must show the Truth of that vision. One cannot do this out of deliberate thought or with willful intent; it is something that one simply does, spontaneously, because one knows the Unborn. I have often said it is enough for me to know the Unborn, to recognize It, and (as it were) to salute It at every moment. If you would truly train, there is much more to training than just sitting meditation in the morning, doing morning service, sitting in the evening, and doing one's daily work. There is the making of every movement into the movement of a Buddha". Reverend Master Jiyu Kennet
I have wanted to be a nun since when I can ever remember. And for all that time, I longed to be the sort of nun where sun beams shine from above, and birds sing, and solitude and God reign.
But being a nun is not this fortress of solitude where one is in direct transmission of the the love of God. It is, however, a way to both learn about ourselves and forget about ourselves in order to help ourselves and all beings awaken.
The clothes that I wear daily, the shaved head, the practice i keep, the foods I eat, when i sleep and when I arise are a constant reminder , a way to never forget all of the following:
Every experience is Dharma. There is nothing outside of Dharma. So each moment is important, I remember to be awake, open my heart, and be available. In each moment, there is an opportunity to love more, to learn more, to pay attention, and to help all beings.
Offering one's life to help us all awaken. We are all in this together. Your awakening is my awakening. We help each other awaken. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "We are all Inter-Being." As a nun, one dedicates one's life to helping all beings, including oneself, awaken, all the time, at every moment. We live to benefit one another.
Living within the 10 precepts becomes a container for one's life. Our ethical precepts guide the nun or monk, or lay practitioner like the banks of river guide the water within. As a nun, as one recites and lives these precepts daily, one is held in ethical living at each moment. It reminds us deeply how to behave in the world with other beings and ourselves.
Impermanence: My clothing is grey. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that a nun's clothing is grey, symbolically standing for the smoke that wafts from incense. Incense is an offering, an offering to the Buddha, to awakening Mind. We bow as we offer. Incense is also symbolic of the shortness and impermanence of our lives. Lighting the incense is birth, the burning our lives, and the end, death. It goes very fast. And the smoke, the smoke dances and spreads quickly out and up. It is porous, not solid. It reaches all realms of Being all at once. And it is constantly dissolving, it is the dance of devotion.
Letting go of self importance: our shaved heads, and the covering of the body supports a practice of humility. As I live in a community, and my needs and desires are no longer central, I have had to open to some very big waves of shock, grief, and despair. There is a specialness that is challenged in this path. For me, developmentally, this has been very important. This falling from the throne, has decentralized my way of life, and has allowed me to dissolve this sense of "Abby being the very most important all the time". I am so thankful for this path that has at least helped to start me on this loosening of the ego. Our thinking patterns and capacity of heart actually open from letting go of the treasured self.
Loving all sentient beings: As a nun, I am allowed to purely love universally in a way that I have been ashamed to most of my life. I have fortunately always loved people and animals and plants, all of nature very deeply, and in a childlike, just natural way. So I am so happy to be able to show my love in a way that is so based on loving compassion. Nuns send metta, lovingkindness, to all beings, often. I very much like this job description.
Prayer: I have always loved connecting, dissolving into the Oneness of Life. Chanting, singing and praying are modes of dropping the duality of conceptual mind, and opening to Love and Clarity. Nuns sing a lot, and pray a lot. This makes me very happy.
Working with the Mind: Our work as Buddhist practioners is to clear the cobwebs of delusional mind, clear the stories we make up about ourselves, our lives, and each other. One does this by sitting and watching the nature of Mind. To understand the Mind is to open to all that is, and then to let it be just what it is, embracing, allowing, rather than judging. Ah, in this capacity, a nuns' work is never done. I have dedicated my life to this work.
Non Duality: A nun is a container, a form for non duality. We bridge the world of form, and emptiness (vastness), living in both at the same time. I have a dice that has God on every side. No matter how you roll it, it comes out God. Being a nun is living like this. We see all as the Buddha, no matter how much it seems not so, everyone, and every moment is only Buddha.
Bowing: As a nun, we do a lot of bowing. What are we bowing to? We are bowing endlessly to all that is. We are bowing to the endless Buddha. As we bow, our hearts open, and we smile.
Suffering and Pain: Our practice opens to suffering, experiencing and understanding suffering in ourselves and others, in all life. As we open, we feel deeply the conditions of life, and we cry and soften. We allow suffering to exist, and we embrace it. We open and feel the pure pain of all Beings. And thus, compassion is born. And a nun's work is again never done.
To quote dear Ven. Kozen, our Abbot, "And we get to live here!", pointing to the joy of living a life of Dharma practice, service, and supporting all Awakening into Awareness and Love. Each day, each moment, practicing the Buddha's Way. I am happy here being a nun.
I wish to thank Venerable Thay Kozen, Venerable Thay Kim, and Kelljoy Kanaley for their loving support in the process of my ordination. Thank you so much for your guidance.