Lay life or monasticism?

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.
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Stiphan
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Lay life or monasticism?

Post by Stiphan » Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:31 am

I told my teacher that I was seriously considering ditching a career in web design/development and instead opting for a monastic career and ordination as soon as possible. Part of his answer was:

"Dear Stephen,

Perhaps becoming a monk is your best choice. Wherever you go, you would have to spend at least a year as a postulant, so this would give you a chance to determine whether the monk's life suits you. On the inside it isn't as romantic as it looks from the outside."



I really have had enough of samsara. I am at a stage in life having come to a recognition described in the suttas as: ‘I am a victim of birth, ageing, and death, of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; I am a victim of suffering, a prey to suffering. Surely an ending of this whole mass of suffering can be known.’.

My aim in seeking ordination, therefore, is solely to put an end of suffering... or at least make as much progress as I can towards that end.

As much as I like things like technology, web design, sport, science, girls, etc, or the prospect of a life with a house of my own, wife and kids, a steady job, relationships, sensual pleasures, etc... none of that can compare to the prospect of ending suffering or making great progress towards achieving that goal, whilst also living a life of simplicity, peace, and detachment.

I've now lost all interest in lay life - what's the point of having all those great things and enjoy great material prosperity if your mind suffers inside? What's the point of having all this technology, possessions, lots of money, travel, relationships, sensual pleasures, movies, sex, McDonald's, if you're depressed and gloomy all the time.

I once came to the realization: "Having happiness and nothing else is much better than having everything except happiness." I was happy at the time (2012), and that was one of the few things I had. I didn't have any money, I didn't have a job, I didn't have a girlfriend, I lived on a small Greek island. But I had happiness and that was enough.

I know monastic life will be difficult. Lay life is not easy either though. But which is better: having everything material and having no happiness OR having just a robe, a meal a day, and a roof above your head and having inner peace?

I choose the latter. I am not saying happiness is impossible in lay life -- it is. And I am not saying I will be instantaneously happy the day I ordain. But being a monk has been a dream for me ever since I've known Buddhism. I want to devote my whole time to just one thing - Dhamma. I want to study it in-depth, master Pali so as to be able to read all the original texts, meditate so as to cleanse my mind of defilements, cultivate boundless loving-kindness for suffering humanity, benefit from noble camaraderie with great masters and fellow monks, and just do something good for myself, for others, for the Sasana, and for the world.

Web design and development, I have found, is such a vast discipline, and far from easy. Even if one specializes in just one area of it, it would take a long time before one could learn it well enough so as to find work. And I wouldn't want to do anything else for a living. I can probably do things like working in a shop, at the airport, or as a taxi driver, but that's not my thing. All I can do and enjoy, and earn lots of money from, would be web development. Relationships? Girlfriends, wife, kids? I don't want that. That's a big pile of suffering in there, with a bit of pleasure here and there.


So I have decided to follow the monastic path rather than the lay path. I started life well, and had the happiest of childhoods. Then life gave me suffering so as to find and appreciate Buddhism. Then whenever I practiced it correctly it brought happiness. I relaxed my efforts, and suffering returned. Now this suffering has made me realize what I really want in life. The cessation of suffering. Inner peace. Nibbana. Or at least making significant progress on the path to Nibbana, thus ensuring a better rebirth -- at the very least. And also, helping others. Monks are not there just for themselves, they are supposed to guide others.

So, I am ditching all my goals and plans, except Dhamma-related objectives, and ordaining. I plan to ordain in either Thailand, Australia, or England. Else, Burma or Sri Lanka. I would really love to be part of Ajahn Brahm's sangha, but Bhikkhu Bodhi told me there is a long waiting list there. Or follow Ven. Dhammanando's recommendation of Wat Tha Ma O in Thailand. I don't know about England's options. Burma and Sri Lanka seem to have some internal conflicts if I'm not mistaken?

I am really serious about monasticism. That's the only path for me, and I am glad that my teacher encouraged it by saying that it could be the best choice for me. I am not going to get my mother's permission, so I have to think of ways around that. Visa issues too, unless I'm ordaining in England. I suppose I have to go through Anagarika and Samanera before Bhikkhu. Also, I've heard the ordination procedure could be expensive.

But I suppose these things could be thought out later. Right now, I am just glad I know for certain what I really want to do with my life - be a Buddhist monk, for life, so as to progress on the path to Nibbana, help others, and aid the growth of the Dhamma. Nothing else.
Last edited by Stiphan on Tue May 05, 2015 8:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Ben
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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Ben » Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:58 am

Greetings Sumana,

I like your teacher's advice. What I took away from it is the old adage "the grass is always greener on the other side". Before you make a firm decision to ordain, I recommend that you investigate the option seriously so you know exactly what it will mean for you to live as a monk. Speak to as many ordained members of the sangha as possible so that you know the good, the bad and the (a'hem) ugly so that if and when you ordain, you won't be doing so while still wearing rose-coloured glasses.
Keep in mind also that living life as an upasaka need not be 'second best'.
But whatever you choose to do, my friend, you have my support and my best wishes.
with metta,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Stiphan
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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Stiphan » Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:05 pm

Ben wrote:Greetings Sumana,

I like your teacher's advice. What I took away from it is the old adage "the grass is always greener on the other side". Before you make a firm decision to ordain, I recommend that you investigate the option seriously so you know exactly what it will mean for you to live as a monk. Speak to as many ordained members of the sangha as possible so that you know the good, the bad and the (a'hem) ugly so that if and when you ordain, you won't be doing so while still wearing rose-coloured glasses.
Keep in mind also that living life as an upasaka need not be 'second best'.
But whatever you choose to do, my friend, you have my support and my best wishes.
with metta,

Ben
Thank you, Ben. I will follow your advice.

But I am also 100% convinced that this is the only path for me. Lay life is not for me -- it is too complicated, and there is not enough time for sincere practice. I am prepared to endure whatever difficulties monastic life may pose. That is the path recommended by the Buddha.

Still, I will speak to my ordained Facebook friends, and any monks here in Manchester, and investigate what life as a monk is for them.

Thank you for your support and well wishes.

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Ben » Thu Apr 30, 2015 1:33 pm

Upāsaka Sumana wrote:there is not enough time for sincere practice.
On this point, I beg to differ, Sumana.
Anyway, its tangential. As I mentioned earlier - whatever you decide to do, you have my support and I wish you all the very best.
With metta,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Stiphan
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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Stiphan » Thu Apr 30, 2015 1:39 pm

Ben wrote:
Upāsaka Sumana wrote:there is not enough time for sincere practice.
On this point, I beg to differ, Sumana.
Anyway, its tangential.
I think you are right, there may be enough time for some. But if one works 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (like my mother does), and then has further responsibilities, there remains very little left for Dhamma. It all depends on how much work one has to do, and how many other hobbies and responsibilities one has.

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daverupa
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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by daverupa » Thu Apr 30, 2015 1:48 pm

Upāsaka Sumana wrote:But if one works 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (like my mother does), and then has further responsibilities, there remains very little left for Dhamma.
Alas... this is not a clear piece of thinking about practice. Because, throughout such a day, mindfulness could repeatedly be brought to the fore, eventually becoming a strong and perpetual mindfulness. This can underpin & strengthen all manner of Sila, such that wholesome acts of speech and body integrate into the ways one engages with other people both on & off the job.

This, indeed, is the very foundation of any Samadhi, the very beginning of an integrated effort - and while ordination is designed to facilitate this with minimal distraction, there are a slew of gradations between ordination and the party-goer lay life, a whole range of life patterns & whatnot that facilitate a broad range of both Sila and Samadhi, to say nothing of Panna...

Just be on the lookout for romanticizations about ordination, and story-telling to yourself about "how it'll be"... monks can have distracting hobbies, daydreaming doesn't take electricity, and in sum thinking that ordination in and of itself is a key component may be a bit of an inappropriate focus on a rite/ritual, in some cases...
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by santa100 » Thu Apr 30, 2015 1:53 pm

From your teacher's reply:
Wherever you go, you would have to spend at least a year as a postulant, so this would give you a chance to determine whether the monk's life suits you"
You don't have to wait 'til becoming a samanera to test that out. You can actually "test the waters" right now in your lay life to see if you're able to handle the requirements of monkhood. Your teacher mentioned 1 year of apprenticeship, try experiment with, say, 5-6 months straight without sex, drinking, entertainments, minimal socializing, etc. The more you can align your current lifestyle to that of monastics the easier it'll be when you actually take the plunge. Afterall it's a very noble goal and it's obviously not for the faint of heart...

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Ben » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:01 pm

Upāsaka Sumana wrote:
Ben wrote:
Upāsaka Sumana wrote:there is not enough time for sincere practice.
On this point, I beg to differ, Sumana.
Anyway, its tangential.
I think you are right, there may be enough time for some. But if one works 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (like my mother does), and then has further responsibilities, there remains very little left for Dhamma. It all depends on how much work one has to do, and how many other hobbies and responsibilities one has.
Yes, its a matter of priorities.
As you know, I have a family and have also been practicing now for thirty years - most of that time very sincerely.
with metta,
Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Stiphan
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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Stiphan » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:05 pm

Ben wrote: Yes, its a matter of priorities.
As you know, I have a family and have also been practicing now for thirty years - most of that time very sincerely.
with metta,
Ben
You are perfectly right Ben, please accept my sincere apologies. :smile: I have practiced sincerely as a layman in the past 5 years too (except the last 11 months), though I didn't have a job, so I simply don't know how people can manage work, family, responsibilities, interests and hobbies, traveling, and Dhamma in a 24 hour period! Which is why I prefer to become a monk and devote all 24 hours just to Dhamma and nothing else.

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Ben » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:14 pm

Upāsaka Sumana wrote:
Ben wrote: Yes, its a matter of priorities.
As you know, I have a family and have also been practicing now for thirty years - most of that time very sincerely.
with metta,
Ben
You are perfectly right Ben, please accept my sincere apologies. :smile: I have practiced sincerely as a layman in the past 5 years too (except the last 11 months), though I didn't have a job, so I simply don't know how people can manage work, family, responsibilities, interests and hobbies, traveling, and Dhamma in a 24 hour period! Which is why I prefer to become a monk and devote all 24 hours just to Dhamma and nothing else.
'
There is no need to apologize, my friend. I would often create opportunities. When my kids were young I would meditate before dawn and again after everyone had gone to bed. For a while when I was doing inter-city rail commuting, I would meditate on the train.
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by daverupa » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:17 pm

Upāsaka Sumana wrote:I simply don't know how people can manage work, family, responsibilities, interests and hobbies, traveling, and Dhamma in a 24 hour period! Which is why I prefer to become a monk and devote all 24 hours just to Dhamma and nothing else.
Why not see alms-walking and various monastic performances as filling up a part-time or even full-time bracket of a day, and notice that 'work' in this sense is not necessarily a barrier.

Given that, I want to know why you think that a layperson will necessarily be engaged in family, hobbies, traveling, and the rest? Let me put this another way: what do you see as inseparable from the lay life that the monastic life wholly excludes?
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Stiphan
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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Stiphan » Thu Apr 30, 2015 3:04 pm

daverupa wrote:
Upāsaka Sumana wrote:I simply don't know how people can manage work, family, responsibilities, interests and hobbies, traveling, and Dhamma in a 24 hour period! Which is why I prefer to become a monk and devote all 24 hours just to Dhamma and nothing else.
Why not see alms-walking and various monastic performances as filling up a part-time or even full-time bracket of a day, and notice that 'work' in this sense is not necessarily a barrier.
Everyone's circumstances are different. Some may not necessarily live with their family, they may live in a village so do not need to travel, they may be farmers, so can decided their own schedule for the day, and so they can devote however much time to practice as they wish.

In my case, I lived on a Greek island with my mother, her boyfriend, and his two sons. I didn't have a job, though I helped at the hotel. My mother gave me 50 euros per month for pocket money. I didn't study or work. I could spend my time however I wished, and the vast majority of it was devoted to Dhamma. The problem was, I was on island, and there were no Buddhist centres around. The closest one was in Athens, a 6 hour journey from the island by ferry, then bus.

Now I live in Manchester. I study web design (and I am lagging behind so I now have to study 5 hours a day to finish it), so I have a little less time for Dhamma than I would want to. I play tennis several times a week. I meet a group every week.

BUT, if I choose to live a lay life, then:
-I would be working a difficult (though enjoyable) job 9 to 5, Monday to Friday
-I would have to commute
-I would eventually get a girlfriend (not necessarily)
-I would pursue my hobbies, playing tennis and watching my football team play
-I would have to do ordinary things like shopping, doing laundry, cooking, etc.
-I would follow a whole list of things I want to learn more about
-I would spend time conversing with my family

That would leave very little time for Dhamma study and practice on my own; and I would have to fit visiting monasteries and centres.

If I were to become a monk, I would imagine the whole list above would be done away with - no 9 to 5 job, no daily commute by bus, no girlfriends, no family, no sports, no shopping, laundry, cooking, etc. Surely, most of that time would be given to Dhamma, though monks, of course, have monastery duties, meetings, sweeping, travel, etc. But there is a whole bunch of things they wouldn't need to worry about - mortgages, finances, job security, relationships, kid's problems, and what not.

But I am not doing this to escape all the complexities of lay life. I am doing this to end suffering. And to do that, I would need more time in which to put the effort required. Lay life has too many distractions. Also, as a monk, I will have a teacher and the company of fellow monks.
Let me put this another way: what do you see as inseparable from the lay life that the monastic life wholly excludes?
Money. And the time and effort to get it.

If there were no difference between lay and monastic life, the Buddha wouldn't have established a monastic order. The Buddha recommended monastic life over lay life.

Best wishes :smile:

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by pilgrim » Thu Apr 30, 2015 3:16 pm

Go for it Sumana...if your heart is set, you'll regret later if you don't.

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by soapy3 » Thu Apr 30, 2015 3:54 pm

Upāsaka Sumana, ordain because you would like being a monk, not because you are tired of lay life. Wherever you go, there you are....and your problems. You drag them with you.

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Feathers » Thu Apr 30, 2015 3:56 pm

You're on a one-year course, right? Would it be worth at least finishing that, so you have a qualification to fall back on if it turns out monasticism isn't for you?
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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Stiphan » Thu Apr 30, 2015 6:19 pm

pilgrim wrote:Go for it Sumana...if your heart is set, you'll regret later if you don't.
Thanks! I will go for it.
Upāsaka Sumana, ordain because you would like being a monk, not because you are tired of lay life. Wherever you go, there you are....and your problems. You drag them with you.
You are perfectly right. :smile:
You're on a one-year course, right? Would it be worth at least finishing that, so you have a qualification to fall back on if it turns out monasticism isn't for you?
That's right, that course finishes end of July, so I will definitely get the diploma first.

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by mario92 » Fri May 01, 2015 1:17 am

Upasaka Sumana you are very fourtunate to have even such toughts, when i was 17 i had a strong desire to ordain i was mentally healthy but i didnt encounter any Dhamma friend like i did here in dhamma wheel, so congratulations for the sake of true happiness. :anjali: :thumbsup:
Good morning, have a nice day

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Mr Man » Fri May 01, 2015 7:10 am

Why don't you go and visit one of the UK monasteries. How about Harnham? https://ratanagiri.org.uk/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by Sati1 » Fri May 01, 2015 7:18 am

Dear Upasaka Sumana,

I very much sympathize with your strong desire to ordain and would agree with you that monkhood provides more suitable conditions for practice than lay life usually does. Otherwise Buddha would not have spoken so highly of the monk life (eg SN 42:7, An 3:45, Sn 274 and 221, Iti 33.13, MN 82, and Sn 1.2). If your living situation enables you to go forth, and you have a strong desire to do so, then my advice would be to go for it. The question might not be whether or not to do it, but how to do it in such a way that you can flourish once you are a monk. Preparatory measures, such as speaking with many monks beforehand, visiting many monasteries, leading a life of semi-renunciation already as a lay person, etc, might help you achieve just that, by preventing hard disappointments from unmet expectations. Nevertheless, I don't think that any of that is absolutely necessary, as can be judged from MN 27, where the only pre-requisite for going forth is that the lay person acquires faith upon hearing the Dhamma:
A householder or householder's son, hearing the Dhamma, gains conviction in the Tathagata and reflects: 'Household life is confining, a dusty path. Life gone forth is the open air. It isn't easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into homelessness?'

So after some time he abandons his mass of wealth, large or small; leaves his circle of relatives, large or small; shaves off his hair and beard, puts on the ochre robes, and goes forth from the household life into homelessness.
I once asked a senior monk what he would recommend doing to prepare for a potential future ordination, and he said that the most important thing is to abandon all expectations. So after that conversation I sat down and thought to myself what expectations I had about monkhood that I was aware of (because I am also considering that path quite seriously). Just having brought those expectations to light helped me ease them a bit and be prepared that they will likely not be met. Examples include: the perfect teacher, being surrounded only by diligent monks, being always well provided for with food, never loosing interest in the Dhamma, etc. I have also prepared a list of sutta passages that contain advice on how to be a good monk and facilitate living that life (eg. AN 5:77-79 describes potential dangers for monks, SN 52:8 mentions that cultivation of Satipatthana helps prevent disrobing, SN 38:95 warns that going forth and practicing as a monk are difficult, etc). Doing some of this might also help you, as you prepare for taking that step.

The worst that can happen is that you disrobe and struggle adjusting again to lay life. But my thinking about that is that your material requirements will probably be quite low by then (and probably already are now), making it easier to be contented with whatever opportunities you get afterwards. And with the extreme rarity of being born not only as a human, but as one who hears the Dhamma and gains faith in it, wouldn't deliverance from samsara in this life be the most worthy of all goals?
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Re: Ditching lay life, wanting to ordain.

Post by acinteyyo » Fri May 01, 2015 3:10 pm

Hi Sumana,

I want to remind you of a post you made only 24 days ago -> http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 82#p334182
There you said:
Upāsaka Sumana wrote:I now know full well what I want to do with my life and how to do it.
Now you say:
Upāsaka Sumana wrote:I've now lost all interest in lay life
I don't want to keep you from doing what you want, but I want to point out that you may be a bit overhasty taking your thoughts too serious.
You seem to be very emotional and I remember that you mentioned a bipolar disorder.

I myself notice quite often that my thoughts are inconsistent.
Sometimes it's like: "Now I want this, later I'm sure I'll do that in the future, a few days later I do something totally different and I don't care about what I've thought some days before."

I've come to understand, that I cannot change a given situation just by telling myself what I will or won't do from now on unless the right circumstances are really present, too. Up to the point where circumstances are right, we have to be patient.

Please don't get me wrong, I don't have a clue how you think, how serious your intentions are, or how the situation is where you at.
I've often said that I'm fed up with lay life and become a monk. Finally I've recognized that it's not time yet, although I still notice the same train of thoughts coming up.

I just want to tell you that, so you may take it into consideration in order to come to particular certainty on the matter.

Patience is important and sometimes we just want changes to happen sooner as they naturally do. So we try to force changes to happen, but that's not the way things work.

Anyhow, I wish you all the best!

acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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