When I was 27 I ordained in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Being young and choosing to explicitly identify as a practitioner of faith is an interesting and worthwhile life journey.
Despite my paternal family being Roman Catholic I didn’t subscribe to religion when I was growing up. In fact I was quite against religion and clung to a staunch aversion of Christianity but that has now changed for the better.
The first time I walked into Chenrezig Institute I had a very strong sense of belonging, like I’d come home. It was as if everything in my life made complete sense because I had always been walking towards that exact moment. A month later I was writing a letter and asking for ordination.
This was fast work in a Western Buddhist context. The ideal situation is to spend time studying before requesting ordination; you give yourself a more rounded understanding of what you’re stepping into.
Amidst it all I began to take on expectations of what it meant to be a ‘correct’ nun. This is an important thing to be aware of because it can be challenging enough with external expectations. It also makes for a rich and rewarding practice since our Buddhist life is about working with what arises in our mind.
There is a danger of seeing only the robes and not the human in them. You could apply this to many things. The interesting challenge is to find that balance between who you are as a person and what it is that you have chosen to be wholly involved in.
People often ask ‘what do you do during the day?’. My days are very full, more so now than they were before! I work at Chenrezig to support myself. We lead meditations and take part in pujas, a special type of practice using drums, recitations and offerings. I also study theology at university and volunteer at a multi-faith centre.
I think some people in my life thought I became a completely different person when I donned robes.
There are parts of my personality that will never change but that’s a good thing. It’s part of my character. I listen to AC/DC on the highway late at night in order to stay awake. Being in a church is a spiritual experience for me. Starbuck is still my favourite character of all time, and I’m not referring to coffee (BSG fans will understand that reference). My sense of humour has not changed. Perhaps that is not so good. More often than not the laughter I hear is my own and not anybody else’s!
Looking back, I can see where I have changed. I am not the ‘quick-to-anger’ person I used to be.
My behaviour of body, speech and mind has tempered. My familial relationships have changed because Buddhism gave me the tools to let go of issues I clung to (eg: parental relations etc…). One of the healthiest and most challenging things about Buddhism is that it teaches you to disengage from disturbing thoughts and to recognise how you create your own suffering. I feel it to be an empowering faith because of this.
These days I am directing myself towards the interfaith genre. I thought if I was going to base my life on my faith then I needed to do so in an informed way. I am also a very practical person and believe in working in the community as a way of service.
The Dalai Lama gave a speech on religious harmony and said that it was essential to understand the difference between love of one’s faith and attachment for one’s faith. A biased mind was the cause for many problems.
I think interfaith action is a medium for us all to recognise such a difference. It gives us opportunities to relate to other faiths and see the similarities and differences, be it in practice or in theological assertion.
I attended a public talk on Islamic issues a few weeks ago, ‘Religion Matters’, which was run by Seekers Point . The last speaker, Imam Afroz Ali, spoke about their concept of self and it was a very similar theology to Buddhism.
I have since spoken with this Imam and I look forward to exploring this in more detail. This is where interfaith action can make a difference in society today and it’s what puts the fire in my belly so to speak.
This is part of a megastory on religion in Australia today. Visit the megastory here.
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