A bagger at the grocery store asked me what kind of nun I was the other day. I told her simply “Buddhist.” “Cool” she said. I reflected on how I had thought that ordination represents a different lifestyle option for westerners, western women in particular. It was what I had hoped for, sisterhood and intentional living. Later that night I thought what does it mean anymore? I thought about the evolution, the changes over time in what I consider the vocation to be. So what does it mean today? Recently during a class a professor had made a comment about who would want to take an oath of poverty or chastity today. One of those Freudian slips in the form of a bad joke, actually it is his habit to make those jokes but it was not common for him to have people like me in his class. Reminded me of similar japes during a community emergency response training class I had taken earlier in the year. It seemed so odd because I had done so and believe it worthwhile. Was I so unusual? No, at least one other in the class had spoken to me of considering ordination in their past. And I am over fifty now, have had that life that he thinks so desirable, and am glad to have left it behind.
So what does it mean to me today to be a Buddhist nun? I object to the word nun. It’s a catholic term, and incorrect. Buddhist is even incorrect. So first there is a constant awareness of semantics, the impact of language upon understanding and expectation. External communication. There is also a constant awareness of mind and body, awareness of opinion and wants. Internal communication. Extroversion and introversion, WaiGuan and NeiGuan, interaction and integrity are the daily fields of play. Mind and body are one word in Pali, the language of the Theravada Buddhist canon. The separation in English is not without benefit to us because awareness should be evaluated and exercised in both. This is Discernment, the third division of the Noble Eightfold Path which includes Effort, Mindfulness and Stillness.
When I spoke of my intention for seeking refuge to a certain monk many years ago I said I wished to do no further harm, to benefit others, and to increase the good in the world. He seemed offended and I didn’t know why until later I learned that those are the three pure precepts in that tradition. I think he thought I was not being authentic, he could not read the feeling in me, the Qi. Nevertheless, I had struggled to bring the words to describe my true intent. This is the third daily awareness, intention, the reason for every action. And when the actions are not in keeping with the intention then the practice is to return again to the intention and release, let go and begin again with kindness.
So these are the three daily practices that mean I am a Buddhist nunk: language or speech, awareness or discernment and intention or understanding. Each is nestled in the three roots of happiness with persistence and attention. Repetition keeps me busy and is the primary expense. I think today the practice will continue to death and beyond, as it does to sleep and beyond, sometimes it’s a burden and sometimes it’s a great friend. Nunk is not a typo, it’s a new word that is not gender specific, that can be humorous, that lovingly more simply says this one has resolved to remain chaste and not seek wealth but rather to bring benefit to all as clearly as able.