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Changes in relationships and social life

Changes in relationships and social life

A talk given during Sravasti Abbey’s annual Exploring Monastic Life program in 2013.

  • How one depends on others’ kindness for food, clothing, medicine, shelter
  • Relating to family and friends—stay connected but trim down
  • Choosing the interaction: considering how that interaction influences the Dharma practice

Let’s cultivate our motivation and think that we have to subdue our body and speech and to do that we have to subdue the mind. And vinaya teachings work to do all of that by guiding us in a direction that will help us grow and prepare us to cultivate shamatha and vipassana, serenity and insight, in order to generate bodhicitta and gain insight into the nature of reality. So in order to complete the path for the benefit of all beings, we start at the beginning and go step by step, learning and putting into practice everything so that we can accomplish the path. Let’s make that our motivation.

So we’re going to continue. Last time we were talking a little bit about the things that change when you take ordination. There’s a change in appearance, a change in hairstyle, change in your dress, your clothes, change in your name, and then we talked about changing our livelihood or occupation. That’s a big change isn’t it? To not have a job, not get a paycheck, not have control over a certain amount of money that you can spend as you wish. That’s a big change, especially in this society when we’ve been brought up that we should have a career and profession.

So much of our identity is wrapped around who we are and where we work and what we do and what our talents are, what our skills are, so there’s a lot of identity wrapped up in that and then that’s kind of all shed. It’s interesting, sometimes when people first come here, they talk a lot about like what they were doing before. I mean that’s natural because that’s what we all do. Then you see as time changes, that the old identity that’s so tied up with work begins to lose importance and begins to shift.

Change in receiving requisites

Then there’s also a change in, here it says change in diet, but what it means is a change in how we receive our requisites. We talk about the four requisites: food, clothing, shelter and medicine, because those are the four things we need to stay alive. There’s a big change in how we get those when we ordain. In normal society, you have your career, you get your paycheck you go out and buy. You’re a good consumer: you buy your food, you buy your clothing, you pay your rent or buy a house, you go to the doctor and pay for medicine. But as a monastic, we have a totally different relationship with money and business and we try and disengage ourselves from these things as much as possible.

In terms of the actual precepts, there’s a precept against handling gold, silver, which means money as well as gold and silver, because those were the mediums of exchange at the time of the Buddha. And there’s precepts against buying and selling, so not only doing business with selling things but also buying stuff. The monastic lifestyle was initially set up like that, where you went on alms with your alms bowl walking through the village and then people would put food in your bowl. You got your robes usually from the cemetery. Or, after doing the three-month rains retreat, people would often offer robes. Shelter was, for the men, under a tree or in the forest out in the open. The women weren’t allowed to do that, we were not allowed to be alone but to have a friend and to stay in a house, and that was for the purpose of safety.

I think now in our world that things are so crazy that precept should be extended to men as well, because it’s really not safe. We had one person who was here who wanted to just wander around the countryside here and I said, “Oh, well, are you just going to sleep on somebody’s land here?” I said, “Everybody around here has guns, and they don’t necessarily like trespassers and if they see somebody strange sleeping on their land, it could be dangerous for you.” This isn’t ancient India where nobody had guns and there was plenty of space and a lot of land wasn’t even owned. So I think that should be actually extended for men too in terms of wandering like that.

Change in medicine

Then, medicine: according to the precepts you start with cow urine and progress from there. I don’t think they have cow urine at our pharmacy. So again, we depend on other people to get these things. And the idea is that you live a lifestyle in which you’re dependent on other people, so it does a couple of things. One, it makes you really aware of the kindness of other people. Especially when you’ve spent some time working yourself and supporting yourself and paying your own bills. Then you recognize how hard people work and when they donate money to the Abbey—or to whatever monastery you’re living at—how kind they are because they work so hard to earn that money and it’s money they could be using to go on vacation or get themselves some treat or whatever—get them sometimes food, clothing, shelter, medicine—but they’re choosing to give it as a donation.

So when you make yourself dependent, you really feel that kindness and what people are giving up to support you and how much faith they have in the sangha and so that gives you a feeling of, “I’ve really got to do my share in this,” which means keeping the precepts, studying the dharma, practicing it, serving society. I’m not just here to take the things. It isn’t like before somebody giving you a gift—in your lay life people give you a birthday present and then you give them birthday presents and you appreciate it, but it’s a gift. This is a little bit different, it’s not just a gift of something that people think we would like, it’s a gift of something that actually we need to stay alive, because we need food, clothing, shelter and medicine just to stay alive. So we have a feeling that our whole existence is dependent on the kindness of these people. It really helps you to practice and to be more conscientious because you really feel this interrelationship.

Second, by making ourselves dependent on others, or by living in dependence on others, it helps us cut attachment because we don’t go out and go shopping for our own things. We wait and see what is given to us. You can see in the bhiksuni precepts that sometimes in ancient India people would give a donation to make a bhiksuni or a bhiksu a robe, but if you went to the tailor and said, “Make it like this, and this kind of cloth, and make it this big, and this and that,” you break a precept.

The whole idea is whatever you are given, you accept that with gratitude and you wear that. Whether it’s old, whether it’s new, whether all the patches match… nowadays you have to take a whole piece of fabric and deliberately cut it up into patches so it looks like you’re wearing a patched robe. At the time of the Buddha, you really had different patches of robes that were different colors sewn together.

So here at the Abbey we wait and see what’s given and we wear the clothes that are here. It may not be exactly the kind of sweater you want, the coat might be a little bit too big or a little bit too small, but it’s what we have, it’s what we wear. Shoes are a little bit more difficult because you have to have shoes that fit, otherwise your feet really hurt and you can’t do much. In ancient India you walked barefoot so just rejoice you’re not doing that! We don’t have leather shoes and so you look around for vegetarian shoes and do the best you can in that perspective. It’s cultivating an attitude of contentment. So instead of, “Oh, I want this, and I like this particular way and not that particular way,” then it’s just whatever there is, I’m content with it.

So that’s a big change isn’t it? I remember when I was little and people would give me clothes or my mother would get me clothes that I didn’t like. “I don’t want to wear that!” How big of a deal it was in the mind. And then okay, now you don’t have a choice, just this is it! You appreciate people’s generosity.

Change in lodging

The next one is change in lodging. So again in lay life you go out and you look for a flat or you go out and buy a house and then you can decorate it and remodel it and make it exactly what you want it to be and make it beautiful and put down the colored carpeting you want, and paint the walls the color that you want and do everything you want to do to it. As a monastic we’re supposed to live simply. It’s interesting you might say, “Well you’re building your own buildings and you’re designing them yourselves so aren’t you getting what you want?” Well, there’s a few things regarding that.

In terms of designing the buildings I’ve listened to the advice of some senior abbesses. In particular Venerable Wuyin said don’t have bedrooms with attached baths because if you do, then it’s very easy for somebody to isolate themselves from the community. They don’t have to come out of their room, they don’t have to share anything. Then since they have running water and a bathroom in their room, they can get a teakettle and little burner stove and really make quite a posh little thing and isolate themselves. So she said don’t do that. That’s why none of our rooms have individual bathrooms, we always have shared bathrooms and you don’t have a kettle in your room. I have a kettle in my room because my room is a bedroom, a meditation room and an office and a kitty place all rolled into one space!

Audience: With no water!

Venerable Thubten Chodron [VTC]: With no water. Yes, there’s no running water in my cabin.

And we deliberately designed the rooms very simply. There are no closets in the room so you can’t accumulate a lot of stuff. The rooms are not large and luxurious. The rooms are all painted the same color paint, or whatever paint we have left over from the last thing we painted. So you don’t get to choose the color of your rooms. You don’t get to choose your blankets, although some people really do their best to do that. You don’t get to choose your pillows, although some people again do their best to work their way around that one. Or the kind of carpeting, because the kind of carpeting is chosen by the nuns who are in charge of designing the building and we don’t always agree so the color carpeting is who knows what! It depends on what the majority of people happen to agree on that particular day, before we changed our minds again. So you don’t get to decorate your own pad, so to speak.

In the Chinese monasteries they are quite strict about that. Especially when you first ordain, for many years you live in a huge dormitory. Everybody has a wooden bed, you roll up your blanket and your quilt in the day and your pillow and you can’t tell one person’s bed from another, as everybody has the same pillows, the same quilts. All your clothes go in a locker, so when you walk in the room, maybe 10, 20 people are sleeping in it, and it just looks like a room with beds and the same pillows and the same quilts. So you don’t have this individuality. In the Chinese monasteries you don’t make your own altar in your room. Your books are in another locker or under a desk that is your assigned desk.

We already have a lot of individuality in our rooms. You can set up your own altar, you can have one shelf of books, you find ways to kind of make things a little bit individual but in the Chinese temples that’s not the case. In the Zen monasteries, not the case. The Tibetan monasteries you have your own altar, you have books, but everything is quite simple, they don’t have a lot of money, so there is not much besides that. So we should try and live simply. If you have things in your room that you have somehow innocently managed get for yourself, you might consider putting them in the community storeroom so that others can have a chance to use them. So our lodging changes.

Change in responsibility towards the Buddhist community

Then the next one is a change in responsibility towards the Buddhist community and society. This is a little bit what we talked about yesterday in our discussion group: what is our responsibility towards society and towards the Buddhist community? Here we definitely have a responsibility, it’s not just all about me again. We have a responsibility to learn the dharma, to practice it, to model it, to sustain it for future generations, to uplift society. Like I was saying, when you are part of a community, as a community you can do so much more than when you are on your own because the community acts as a place where people think of dharma practice going on. Whereas if you have your own flat, people don’t think of that as a dharma place that inspires them or where they can go visit.

Change in relationship to family and friends

Also another thing that changes that isn’t specifically listed here is a change in your relationship to your family and your friends and your social life. This is a big change! Now our parents are always our parents, there is no way that they cannot be our parents, that’s kind of over and done with isn’t it? We have the same parents for our lives, so we reassure our parents that they aren’t losing us as children. However, our relationship with our parents does change. In the Chinese monastery, I was there when Venerable Wuyin did a sramanerika ordination and she allowed the parents to come and observe and at the end she spoke to the parents and she said, “Your daughters from now on will not sleep in your house.” She said it directly to them, which I can imagine for some parents was like, “Oh!!” But it’s like, you’ve left the home life, so you don’t go back and stay with your parents or do things like that.

Now we have it a little bit different here, people can go visit their family, you can stay in your parents’ house, or your siblings house. You have two weeks during the year where you can go away and you can choose where you want to go and what you want to do, within reason. Nobody has gone to the Riviera yet, and I don’t think anybody will! Unless His Holiness is going to be there teaching! So you can visit them, but you’re not as involved in your family life. You have to somehow step back from a lot of the drama that happens in families, and different people in the family don’t get along, and this and that. We all know family drama, don’t we?

So as a monastic, we step back and we deliberately don’t get immersed in the family dramas. We keep a good relationship with everybody in the family, we can offer them dharma advice or we can do NVC [nonviolent communication] with them if they’re upset, but we don’t get involved with it—siding with this one against that one, and all the drama that happens in the upset and gazillions of phone calls going back and forth because this one is fighting with that one because they weren’t invited to this party or that party or… Do you know? Is your family like mine? My family is so interesting. Whenever there is a big family gathering it’s very difficult to figure out who sits together at the same table, because there’s so many people who don’t speak to each other! So I just don’t get involved with any of it. With any of the extended family, I don’t even know who speaks to each other and who doesn’t, and I don’t want to get involved in any of that at all. Not good for the mind.

We still help our parents when they’re elderly, but again we try not to be the one who takes primary responsibility if we have siblings who can help our parents out. Sometimes there’s nobody else so you do that, but it’s not a good situation for a monastic in that way. I mean it’s quite meritorious to take care of your parents and to be kind. If there’s nobody else to help then we do, but we don’t step up to be the first one to do it because otherwise—well you can see, we just had somebody here with a very sincere monastic aspiration, and yet feels very attached to her mother, very responsible for her mother, and so isn’t here at EML even though she would have liked to be. This kind of attachment to family can bring a lot of distractions in dharma practice.

I began to be able to see that with my friends. Because my parents were not very happy when I ordained they didn’t support me in any way, but it gave me a lot of freedom I could do whatever I wanted, live in India, live abroad. I was quite poor, but I had a lot of freedom. Then I see some of my monastic friends whose families support them, and they don’t have that freedom because when the family wants to go on vacation, they expect that monk or nun to go on the family vacation with them. Or when there’s a big family dinner, they expect their son or daughter to come home for the big family dinner, because they’re the ones who are the chief benefactors, so they have something to say. Sometimes even if they’re the ones who buy the house that the monastic lives in, then they have a say even over what is in the house. So it’s very kind of course for parents to benefact their son or daughter as a monastic, but you have to have really some lines and restrictions there otherwise it’s very easy to still stay in that identity of being their son or daughter, being a member of that family, getting all tied in with all the family dynamics and expectations.

So we go and visit our family, and we’re kind to our parents and we still love our parents, but there’s some more space. We’ve seen in certain EML’s, different EML’s we’ve had people come who have been very attached to family members. Remember there was one where somebody was very attached to their kids, really so attached, really difficult. And attached to grandkids, or another few years ago another person attached to their mother. You can see that attachment creates a lot of obstacles. And I mean because attachment craving is what makes samsara go around: it’s not that song, love makes the world go around. Well, that’s because they confuse love with attachment. It’s attachment that makes the world go ‘round! The samsaric world.

Then similarly with our friends, our old friends, there’s a change in relationship when we ordain. We don’t go hang out with our old friends in the same way as we used to. Because you may have gone with your old friends, what do you do? You go to the tea shop or the coffee house? How does it look for a monastic regularly to be seen in the tea house or coffee shop? It doesn’t look so good, especially with a lay friend. Especially with a lay friend who if you’re straight is of the opposite sex, if you’re gay is of the same sex. I mean it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t give a good visualization to people and if people thinking, “Oh, but you’re a monastic what are you doing spending all day in the tea shop, in the coffee house?” Here, maybe they would kind of encourage you to leave Starbucks after a while, after you’ve had 15 lattes, but in India you can sit in a teashop all day and nobody asks you to leave and you just keep buying one cup of tea after the other and chat with all your friends all day long.

Then how do you relate to our friends as a monastic? What did you used to do with your friends? Besides going to the coffee shop, you went out drinking, you smoked joints together, you went to the movies, you played miniature golf, you went to the football games, you went shopping together. What else did you do with your friends? You went white water rafting, and you collected sea shells on the seashore.

Audience: Festivals, art festivals, backpacking.

VTC: Oh yes, you went backpacking with them, you went to art festivals, you went to…

Audience: Antique shopping.

VTC: Antique shopping. Yes, what else did you do?

Audience: Ski trips.

VTC: Oh ski trips, how could I forget that? Definitely ski trips. You went swimming together, yes what else? Cooking, oh yes.

Audience: Traveling.

VTC: Traveling yes, go siteseeing and have an adventure too. Driving. Let’s just cruise around and see what’s happening in town tonight.

So if you’re a monastic, can you do those things? What does it look like to other people to see monastics doing those things? And what is it going to do for your practice to be involved in doing those things? I mean what’s your practice going to be like if you go to the ski resort? Where of course you have to go shopping in the ski store because you have to wear the right clothes when you’re going skiing and have the right equipment, the robes won’t work! It could be an interesting new Olympic sport though! Your zen, yes? Or when you’re going… what do the people do who jump from parachutes? Hang-gliding with your friends. Somebody told me that they knew a monk who went hang-gliding, I forget who it was. Was it you?

Audience: Somebody told me they made an offering to a Rinpoche to go hang-gliding and he did. And then the elder Rinpoche said this is really inappropriate. I think he got admonished.

VTC: Or even going to movies with all these scenes of sex and violence. What is that going to do to your meditation? The activities that we used to do have got to change when we ordain and if those activities are very linked to our old friends, then there’s going to be a change in how we relate to our old friends because we’re not going to do the same things with them as we did before. With our old friends, [we might ask] would you like to come and do Tara puja? We are doing Tara puja, by the way, tonight. Would you like to come and do Tara puja? Would you like to do mindful walking? Would you like to work in the forest with us? How about offering service in the monastery kitchen?

So these relationships are going to change. Even for lay people, I think, when you get involved in the dharma your relationships with your friends change. I remember at Dharma Friendship Foundation where I was the resident teacher for ten years, many people would come and say, “It’s like I’m really into the dharma and I love the dharma but I don’t quite know how to relate to my old friends anymore and they’re not quite sure how to relate to me.” So even as a lay person that begins to change in you and your relationship with friends. I would suppose if there were a Buddhist society it wouldn’t be so noted, it wouldn’t be such a big thing as everybody would be Buddhist. But here because everybody isn’t, many of our friends might not even be spiritually inclined or if they are it’s only when they’re loaded. So the relationships change.

So that can be quite a different experience and people feel really kind of wobbly when it’s like, “I can’t relate to my old friends the same way but I don’t have that many dharma friends yet.” So it can be a little bit wobbly. Or some people are quite attached to their old friends and feel, “I’ve just got to keep these friendships at all cost, but I don’t know how to do that because my old friends’ interests and my interests are going in different directions now so how do I continue those friendships?”

In my own personal case because I had to leave the US to learn the Dharma and I spend so many years living abroad, there was just this natural thing and this was in the ancient times before email and texting and everything so and I wasn’t going to be in India just writing letters all day. So my relationships with my old friends just changed quite naturally and I cultivated a whole new set of friends quite naturally because I was in a dharma environment. Here it might be different. I’ve seen it too: even you go to Asia sometimes your old friends want to hear reports from you. Or with you, your friends in Germany they wanted you to do a blog, and I said no because when you’re here, you’ve got to be here. Nowadays if you travel you go somewhere else you do a blog. You’re creating a persona, aren’t you? Look what I’m doing! So that again is why nobody has their own individual Facebook page here, or individual blogs—we don’t do blogging, we don’t have an individual Twitter account. The Abbey has Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know—do we send much out on Twitter?

Audience: We do now.

VTC: Yes because what happened is there are some lay people who took over the Twitter and the Facebook [accounts]. They’re really great and they keep tabs on what we’re doing here and they put it up on Facebook and they let people know about it by Twitter and it’s really nice and they’re into it. It’s really good for them because that way they watch all the teachings, they keep up with the Abbey, they feel really a part of a member of our extended community. And then it frees us from having to do it because who wants to sit, I mean I have enough computer work all day anyway, I don’t want to sit and write a blog and I really don’t want to read what people ate for breakfast. There’s more things to do with my time than read twits. Twits or tweets? You’re a twit who tweets, is that it?

Well it sounds alike doesn’t it? I mean birds tweet, don’t they? Birds are the ones who tweet.

So how do I feel about that? All my friends have a Facebook page and I don’t. A few years ago there was one young man who came to EML and [the rule is] no computer during EML. The day after the course ended, because he was staying on, he was on that computer looking, “I’ve got to see what all my friends are doing!”

Its like, no you don’t! and this feeling of, “I’ve got to see what did my friends ate for breakfast,” or “Who is going out with whom and who is fighting with whom, and who is thinking about what?” Again, this is just distraction. You can see so clearly how it comes in your meditation. Yesterday when Jeffrey was talking about both distraction and excitement, you sit down to meditate and you start thinking about what your old friends are doing. “Oh, I was just on Facebook and so and so is now in Nepal and climbing Annapurna mountain. I wish I had done that before I ordained! Well there is Buddhism there, maybe I can make it into a pilgrimage of some sort and still go to climb Annapurna.” And we’re off and running. That’s the mental factor of excitement. “And it’s going to be so virtuous as I’ll go to all these Buddhist temples on my way backpacking.” Right?

Audience: I thought once it was very useful when it started with Facebook and so on, as the Tibetan exile community used it extensively to stay connected with each other when they moved to America especially young people to Europe and Asia. And they used it to inform themselves what kind of activities they are doing via the internet, because there has been no other opportunity to do that. And I got really into it, but it took so much time staying on it. I thought it was virtuous because I wanted to support the Tibetans, but it took so much time from my own personal practice and studies.

VTC: Yes it takes a tremendous amount of time to keep up with all these: Facebook, Twitter, writing letters and everything. Yes, so much time.

And I think it kind of changes. I mean I have many dharma friends but we’re not in touch very often. I mean if there’s something that we really need to discuss with each other, then we’re in touch with each other. But otherwise, we all know we’re very busy in doing what we’re doing. I mean years go by before I see some of them again, but when I see them they’re still friends.

Audience: Another comment about the visualization. I have a friend who has commented to me that another nun she also knows is on Facebook a lot, and she said I’m so happy we’re not like that—meaning the Abbey. And she’s not much associated with the Abbey, but that was her link. Her connection with the Abbey is that other monastics that she has known are all over the internet. It’s not something she liked to see.

VTC: Yes, it didn’t give a good feeling. Because sometimes there’s a few monastics who have extensive blogs and during one crisis in the Buddhist community I was following someone’s blog and they were posting one or two times a day and I thought how do they have time to write all this stuff! And then somebody they were training was also posting and I was going, I mean I am far too busy here, to spend time just posting stuff.

But it’s a change, it’s a change especially when you’re used to being tuned in and having your own cell phone and calling people when you want to and now you can call your family but it’s not as often and calling old friends, I don’t know… I mean in some cases maybe, but generally unless they’re dharma friends it doesn’t make much sense. It’s a change.

Audience: There was a little hook I had to look at just a few years ago, is that some friends I had before moving to Seattle and practicing the dharma, we were very close and had a lot of shared values and stuff. This little hook is because I hadn’t communicated with them for a few years, that I won’t get to see them again this life. That’s the little hook and where they will be next life and we won’t recognize each other anyway. So there’s this little hook and then there’s one, well, maybe you can reconnect and share the dharma with them and give them some opportunity to create the causes for them to… I have to be really careful. That’s the mind where I go to this attachment to missing [relationships], this sense of loss of a relationship that used to have some meaning for me and now I’m feeling like, “That’s it!”

VTC: So relationships that were meaningful to you, where you had really good connections with other people and then feeling as a nun, well, I may not see these people again, Well, even if you were in touch with them, at some time you won’t see them again too! But you can see there, how the mind is hanging onto permanence. They’re the same person. It’s been 10 years since we’ve had a good solid talk, but they’re the exact same person and I want to make sure that I see them again. I’m not quite sure what it’s going to be like or what we’re going to talk about. But there’s an inherently existent person there and I have an inherently existent connection with them.

Audience: Forgetting that I’ve known them since beginningless lives in all different scenarios and I’m going to be doing it again. This is only an 80-year cycle, so I have to put it in a bigger context.

VTC: Right. I find that actually helpful to think, “Okay, I’ve had all these different relationships with this person in the past, and they haven’t always been who they are. They haven’t always been the same personality. We tend to think, “Oh well, different relationships, but it’s still so-and-so in the form of a bird. So we just have the same close connection as parrots in a cage in the previous life.” Give me a break. It’s like there is no inherently existent person there, there is no fixed personality there. Everything is changing. So you meet somebody in the next life and not only are they going to be in a different body, but they’re going to have a different kind of personality. And they’re not fixed people and even in this lifetime, they aren’t fixed personalities. They change. Being able to accept that and being able to say, “I’m doing my practice for the benefit of all sentient beings and hopefully in the future life because I do have some kind of karmic connection with this person, I will meet them and due to the force of practicing very well in this life, I’ll be able to help them in the dharma in future lives.”

That is what I do towards my parents who aren’t interested in the dharma at all. It’s like, “Okay, all of you are my parents too, so I have to help the parents who want to be helped and I can’t shove the dharma down the parents who don’t want it. But hopefully in future lives there will be that opportunity.” So it’s a very good meditation on emptiness when you see that there is no solid person there and there is no real personality to cling to in your friends and your relatives. I mean whoever is our mother and father of this lifetime, they weren’t our mother and father in previous lifetimes, they won’t be our mother and father in future lifetimes. Now my mum passed away, I see different bugs and I go, “Hmm, I wonder.”

Or different living beings: we have bunny rabbits here. Who was that bunny rabbit in a previous life that I have a connection with them, and they have a connection with the Abbey. I can’t hold to fixed personalities or fixed people. So that I think is an especially important way to meditate on emptiness when you’re a monastic in order to really create space in your relationships with your old friends and with your parents and with whoever it is you’re attached to. They are not a solid personality. There is nothing there to cling to. We haven’t always known each other and we’re not always going to know each other and they’re changing all the time and I can’t find anything that is the essence of them anyway. Whatever I might try and find that is really that person has changed in the next moment.

Questions, comments about this?

Audience: Facebook, I never had an account but I remember hearing people talking about the number of friends they had, so when you have to give that up, where do all those friends go? That must be painful.

VTC: Yes, especially oh, there are 500 hundred people or 100 people for my friends. When I was in high school I had two friends, now look! I have 102 friends! I’m popular finally. Of course you know don’t half those people. You have to give it up.

Audience: I just have a little anecdote regarding Facebook because I had a similar thing Venerable Semkye is talking about [and] I still do, having this holding on to [the idea thata] I can benefit my old friends with the dharma. And I actually started to post like a daily motivation like whoever leading the meditation sessions here does each morning. A few people commented and a few people liked it, but I realized like it just seemed to be a small handful of people and quite a bit of time, and I lost the train of energy to do it. It wasn’t like all bad, but it did get me involved with being on Facebook more than was helpful for me. One other thing is kind of cool is a friend I hadn’t seen in four years, he sent me a message saying he wanted to meditate with me, him and his girlfriend and she never really learned about Buddhism, so asked me to give some introduction to what Buddhism is. I guess there are positive opportunities that you can connect old friends with, but I think it’s not with everyone, it’s with a small handful of people.

VTC: Yes, and it gets you really into the numbers. Isn’t it? What should I do, I want more friends, I want…

Audience: I think what I wrestled with the most are the expectations. For example in my culture the female daughter is expected to take care of the mom or the parents as they age. And I’m the only female and I can feel the weight of that expectation and I’m trying to move my mother, help her get to see that my brother could also take good care of her and there are a lot of barriers there that come up. That is definitely a weight. In terms of my daughter, I have this expectation of, “You’re the mom, you’re always there.” You have to go fill this role. It’s a big prison, that expectation. It’s a big boulder of expectation because it’s hard to break free. That’s kind of what I wrestle with when I think about the decision to come and to ordain, is feeling that pull. I’m working with it.

VTC: Yes, very much there is that pull from family members. What I also find very interesting is if you have a tight knit family, you feel the pull of the expectations and you want some space from it. And then other people who don’t have a tight knit family they really want more, they wish they had more family and they wish they had more connection. But with the connection comes all the expectations. So to me it’s a thing of you’re never satisfied and it’s very difficult to have the perfect relationship with your family—if you’re very close you want more space, if you’re not close you want to be closer.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.