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Want to become a monk or nun?

In these interviews, recorded by a team from, Venerable Thubten Chodron answers questions about her life and what it means to be a Buddhist in the 21st century.

Motivation is the most important thing.

Here, I have to make an aside, that sometimes people think of monastics and they say, “Oh, you’re just escaping reality, you’re escaping the turmoil of ordinary life by going and living in a monastery.”

And my response to that is, if all you had to do to stop your ignorance, anger and attachment and all the turmoil they cause in your life, if all you needed to do was change clothes and change your hair, then everybody would do it!

I mean what a simple way to escape all your problems and stop your problems: change your clothes and shave your head!

But unfortunately, all of our afflictions come with us right into the monastery. The one good thing that the Immigration Department could do is to keep our afflictions out! But unfortunately they don’t do that. So it all comes with us right into the monastery.

And in lay life, if you have problems at work, you go home to your family. They understand you, they love you, you get support there. Or once in a while, if there are family problems, you can go to work, your colleagues understand you and so on.

In a monastery, you live, eat, share rooms with, pray, meditate, study, do the dishes, everything with the same people. And there’s no way to escape them! And it’s not that we need to escape other people, because they’re not the source of our misery. It’s our afflictions that arise in relationship to other people.

But there’s no way in a monastery to go off to your family that loves you, where you get reinforcements and love and encouragement and a big hug. You can’t do that in a monastery. You have to stay there and all your faults are like right in front of you. And you need to work with them!

So when people think of monastic life as escape, I chuckle because that’s not it at all.

Now having said that, what is the motivation for becoming a monastic? Clearly it’s not to escape! If you want to escape, better to stay as a layperson, and create a nice environment around yourself.

So our motivation has to be at least the determination to be free of samsara. At least some feeling that this cyclic existence of constantly taking rebirth one right after the other, that this is unsatisfactory and we know there’s a higher state of happiness and we want to attain that. It may not be a completely developed, 100 percent perfect aspiration for liberation, but at least that.

Also if we can even bring our motivation further and think that we want to become fully awakened Buddhas so we can really work for the benefit of sentient beings most effectively, that’s called bodhicitta. If we can generate that motivation, that’s the best.

So that’s got to be our motivation.

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.