A Letter to an Aspiring Nun
The following is written by a Chinese meditator who had been a temporary nun in Burma; to a European meditator who is considering to become one. It is a very inspiring and authentic look at considerations for women looking to take robes in Burma.
"First, I can joyfully feel your strong aspiration to enhance your spiritual development from your inquiries. And it also reminded me of the time when I took the courage to become a nun. I suggest you have already had a clear clue of the reason why you want to become a nun? Specifically, what will be the main "theme" when you are in robes? I assume that you have known the three different aspects of exploring Buddhisim: Pariyatti(Learning the theory of Buddhadhamma), Paripatti (Dhamma practice) as well as Petivedha (Penetrate it). Which aspect do you want to focus on? I noticed that you mentioned meditation and a far-off monastery. So does it mean you want to find some quiet place for a long-termed secluded meditation course? Have you ever thought of studying the theories of Buddhism, such as Abhidhamma as well as other noble scriptures? So the first thing is to have a clear idea of your general intention. It may determine which monastery or nunnery is suitable for you in a large sense.
Second, if the nuns there can not speak adequate English while you can not speak good Burmese, the life as a nun may turn to be a hard one. Nevertheless, I do not think it is that awful even though you and other nuns can not communicate much, especially if you just want to keep a noble silence for meditation. But you need to figure out the way to communicate with meditation teacher. I think you know that very well since you have been in Burma before. Do you have the volition to study scriptures and meditation or just to obtain an unique experience as a nun? For example, if you want to study scriptures, then an international Buddhism university may be a good place for you. If you want to meditate, the monasteries or meditation center corresponding with your practicing meditation tradition will fit you better. If you want to experience the "standard" nun's life, then a Sagaing nunnery is excellent and it is an excellent place to learn how to be a nun!
Third, I ordained at an well-known nunnery in Myanmar, especially famous for the students' exam results as well as its efficient and rigid orderly management system. You will be so impressed by the nuns volition to make the nunnery a disciplined and well-respected one. The nunnery is very beautiful and people say the hardware there is among the top ones in Myanmar's nunneries. At times, there are (not many though) foreigners ordained there. Some head nun's assitants or teachers can speak English but not good enough to teach the Buddhism scriptures in English. So it means you have to study Burmese as soon as you arrive there. And there is no meditation schedule because the main task of the students there is to pass the exams held by some national department and get a degree after graduation. So they are so tied up with their study and daily duties. There is not enough time for meditation, although some nuns may sit for a while daily personally. For foreigners, they do not have the same requirement as for local nuns. You can have a flexible schedule except that you have to follow the morning chant, cleaning the compound as well as attending other important events. I found a teacher to teach Burmese three or four times a week. Also I borrowed some Buddhism books in English, such as Ahbidhamma, Buddhapada, etc and read some pages everyday and tried to look for the appropriate place for meditation everyday. Well this is not a meditation center so that it was hard to sit without "disturbance". At first, I thought others disturbed me. Then I realized that it was just ego! This is magic of meditation. After that, there was no disturbance from others when I was sitting. Besides, the nunnery is very famous so that many lay people, even the ordained came to Dana. Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu. And I attended several Dana ceremonies, which inspired me in many ways. Oh Alms round! I was crazy about it. I mean I enjoyed it very much. Usually the nuns goes on alms round for two whole days a week. Foreign nuns can make their mind whether they want to go or not. But I tried to follow as much as I can. For many times, feelings arose which was beyond words. Wow, I am feeling to become a nun again:)
Fourth, the following is about my own experience and reflection in. I feel much gratitude that I could have the chance to get ordained there. Much thanks goes to the other good-wishing people who helped me all the way there. Yes. I love it there. Without any doubt, I was "spoiled" by their love. We loved each other so much that once I even thought I would like to be there for my whole life. Sometimes, I just got feelings which could not be expressed by words. It was above and beyond the words. It was something only to be experienced. Everytime I need some help, they showed up. For many times, they gave me offerings anonymous. Finally, I became several nuns' "daughter" because they really felt like taking care of me. Actually some of them are much younger than me. In short, we were happy together. Even so, it does not necessarily mean that my life there was easy. Not at all. Actually before I went to Myanmar, I got health problem but I did not take it serious. So I quickly experienced a break-down after I came to Myanmar and I found myself struggling with desease almost everyday there. And even sometimes I was lamenting that why the noise was so loud that I could not meditate, why I got so fragile that even a breeze could make me get a cold, why I was so spoiled in China before that my body could not diagest the food.... My mind was trapped. I just could not accept that I was in such a low state! As the mind reacted more and more, the body got worse and worse. Finally, I felt like starting to grow strong with the living pattern. Well, it is a pity that I had to leave much earlier than I have planned before. As you may know, foreigners need to be aware of one's health in Myanmar. You may refer to Shwe Lan Ga Lay for detailed information regarding that. I think there are many reasons leading to my health problem in Myanmar. Besides the food and cold water shower that I could not get used to, the reacting mind played a main role. Actually I did learn a lot from the suffering there.
I have much to share with you and thanks for your patience to read this message. I hope it helps. And Shwe Lan Ga Lay is very powerful for the yogis who seek a Dhamma practice in Myanmar. If you have any further question, please feel free to ask me. We can discuss together:)"