At nine o'clock on the morning of Novermber 4, 1998, a grand ceremony for leaving the home- life and receiving the ten novice precepts was held in the Buddha Hall of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Five male and nineteen female cultivators left the home-life this time and, together with four other novices, received the ten precepts for Shramaneras and Shramanerikas (novice monks and nuns). Since this is the first leaving home ceremony held by the Sangha of the Venerable Master's disciples since the Master entered Nirvana in 1995, it carries a very special significance. It manifests the vitality of our monasteries of Proper Dharma, which were set up in the West by the Venerable Master after innumerable hardships. It is also a sign that the seed of Buddhism planted by Venerable Master now is sprouting and growing up.
There are left-home Buddhists and lay Buddhists. Although one can cultivate as a layperson, the merit and virtue cannot compare with that of being a monastic. A verse on this says : "The peacock may be adorned with colorful plumage, but the wild goose is free to soar the skies; the layperson may be wealthy and honored, but the merit and virtue of leaving the home-life is supreme."
Wise people understand that the emotional ties of family and the possession of riches are merely temporary conditions that hide the seeds of suffering. They cage us and chain us, forcing us to be reborn over and over in the six paths with no control over where we go. However, since living beings have been deeply attached to affection and desires since beginningless time, they cannot extricate themselves although they know that these desires cause suffering. On the one hand they enjoy the lay lifestyle; on the other hand they work like slaves for their families, fortune, and livelihood, getting afflicted to no end. Those with insight into the situation will renounce the family and cultivate the Path, seeking release from these bonds.
Ordinary people misunderstand those who have renounced the home, because they think that only someone whose family life or career is in trouble would try to escape his problems by leaving home. They do not understand that far from trying to escape, the left-home person actively follows a middle way which is neither attached to happiness nor suffering, and which leads to eternal liberation. Oppressed by the affliction of birth and death, when their good roots mature, living beings will aspire to seek enlightenment and yearn to leave home and cultivate.
How is the monastic lifestyle preferable to that of a layperson? Those who leave the home-life reject the worldly standard of values based on families. They give up everything including wealth and ties with relatives. Setting down the heavy burdens of family life that had weighed them down for so long, they are like caged birds gaining their, freedom. They are free now to fully concentrate on their cultivation. Those who sincerely leave home experience joy in their hearts and the new insights they gain in the Dharma reinforce their faith in seeking the Way.
Leaving the home-life is not an easy thing to do. Once the second Emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Taizong, said: "Leaving the home-life can be done only by great heroes, not by generals and prime ministers." There is an ancient proverb: "Don't say that leaving home is easy to do. It is the result of having planted the seeds for Bodhi in life after life." If the Bodhi seeds are inadequate, then when you want to leave home, all kinds of adverse conditions will obstruct you from doing so. Some people feel that their afflictions increase rather than decrease after they leave home. This is because they became so accustomed to lay life that when the afflictions of greed, anger, and delusion arose, they would habitually use methods that went against the Way to deal with them, allowing them to abide in peace with their afflictions. Now that they have left the home-life, many of the "quick fixes" that they used as laypeople are no longer available to them. And when their habitual desires cannot be satisfied as before, they will turn into great hindrances for the cultivators.
Are these phenomena undesirable? No! This is the very moment that one's perseverance is being tested; it is an opportunity to contemplate the source of one's affliction and bring forth fearless courage surpassing that of a general or a prime minister. One must do what is hard to do and endure what others cannot endure, relentlessly eradicating affliction at its source and transforming it into Bodhi. As the Venerable Master often said, "Affliction and Bodhi are like ice and water." When the underlying filth is gone, one will feel a sense of bliss. This the ultimate way to deal with afflictions. But if one does not cultivate, one will not have such an opportunity.
The Venerable Master once said, "There are three stages of leaving home, depending on the level of one's skill in cultivation. There is leaving the worldly home, which is what ordinary Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Shramaneras, and Shramanerikas (fully-ordained and novice monks and nuns) do. There is leaving the home of affliction and ignorance. Only the cultivator himself will know his own state of cultivation. If a left-home person's bad habits are reduced daily, then 'as ignorance is gradually wiped out, his Dharma body will gradually be realized.' Such a person is diligently trying to get out of the home of affliction and ignorance and walking toward the great Way of Bodhi. Finally, there is leaving the home of the Triple Realm. This is the main goal of a left-home person, as well as of all disciples in the seven assemblies. It means to terminate the cycle of death and rebirth, after which cultivators may freely enter the nine Dharma realms to rescue living beings, which is the greatest happiness for those who have left the home-life."
In the present age when the Dharma is weak and demons are strong, I was deeply moved to witness, in the West, after the Venerable Master's passing, such a grand ceremony for leaving the home- life in the Way-place of Proper Dharma that the Master established through great hardship. I sincerely hope that all of the twenty-four new "great heroes" courageously advance along the path to enlightenment, soon leave the home of affliction and ignorance, eventually leave the home of the Triple Realm, and carry on the Venerable Master's wish by leading us to propagate the Proper Dharma.